There's a thin line between being a lenient parent and a responsible one. Here's how to walk it.

by Ginger Rue

WHEN MIKE LINDERMAN'S 17-year-old son came home past curfew one night-with a speeding ticket-Linderman and his wife didn't have to say a word; "He showed us the citation and handed over his license, saying, 'I broke the law, and I came in late. I know I won't be driving for the next two months. I'm going to bed now.'" Linderman, author of The Teen Whisperer (Harper Collins) and a licensed counselor in Trout Creek, Montana, who works with troubled teens, made sure long ago that his own kids understood the rules. "When you're clear about expectations from the get-go, you can usually avoid power struggles," he says.

Parents who adopt a no-nonsense approach to behavior and a willingness to impose penalties don't have to squelch adolescent insurrections. Their kids know the consequences of breaking the rules. "Authoritative parenting is often mistaken for being harsh, but it's not about that," says Paul Donahue, Ph.D., author of Parenting Without Fear (St. Martin's Griffin). "It's about forgoing 'cool' in favor of being in command."

Indeed, it seems like everyone wants to buddy up to teens these days. "Too many parents are afraid to make their kids mad." explains child psychiatrist and Family Circle columnist Ron Zodkevitch, M.D., author of The Toughlove Prescription (McGraw-Hill). "So they try to exert their influence by befriending them." What parents don't realize, says Dr. Zodkevitch, is that they already have the most profound influence possible and will earn more respect by being a parent first and a pal second.

While most kids aren't engaging in dangerous activities, it's your right-and responsibility-to monitor them.

Behind Closed Doors
Your son's friends come over and hang out in his room-with the door shut.

TAKE CHARGE Have a standing rule with regard to his buddies, like the door must be open at least halfway. Make your expectations known before anyone comes over. Say, "Your door has to stay partially open. If it doesn't, your friends will have to leave." Then follow through by sending his guests home if your son doesn't respect the rule. Don't embarrass him; just pull him aside and remind him of your agreement, then let him decide how to explain it to the others.

"There's really no good reason for the door to be shut," says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know (Jossey-Eass). "You need to be aware of what your kid is doing." While most kids aren't engaging in dangerous activities, it's your right-and responsibility-to monitor them. And they need to know you're keeping an eye out; parental presence can curtail questionable behavior. An open-door policy is especially important when friends of the opposite sex come over, adds Borba, because a teen's first sexual encounter is most likely to happen at home. Donahue also recommends leaving entertainment sources, such as computers, TVs and video games, in the family room so your teen and his friends will want to spend time there. Create a hangout space that is comfortable for the kids-and easy for you to monitor.

Gossip Girls
During carpool you overhear your daughter and her friends saying an other girl at school is fat.

TAKE CHARGE Say something simple but direct, such as. "Hey, cut it out. It's not nice to talk about someone behind her back," suggests Donahue.

Speaking up about inappropriate behavior, even in front of your teen's friends, will make it clear that you are not a member of their peer group but a powerful figure who can discern right from wrong. "It's up to parents to teach morals, and that means calling kids out on bad behavior," says Borba. "Especially with the increase in emotional bullying, parents need to say. 'Enough. We don't do that.'" It's also an opportunity to help your daughter develop empathy, says Linderman. When you two are alone later, ask if she would like the other girls saying mean things about her, or how the girl would feel if she knew others were criticizing her.

Foul Play
Your tween wants the video game Grand Theft Auto-and insists that all the other kids are playing it-even though it's rated "M" for mature audiences.

TAKE CHARGE Remind him that not all families share the same values. Simply state, "This is what I've decided for our family," suggests Donahue. Then use the situation to reinforce your beliefs. Dr. Zodkevitch recommends saying something like, "I'm disturbed by violence, and this game is full of extreme examples of it. We don't support this."

Let your son know that you expect him to act responsibly even when you're not around; Tell him that if you find out he's been playing the game at friends' houses, he won't be allowed to go over there anymore. "Plain and simple: You don't allow your children to do things that you think are wrong." says Dr. Zodkevitch. "You are the parent, and what you say goes."