Do you remember what it was like to be 13 or 14 years old? I do. A small, introverted, self-absorbed and fearful little nerd walking the halls of my junior high school towards an undefined future. That was me.
My parents were mostly uninvolved in my upbringing as I recall. They fed me, clothed me and gave me a bed to sleep in. Otherwise, I set my own course in life. They were “permissive” parents (actually more like uninterested.) I knew about the controlling parents. I’d hear about them and shudder. Too many rules! Is there a balance? How do we raise teens?
Here’s a perspective to consider.
Our goal ultimately for every child we raise is that they grow to become physically and emotionally healthy, successfully functioning, self-reliant, productive adults. Adults. We are trying to raise adults. Keep that in mind.
Somewhere around the ages of 11, 12 or 13, depending on the kid, parents need to sit down with their child and share this goal openly with them. Technically they will be adults at 18. That’s not many years away. So we need to loosen our controls to get them there. No adult should need a parent to tell him or her how to manage their daily lives.
On the other hand, teens are not yet wise and so we share our other goal. We parents hope to get the kid to adulthood without being addicted to anything, in jail for anything or acquiring or causing a pregnancy. This goal should be shared as well.
So let me make this clear. Our goal is for our kids to stand on their own, to do for themselves and we support them until they confidently can do so.
I have noticed that teens cause sheer terror in some parents (we remember what we did as teens.) So they tighten their grip on their burgeoning teen gangsters even more so than when they were young children. (By the way, some teens are indeed gangsters. I’m not sure how they got there so quickly?)
I think we need to carefully, thoughtfully and purposefully loosen our grip each year and tell the kid this is indeed the plan.
Each year we allow them a new freedom and responsibility.
Age 12 or 13, keep your room as you please. It’s now your problem kid if you can’t find something and your problem if you can’t find a place to sit. Some day child, Mom will not be living with you so it’s time to start practicing this adult skill.
The next year, you can go to bed when you want BUT you will still need to get up and fulfill your responsibilities. Too bad if you can’t stay awake in class. Grades are not allowed to suffer! (Just a few days of sluggish, sleepy misery is usually enough to begin training anyone that sleep is a luxury as well as a necessity.) It’s time, my prodigy, to learn to manage sleep.
Then comes the driving permit. Scary but an important skill.
Next the driver’s license and I insist on a cell phone which I provided. I want to know where you are and that you are safe (see the drugs, crime and pregnancy goal mentioned above.)
At 18, keep whatever hours you want. If you can’t stay out of trouble, then I failed you. You aren’t where you should be as an adult.
To summarize every year, have a mapped out program of new freedoms and the responsibilities that come with them. I suggest that your teens are not as likely to rebel since they have freedoms they need to master each year and when they go to college on their own someday, they won’t go nuts exploring every freedom and vice available simply because they are finally free of their parents’ control.
Nowhere in here did I mention my primary goal which was to aid them as they develop their own eternal relationship with God.
The best way to do that as a parent? Live an authentic Christian life in front of them. Don’t be one thing in Christian circles and another at home. Perfunctory Christianity is deadly to the faith of children. Be real.