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Allowing Your Teen to Be in Control

God called you to an incredibly challenging role as a parent. However, your hope and confidence can continue to grow as you discover and apply principles to help you get your children where they need to be.


In all the challenges you face as a parent, never lose sight of the primary role God called you to as a mom or dad: to lead your children from total dependency at birth to independence by the end of their teenage years.


As we have seen, your parenting style will shift as your child ages. These shifts must occur in sync with your child’s maturation process; otherwise, your children end up frustrated because they either want more freedom or are not prepared to handle life’s challenges.


The various stages of parenting are simple. Knowing when to move from one stage to the next is much more difficult. Poor timing can lead to rebellion, frustration, and confusion.


The Four P’s of Parenting


There is a progression in parenting that can be immensely valuable as you lead your child to independence. The stages overlap, but clarifying parents’ changing roles can be helpful.


Stage One: Pleasing Your Child

From a child’s birth through the preschool years, the parents’ primary role is to please their child. They do that by offering relief from pain, unhappiness, and sickness.


Nobody enjoys a baby who is colicky or fussy. Everyone loves a baby who sleeps through the night. A good baby is a happy baby. If a baby cries, parents do whatever they can to quiet him. If he is fussy, parents try to figure out what is bothering him and do whatever they can to soothe him. No wonder these little kids feel like the center of their parents’ world. They are!


In this first stage of pleasing your child, you have total control.


Stage Two: Protecting Your Child

When our children are in their toddler through elementary years, they would probably accidentally kill themselves if we were not around to protect them. Parents keep young children from dangerous and inappropriate activities and influences in this stage.


When boys’ thrill of adventure exceeds their understanding of safety, parents worry about them getting hurt in sports, on the playground, on their bikes, climbing trees, or just clowning around. Parents also do not want their children to suffer rejection or be exposed to anything violent, sexual, or immoral.


In this second stage, parents maintain control.


Stage Three: Providing for Your Child

The third stage of parenting is providing for your child. This stage usually begins in the junior high years. We begin to give our junior high children experiences, possessions, and opportunities far greater than we gave them in the elementary years. We allow them to spread their wings a little, and we begin to expose them to the world outside the home.


At this stage, others begin to coach, teach, instruct, train, tutor, mentor, and educate our kids. Our children begin to get serious about sports, music, and academics. They also begin to go to youth group, Bible studies, mission trips, ski trips, overnighters, slumber parties, and organized sports and school activities. They may take a school trip, and we begin to trust others to take care of our children.


We also begin to teach our kids responsibility and trust them to start making some decisions. They may learn to wake up to an alarm, take care of a pet, perform certain chores around the house, and learn to cook simple meals.


In this third stage, we start to share some control.


Stage Four: Preparing Your Child

The fourth stage of parenting usually begins during the high school years, when a child prepares to move out of the nest and into a new life outside of the home.


This is when you begin to hand over control. It is also the stage when we feel like we are losing control. The truth of the matter is that we are. We can give control of our children’s lives to them in appropriate ways, so they can function independently by the time they leave home. Or they can wrest it from us with inappropriate behavior.


In this stage, we want to give our children control.


Good Intentions Are Not Enough

I am often asked by puzzled parents, “How can something so well-intentioned go so wrong?”


It is another good question, easy to answer when you understand the concept of free will. But the real issue for most parents is whether they were led astray or did something wrong without knowing it. Without question I believe some parents were led astray and, as a result, messed up. When parents are desperate for answers for their children, they sometimes listen to anything.


Some well-meaning parents get stuck at a certain stage of parenting because they do not know what lies ahead, they do not recognize the need to move to the next stage, or they do not understand that decisions and habits developed during one stage must shift when moving to the next.


For example, if parents do not shift away from always pleasing their children, they get trouble when their kids move to seventh and eighth grades. If parents never move out of the protective stage and let their kids taste the outside world, by the high school years neither the child nor the parents function well. If parents never prepare kids during the high school years for the world ahead, disorder and confusion surround these young adults in their college years. Sometimes provision in one stage becomes enabling in another, even with the best intentions.


Furthermore, if parents do not let go of the major emphasis of each stage of parenting by the time kids are in high school, they create a real mess. If parents still try to please at all cost, strive to protect in every circumstance, and struggle to make sure they constantly provide all their children’s needs, they create a muddled, mixed-up, chaotic atmosphere. Their children will act out because they feel insecure and unprepared to enter the world, or they act frustrated because they cannot get out of the environment they have outgrown.


Transferring Control

If you realize you are overly controlling, shift some of that control to your child. You may control because your family lacks boundaries and a belief system to help kids make healthy decisions. As a result, your child may be immature and irresponsible. If you do not know if you are too controlling, ask your teen, and listen, not just hear, their response. Let them know that you would desire to let them have more control and then talk about how you can make that happen, and how they think it needs to happen. You’ll have some great discussions.


I know this. He who is faithful in little is faithful in much. If you wait to transfer control until your children are successful at displaying maturity and responsibility, you thwart their maturation. You give a little control because that is what your child needs, not because your child deserves it. If you gave your children what they really deserved, they would probably never be able to leave home! Transferring control before you and your teen are struggling is always best.


Overly controlled children are raised with the best of intentions. They usually have loving parents who are trying to protect them from making mistakes, trying to keep them from being exposed to harmful influences outside the home, or trying to keep them from failure. Dr. Henry Cloud states, “Over-controlled children are subject to dependency, enmeshment conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also have problems taking risks and being creative.”


Help your teen develop that fruit of the spirit….self-control. They never will until you help them in the process. Believe me. In time, you’ll be glad that you did!

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.