"It's always been tough raising teen-agers, but it's a little scarier out there than it used to be," Simi Valley marriage, family and child counselor Deborah Tucker told a packed room of parents one recent evening.
"What I see a lot of is that the majority of parents don't know where to draw the line anymore."
The parents apparently agreed. At the free lecture, sponsored by Simi Valley Hospital's Behavioral Health Center and titled "Survival Skills for Parents with Teenagers," nearly 40 parents asked about everything from flyer parties and curfews to discipline techniques.
Tucker, who has counseled numerous teen-agers and their parents locally at Families Counseling Center, gave the following advice:
* A dictatorship only works in the short run. "A really authoritative style doesn't raise a kid who can think for himself when he's on his own."
* Contracts are useful. "When kids get older, you can give them the feeling of more freedom while still maintaining control. Say, 'You want this privilege? We'll try it for a week.' But tell them you reserve the right to change your mind if it doesn't work."
* Misplaced guilt gets parents in the most trouble. "You may think you're assuaging your guilt by giving in, but it's often not a favor to them. Teen-agers need more freedom, but they also need to feel there are boundaries."
* Don't buy into the statement, "What's the matter, don't you trust me?" "In my practice, teen-agers tell me all the time they tell their parents they'll be at a friend's, and then they go to a party. If you think you don't know the real story, don't feel bad about enlisting neighbors as spies or calling from work."
* Give them your trust in increments, follow up to see if they are handling it and, if they're not, instantly shorten the leash. "We've all sounded like a broken record with the statement, 'You have lost my trust.' But kids need to earn it."
* Set a curfew. Know where your kids are. "Remember that the party that sounds like a den of the devil to you sounds really cool to them. And a lot of times they just want to be with their friends. But you have to know what goes on there. Can your kid handle it? Pay attention to what's going on with them."