As mentioned in the previous post, when our children are approximately ages 14-16, we parents are trying to help these middle teens learn to live under internal self-control rather than external control. The goal is to have older teens who live nearly rule-free in our homes for a couple of years, practicing for adult life with us as “coaches.” So what does the transition stage look like?
Freedoms and responsibilities go together.
Freedoms and responsibilities go together. This has been drilled into our children from the time they were very young. Their freedoms then were small and few – they lived in a benevolent dictatorship. But they did have a few freedoms: Would you like water or milk? Would you like to look at books or listen to a CD for your quiet time? At the same time, they were gaining some small responsibilities: Put the books or CD’s back on the shelf; Unload the low-cupboard things from the dishwasher. Both freedoms and responsibilities increased gradually, so it was no new concept when this transition picked up steam in the mid-teen years.
It can be a tough balance: Too much freedom too early, especially without responsibilities, can result in self-centeredness; Too little freedom too late, especially with lots of responsibility expected, can result in rebellion. It was in these years that we initiated several conversations with the question, “Are there any freedoms you believe you’re ready to have that we haven’t yet given, or any responsibilities you feel ready to take on that we haven’t yet entrusted to you?” Sometimes they had suggestions, but usually it turned out that they were content with the changes that had gradually taken place over the previous months, and we could talk about how far they’ve since younger childhood.
Many of the changes in these years have to do with time management. For example, in our home school, the children are told what they have to accomplish in a week. Younger kids are given lots of help filling in planner pages, and given directions about how and when to get the work done, while older children have learned to schedule things themselves. Some work better in blocks (two or three subjects a day, with several hours spent on each), and some work better doing every subject for a short time every day. They have the freedom to experiment and decide what works better for them, and they have the responsibility to meet all deadlines with well-executed work.
When our kids were very young, they had a specific time of day to do their daily chores. Around mid-teen, they had the freedom to schedule the non-time-sensitive chores around their other activities, and the responsibility to make sure they got done. This sometimes ended up in Mom and Dad having a little extra date money, since missed chores cost $1. each (and still have to be done, even if it’s late).
Middle teens can keep track of their own bank accounts, make phone calls for hair cuts and dental appointments, make their own meals, clean up their own messes, do their own laundry. They can have the freedom to decide when they need a snack and the responsibility to know about and meet their bodies’ nutritional needs (not to mention to clean up). I’m not laying down the law about what they should be doing in your home; for example, I often make appointments if I’ll be the one driving. But while I’m scheduling an appointment for them, I give my children the respect of asking if such and such a time is good for them, and they take responsibility for it by writing it in their planner so that they can plan their other activities around it.
COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONSHIP
Communication and Relationship: These key ideas are foundational in our parenting of teens. People this age are designed by God to grow in independence. More than ever they need to grasp the WHY’s behind decisions, so being in on those decisions – discussing guiding principles with them rather than laying down the law – helps them take ownership for their actions. It is definitely more time-consuming to engage a teen in a conversation about whether seeing a particular movie is a good idea than to just declare “yes” or “no,” but the extra time is the kind of communication that pays enormous dividends in their ability to self-govern.
Because they were created for eventual independence, their drive for it is God-given and our understanding and respect of that drive is critical to a positive relationship with them. Parenting is now geared more toward what will best further the kind of relationship we want with our kids as they move toward adulthood than just about training good behaviors. We know that their desire for our respect and trust has become a strong motivator to them, so we try to address them in ways that will tap into that desire. For example, we remind them that we want the same things they want: for them to be following Christ wholeheartedly, submitting themselves to the internal controls of the Holy Spirit and no longer in need of our external controls. We’re still transitioning in these years – so there are times when some training is still necessary. But we’re looking for opportunities to fan into flame the little spark of adult-to-adult relationship that we’re seeing develop.
The fact that we’re pushing toward that relationship along with them, rather than trying to drag them back under external control, has been incredibly important to our children (so they tell us). Now – in young adulthood – our older children are calling us for advice and input, man to man (or woman). I’m sure we’re not perfect at holding our tongues or not putting our foot in too forcefully once the door is cracked, but the atmosphere is, overall, one of mutual respect and trust. The payoff of this kind of relationship with my adult children – a relationship in which I still have opportunities to disciple and speak to their hearts because they willingly ask me in – is unquestionably worth the sometimes awkward and often tiring work of transitioning from training wheels to free-wheeling in the mid-teen years.