Thank you for the comments on my last post about how education does not equal wisdom when it comes to parenting!
I want to pick up on something that Nurse Bee said in the last comment. She wrote, “And it’s worth remembering that there is no magic formula for parenting. Even the best parents may have a child who rebels (which I believe to some extent is normal) or turns away from the Lord.”
I pretty much agree with this statement. I think if a child rebels it is not necessarily a reflection on the parents. However, I think where we as a society start to go wrong is in how we see the nature of this rebellion. If we assume that rebellion is normal, then it’s also easy to assume that therefore nothing should be done about it (I don’t think Nurse Bee thinks this; I just want to use this as a jumping point. So I’m not criticizing you, Nurse Bee!). It’s just a phase (which is what the Niederbrock parents did). You know the spiel: all kids rebel, it’s natural. It’s even good for kids to rebel, because it’s part of them finding their own identity. We should expect the teen years to be hard, and expect them to do stupid things. But they’ll get out of it eventually. The main thing is just to show them, through it all, that you still love them.
I would say that is more or less what our culture says. So our culture tells kids, “we expect you to rebel.” Kids do hear that expectation, and perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that they then do rebel.
I remember when my children were 8 and 6 and I was having lunch with an editor whose children were ten years older than mine. I made some comment about how much I was enjoying parenting at the moment, but I was dreading the teen years. He rebuked me. He said, “the teen years are the best ones we’ve had yet. The kids are able to talk about intelligent things, and they’re a lot of fun. People should assume the teen years are going to be good ones. Why should we assume that kids are going to rebel?” He said our culture, and even our Christian culture, gives those teen years a bum rap, rather than expecting that they will be good ones.
So I stopped talking about how difficult I was expecting the teen years to be, and started talking about how much I was looking forward to them. And so far they have been wonderful, and I fully expect them to continue in that vein.
If they don’t, we will deal with it, like every parent should. But I am expecting my children to do what is right because I know they love God, and they have been raised to make the right decisions. Why should I expect something different just because they have hit the teen years?
So expectations need to be in line with what you know about your own children, with what you know about their relationship with God, and with your faith in Christ. Nothing is a guarantee; but why are we expecting the worst? I think it sets our kids up for failure when success is very much an option. Convey faith in your kids, not fear. When they’re younger, talk about what a great role model they will be when they’re teens to all of their friends. Talk about how strong their faith will become as they go through the teenage years and figure out who they are. Talk about the opportunities for missions trips and service they will have as they get older. Why not? It’s better than talking about expectations of failure, which is what our culture does.
Our culture also sets up teens in opposition to their parents. The favourite theme of so much teenage literature is “parents don’t understand”. And schools emphasize this through so much confidential counseling, and all the moral education they give. Some kids, obviously, come from rough homes and need a safe outlet. But parents should still be the primary place of refuge, and they are not portrayed that way.
If we expect that our kids will do well, and then they make a bad choice, what should our response be? So much varies on the child, but let me give a few thoughts.
First, the goal for me for my children is moral development. If they have done something wrong and their conscience is thoroughly pricked by it, then I don’t know that they need further punishment. I think what they need is for you to pray with them, help them go through the process of confession, and then restoration. I know a girl (not my daughter) who was caught drinking recently. It was a mistake. She knew it was a mistake. She had given in to peer pressure, and she was so sorry. She was just sobbing. I forget what her parents did as punishment, but I wouldn’t have come down that hard on her. I would have grounded her for a weekend not necessarily as a punishment but as a time that we could come together as a family. Pray with her. Then laugh with her. Play family games. Talk to her. Sip hot chocolate together. Show her you love her and coccoon in your family again.
If, on the other hand, the teen does not feel any remorse, then in my opinion the hammer should come down hard at the first instance of disrespect or rebellion. Kids should not be allowed to disrespect their parents. Perhaps you may disagree with me, and so much depends on the circumstance, but I think if we clearly lay out what we expect at the beginning, and show that violations will be dealt with, then we stop them before they go down that road.
Think about it this way. If your small child is playing near the fire, you remove them from the situation. Even a little burn is not acceptable. But when they’re teens, we think it’s okay for them rebel, it’s okay for them to do things which can harm them, because it’s part of finding their identity. Why? You’re still the parent, and a 15-year-old does not have a mature brain. They still need help.
So intervene early. And do it not just when they’re teens, but when they’re young, too. Sure two-year-olds have temper tantrums; that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Sure four-year-olds talk back to you; that doesn’t mean you let them get away with it. Sure five-year-olds whine; that doesn’t mean you have to respond to requests when they’re whining. Just because it’s common or natural does not mean that you let it go. Not when they’re 4, and not when they’re 14. And perhaps, the more we intervene, the easier it will be to raise them when they’re older.
So here’s my question for you: have you had a rebellious teen? Were you a rebellious teen? What do you think is the best way to handle things? I’d love to hear it!