When my kids became teens, I realized I stressed about silly things compared to “big” teen parenting issues. Why did I get so worked up about a messy room or about marker on the wall? When they got older the issues they faced were much harder. That, of course, made letting go harder, too. (If you missed parts one and two, you’ll find them here and here.)
Nine to Twelve Years
Independence is strengthened during middle-school years as children spend more time away from home.
“I believe it’s important for all middle-schoolers to have sleep-away camp experience,” says Carol Kuykendall, author of Five-Star Families: Moving Yours from Good to Great (Revell, 2005). “The task of adolescences is to separate and gain independence; to pull away and find an answer to the question ‘Who am I apart from this family?’”
During these years the role of parents changes from “director” to “encourager.” Now is also a perfect time to build a foundation of faith, dreaming with your children about God’s good plan for their futures.
“My wife reads numerous biographies of Christian leaders to our children,” says Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (Zondervan, 2005). “They read stories of missionaries, and stories of people like Billy Sunday who played baseball but who also established a powerful ministry. We do this to get them to see the breadth of opportunities people have to serve God.”
Thirteen to Eighteen Years
Kuykendall refers to adolescence as “the yo-yo years.” Teenagers spin out and come reeling back in as they bounce between dependence and independence. When the conditions feel smooth and non-threatening, they confidently rush full speed ahead. But when the journey gets tough or discouraging, they limp back for a dose of love and encouragement.
“Sometimes they need hugs; sometimes they need to be left alone. Sometimes they need structure and direction; sometimes they need the freedom to make their own decisions and even fail.”
The parents’ role during these years, Kuykendall believes, is exampled by a mother bird that actually “discomforts” her nest, giving her offspring a reason for leaving the comfort zones.
“Some children may attempt to become their parents’ clone or stay in their shadow, thus robbing the world of the unique individual God created to serve a particular function in His kingdom,” says Thomas.
Of course, other children with strong personalities will do the opposite—reacting and rebelling from their parents.
“It’s these kids that fall into activities that can be harmful to them, their faith, and their body,” says Thomas. “It’s their way of saying, “I’m not you, and you can’t force me to be.”
That’s when teens need to be reminded again that freedom is earned. Trust is earned. So if they violate that trust or that freedom—such as with a missed curfew or inappropriate media—there should be consequences and a start-over period.
“Practically speaking: If my child gets in trouble at school I have a decision to make,” says Barbara Curtis, author of The Mommy Manual: Planting Roots that Give Your Children Wings (Revell, 2005). “Do I defend or make excuses for his conduct or do I reinforce the authority? Many parents today are prone to ignore or defend their kids’ misconduct. In the long run, this will produce stunted human beings who will have a difficult time leading a responsible and independent life.”
What about you? What do you find hardest about “letting go” during the teen years?
P.S. Don’t forget to enter this week’s photo assignment! Find out more info here!