I have worked with many teenagers lately who have found themselves in trouble of some sort or another. These are not bad kids, but maybe their choices were not the wisest.
We do gain wisdom by experiencing consequences; that is what life learning is about. We try to protect our children by outlining all the pitfalls in advance, but who among us has not touched the paint to see if the “wet paint” sign is really true? And how many of us totally obeyed our parents in all things?
It is our fear about what might happen, or what our children might become that drives us into an authoritarian, rigid mode. It is as though we must metaphorically “fence them in” so that nothing bad will befall them, and so that no outside influences can sway them. But this approach really does not give them very much credit for being intelligent, thinking beings.
While I do believe that at each age there should be reasonable boundaries, there must also be room for dialogue. We must be able to hear why they may want the boundaries expanded over time, and honor them by explaining our fears, rather than just saying “No!” on principle. If we take the time to let them know what our worries are, it helps them to understand more about responsibility than when we say “It’s just because I say so!”
Often our fears are ungrounded. Sometimes they want to stay out a little later because they are just watching a movie, and not because they are doing drugs or having sex. This is where discernment on the part of parents comes in. It is our job to monitor and protect our children until they demonstrate that they are making responsible choices, but we have to know our children.
To know them, we have to listen. And the only way they can learn about trust is if we demonstrate it. If they violate our trust, then they must accept the consequences. But if they have not broken trust, we can gradually extend their limits.
Even if they have made a mistake, there comes a time when we must extend trust again, for this is the only way we can show that we believe in their ability to change. We want them to grow into responsible adults, and we can encourage this by talking to them as though they are responsible adults. This does not mean giving them adult privileges right away, it means communicating with the emerging adult within them, not the rebellious child.
Sometimes it is the way we treat them, that keeps them from growing up. It takes perseverence sometimes to shift the way we talk to them, but the bonuses are well worth it. We stand to gain responsible behavior, and a mutually respectful relationship
Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
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