Sunday, 22 May 2011

On Parenting Teens

I was reading of a mother's desire to protect her beautiful daughter from the awful things the world holds waiting.  The mother's writing attracted the opinion of one who felt that you can't stop your kids from going out and experiencing the world...just be there to guide and catch them when they fall.

Do you know what?  This person's comments made me want to cry.  I too, am a mother who wants to protect her children from the darkness that is just waiting to swallow them up.  I want to my children to enjoy every moment of their childhood and to maintain their innocence for as long as they can.  I've been pondering the fine line between protecting my children and letting them fly.

The comments of this person reflects a growing sense that parents don't have the ability to control their children anymore.  Or don't know what they could do about things, even if they wanted to.  My response to that is somewhat long-winded, so bear with me!

According to a speaker from Uber Life the pause between childhood and adulthood called adolescence is a very long time.  It never used to be this long.  The term 'teenager' is a fairly new thing.  I don't think this has done our children very much good, in many ways.  Being told they're not old enough or responsible enough to make 'grown-up' decisions about things in their lives seems to have created a whole bunch of young people who live up to those low expectations.

Despite entering mid-teen years we are in protection mode here.  With little steps towards letting our children fly.  There is so very much darkness in the world.  So many temptations for young men and women whose brains are not fully developed.  So few supports from positive role models showing them how to be people who choose to be responsible men and women of integrity.  And so low an expectation that they have nothing to live up to.

From when my children were very young, I had clear ideals about the people they would become and what I wanted for their lives.  Above all, I want them to be followers of Christ.  I want them to have life-skills so they can leave home one day with confidence in their ability to care for themselves.  I want them to be people of character and integrity who make a positive impact on the world around them.  With these clear goals in mind, we have been very careful about the kinds of things they are allowed to do and have in their lives.

I found Mother's Day very confronting this year.  During church, as a list was compiled of all the things mothers do for their children, I could only say "I take my kids to school".  Of course in days gone past I could have said wash clothes, do dishes, cook meals, iron, help with homework...all those things that immediately come to mind.  I spent more than a few days feeling quite worthless, as a mother.  But my own children came to my defense.  They reminded me that they are doing all these things and that this is GOOD.  They are taking responsibility for things that need to happen in our home.  Of course, they're young and they don't immediately see all that needs doing.  They need to be asked.  But they willingly take instruction and ask questions.  Even they can see that they are becoming the responsible people I dreamed they might become.  They are learning how to flap their wings in preparation for flight.

Miss Sunshine has been confronted with how she needs to make decisions about the kind of person she wants to be.  And how she needs to choose behaviour that backs this up.  It's been a tough lesson for her but she learning to be a person of character and integrity.  The other two will, no doubt, be challenged with this decision too.  And they will find our support and guidance in making these choices, just as Miss Sunshine has.

Part of the way we protect our children is to make the decision to keep them from a wide variety of technology.  They use the internet for things like Mathletics and research for school projects.  But they do so with supervision.  They do so with support and guidance about how to go about using these tools responsibly.  We have a LOT of convesations about our concerns for their safety online.  Despite being unpopular, we decided not to allow access to sites like Facebook.  They begged and pleaded for a time.  And then they realised, somewhere along the way, that a lot of nasty stuff goes on in forums such as this and they are grateful to be spared the nonsense that goes on.  We are very cautious about the types of television programs and movies our children view.  We maintain their innocence by sparing them the darkness exposed in crime shows and violent or questionable movies.  We investigate deeply before allowing our 15yo to view an M Rated movie.  Plugged In Online is valuable resource for this, as it disects the movie into fine detail.

I really think parents need to step up and be the authority in their home.  If our children are going to remain 'young' for so much longer then we have a responsibility to continue to take this seriously.  You can't just give up because life with a teen is hard.  Sure they will make you work hard for that authority, but they want it to be there.  There need to be clear consequences for misbehaviour and disobedience, just as there should have been throughout their younger years.  We are doing a lot more negotiating with our girls.  We aim to do this in a respectful manner.  Sometimes we need to say no to things for practical reasons.  Sometimes we say no because we feel they would not be in a good situation.  Sometimes we need to take risks and allow them freedoms we're uncomfortable with, but not because they're questionable!  Our kids know we're still the parents.  They know we are the authority in their lives and that they need to respect this.  But they know we make our decisions for them because we love them and want the best for them.

I like who our kids are.  They are not without flaws....but neither are we.  I think in other circumstances, our children might be swayed to be people we don't like very much.  But in all our of protecting them from the world's vices we are growing amazing young women and a chivilrous young man.  I love that they give as much as they take from relationships and I love that they have a Godly worldview.  I'd say protecting them is working pretty well.


joolzmac said...

We have parented much along the same lines as you. Our girls are 20 and 17. We have come through the teenage years wondering when all hell will break loose! It hasn't yet. We have always respected their wishes to do things but they know our word is final and usually for the best. And they have always known that when I say No, I mean NO!
Keep up the good work - the world needs all the well adjusted, good mannered, plugged-in young people that it can get.

Cheers - Joolz

Squiggly Rainbow said...

Thank you xoxox. God has blessed these words as they are his. I feel blessed and refreshed and affirmed. Thank you again my dear xoxoxo Rach

Tracy said...

Parents need all the affirmation they can get Rach :o)

I love hearing stories like yours Joolz, because I'm (so far) finding the same thing about having teens. Waiting for the shoe to drop, but it's not happening. And I'm glad.

Lela said...

Wonderful wonderful post.

I have found that the amount of information available for parents of babies and toddlers is enormous. But information, advice and support on parenting teens is scarce. And more importantly up to date information...

Thanks for writing this.


debbie bailey said...

Amen! Great post.

Chookie said...

I think I can see a bit of both points of view, and I'm writing as a parent of children rather than teens, and boys rather than girls.
There is a point at which you become a guide and not a censor, where you gradually move from parent of a child to parent of an adult. To OVERprotect an adolescent will 'exasperate' them and could even push them to disobey you in sneaky ways -- perhaps that is what the other person's comments were about? Nonetheless I agree completely about being careful with the material our children watch etc. I expect we will move to "discussion about" rather than "refusal to watch" material as they grow older. Lastly, I always feel we need to be clear that while we can try to inculcate our world-view in our children, ultimately it is God who chooses his people. I think of a man I knew who was raised in a ministry home, then rebelled in his youth. Later he was converted, married a lovely Christian woman, and they went into ministry together. Then he committed adultery, abandoned his family, and last I knew was far from God. Perhaps he will return to Christ, but my goodness, his poor parents must be heartbroken. I think of them when I am tempted to be proud rather than prayerful about my children. May the Lord Jesus hold all our children in his hand!