Have you ever met a super parent? Despite my fondest hopes and dreams, I wasn’t. I didn’t do everything right with my children. I made mistakes. If I could do it over again, there are a lot of things I would do differently.
Fact is, I’ve never met a perfect parent. I have, however, met some parents who said things like, “We’ve done everything right. Why is this happening to our teen?” But even in those situations, I don’t think those parents were actually claiming perfection.
Here’s where my trouble (and the trouble of a lot of other parents) started. I wanted to be to my children what my dad was not to me. I wanted to offer them a relationship, but in the process, I started giving them more and more and requiring less and less. As a result, I was taking away their sense of responsibility and hindering rather than helping their development. I learned that the quest to be a “perfect” parent — or what I thought would be a perfect parent — can do more harm than good. I discovered that it can leave kids immature, irresponsible and entitled.
The combination of doing too many things for them, giving them too much, and protecting them from the painful consequences of their actions renders them incapable of becoming responsible for themselves or their actions. In an age when we have so much to give our kids, it takes a deliberate effort and plan for parents to back off a bit. It is far better for their future and their self-esteem to challenge them to earn and save for what they want. We shouldn’t do it all for them either, even if we have the time to do so. In the teen years, we need to just stop and allow our kids to begin taking care of themselves.
So, let me share with you some practical steps for helping your child take responsibility and begin preparing for adulthood.
Take stock of areas where your child needs to show improved responsibility. Does your teen not get up unless you get him up? Does your teen never do her homework without your reminders? Do they fail to spend their allowance wisely? Make a list of these areas and be intentional in engaging with them. Sit down with your teen and establish boundaries that will allow them to develop responsibility in these areas. Tell them flat out that you aren’t an alarm clock…that if their work isn’t turned in on time it’s not your problem…that if they run out of gas because they used their money on an iTunes download, they can walk or take the bus.
Yes, this will probably be an interesting conversation. For all the pleading of our teens to give them more freedom, when they actually stare freedom in the face and recognize what comes along with it, it can be a pretty sobering realization. Then, after you have set boundaries in regard to what you will or won’t do for them, as well as boundaries for their behavior, then stick to them.
Realize there are some things you can’t fix. This is so hard for people like me who like to fix stuff, but every parent is going to face issues and problems we can’t control. We never have all the answers. We do not know the future. So when one of those situations arises, we as parents need to run to God for help. In addition to Him being a wonderful resource for us when we don’t know what to do, we are also modeling a very important behavior for our children. They need to see how you respond to circumstances beyond your control. They need to learn not expect everything to go their way.
Christian parents can tend to be overly-protective. We can bubble wrap our kids and keep them in our cocoon far too long. It’s our job when they are little to protect them from anything bad that can happen to them, but taken too far, we leave our kids vulnerable when they have a brush with the “jungle” of our culture. Many sheltered kids go wild when they go off to college or leave home. So, with your kids, are you preparing them to live on the jungle, or will it consume them?
If your older child has gotten lost in this jungle, I want to take a minute to encourage to not give up on them. Keep the communication lines open. Don’t be judgmental or shun them. God will honor the truths you have sown into their heart. The Bible is filled with examples of God continuing to work in people’s lives long after others had written them off. Even if you are tired and discouraged, and perhaps at the point of giving up, there is still hope. Keep believing and trusting the promises of God. Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Decide it is time to back off. For those who still have young teenagers, it would be wise for you to back off a bit and let them make their own decisions and learn from their own mistakes. When it comes to teens, there’s no substitute for experience. Sometimes they have to go through storms before they figure things out for themselves. If you are constantly telling your teen, “That won’t work” you may well be right, and they may listen to you while you still have influence over them, but at some point they are going to test your theory for themselves. Isn’t it better to have them do the testing while they are still at home, and you can help them pick up the pieces? As tempting as it is to step in and force them, it’s important to remember that you won’t always be there, and they won’t learn unless they experience it for themselves. Just keep quiet, unless they ask for your advice.
Parents need to protect younger children and make most decisions for them. But as they get older, the job shifts to setting boundaries; allowing teenagers to decide most things for themselves within those boundaries. In short, what I’m suggesting is that parents follow the same model God uses with us. He promises grace, relationship and help; not ease and comfort. He gives broad boundaries, but allows freedom for us to live our lives within, or outside of those boundaries.
I encourage you to quit giving and doing everything for your kids. Instead, focus on the basics, giving them your traditions and values, solid boundaries, the opportunity to be imperfect, and of course, your unconditional love. And most of all, give them the ability to learn how to live life on their own, because that day will be coming much sooner than you think.
We talked about this issue in depth on our radio program last week called “Responsible Parents; Irresponsible Teens.” To listen online look for the program dated August 13, 2011 at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.