08 June 2010


I've had some interesting inquiries lately about parenting youth that I thought might be helpful to share, especially as most families shift into summer mode when there is a lot more freedom of time for the teens in the household.
Recently I was asked by a colleague, "What is the one thing you would want to say to parents of teens?" My short and simple reply was, "Don't stop parenting yet!" I did follow up with some other thoughts. I hope the following is helpful and welcome your thoughts and feedback.

It is demonstrated in our culture through mass media and our fascination with celebrities that Americans value freedom, personal wealth, independence, youthfulness, promiscuity and violence. We also espouse a high regard for privacy. In my opinion we often give our teenagers too much freedom and privacy too fast. It's more than they can handle and then we blame the young person for unwise choices that lead to trouble.

Transitioning from young teen to older teen to young adult in a culture that lets 16-year-olds drive, 18-year-olds vote and smoke, and 21-year-olds drink seems like a gradual transition. Although it's very interesting to consider that particular progression of secular privileges, rites of passage, in that particular chronology; it says a lot about our cultural value system.

Older teens want nothing more than the perceived freedom of adulthood and often run to the limit as soon as privileges are granted, not comprehending the responsibility that goes hand in hand with the newly acquired privilege. I will never forget my oldest's proclamation on his eighteenth birthday. "I no longer have curfew and I'm blocking you on FaceBook!" * * click * *

"I have other FaceBook friends," I replied, "and you may not have curfew, but if you intend to live in this house you will be home by 11 on weeknights and midnight on the weekends unless special arrangements have been made." We truly had no problems with this child through his graduation and the following summer. He honored the golden rule of the household: Mom needs to know where you are and who you're with at all times. Did he and his brother sneak one by me now and then? I'm sure they did. But I also held up my end of the bargain with random checks. We live in a small enough community that their chances of bumping into members of our extended family and Episcopal congregation members are petty high. They were not subjected to an adult-free vacuum, even during summer vacation.

Our teens and tweens need parents, godparents, mentors, and adult friends to help shepherd them through these growing stages as partners. That includes knowing how to text them, greeting them in helpful and non-shaming ways on FaceBook, as well as face to face interactions. Our communities of faith are ideally suited to provide this community safety-net, holding the tension with parents as our children gradually mature into adulthood. But we need to be intentional in accomplishing this task. We need to support parents in learning to text and FaceBook and lift this up not as an intrusion on the privacy of our children, but as an essential piece of participation in the fabric of the community that uses technology as a significant means of communication in this day and age. Word of mouth is FaceBook and texting with cell phones.

Teenagers did not invent cell phones, texting, FaceBook, or iPhones. We did. And we marketed them and purchased these technologies and gave them to our kids. It is our responsibility to join the virtual community we have created so that we can continue to be parents and friends to the young people in our lives who still need us. I am not yet an accomplished expert in this field of parenting; mine are 18 and 21 and still in the house and in college. But as a youth minister I have had the privilege of watching parenting at its best and worst and everywhere in between. What is evident is the importance of a supportive and faithful community surrounding parents and teens, especially in those tender and oh-so-fast moments of vulnerable transition as youth gain new freedoms before their skills to handle those privileges are complete.

I conclude with one of my favorite prayers from Guide My Feet by Marian Wright Edelman.

Lord help me not do for my children
what they can do for themselves.

Help me not to give them
what they can earn for themselves.

Help me not to tell them
what they can look up and find out for themselves.

Help me to help my children stand on
their own two feet and to grow into
responsible, disciplined adults.



  1. This is terrific! Thank you.

  2. You're welcome, LKT. Glad you found it helpful. Thank you for the affirmation.

  3. I've had different experience with parenting. Our parenting style is based on relationship. We have very few rules (I'm not sure any, actually), but you'd never know it from our children's choices. Perhaps we have just been blessed with children who naturally choose good things. Perhaps it is a combination of our parenting style and their good nature. Do our children have a curfew? No, but they haven't chosen to be out past 11:30 PM (they are now 18 and 19). Until they were 18, their license didn't allow it. More importantly to them is that they knew they'd feel pretty awful the next day if they did. There were natural consequences that helped them make good decisions, consequences that would follow them throughout their lives.

    We don't have rules about drinking. But we sure have had a lot of conversations about it. Our son started college last year has chosen his friends among those who drink moderately.

    The freedom they have has also helped them not just NOT do things. But also to try out sports, new areas of study, experiences and so on (all of them healthy). We talk over dinner about politics, religion, books we have read, and so on. We eat all our meals with them. We are present for them. Although I realize not every family can have one parent stay at home (or is a wise choice for everyone). We have arranged our finances to do so (sometimes having $30 left in our checking account at the end of the month).

    Now, this doesn't mean that we never have had rules. When they were elementary school age they looked to us for healthy boundaries and needed them. We helped them see how to make good choices. Having only 3 out of school activities, for example, meant they had more free time to play. They learned to know when they were tired, which signaled to them that their bodies needed sleep. Our two children need different amounts of sleep, which has been the case since they were born. So our daughter sleeps in on Saturdays. We don't wake her up just so she conforms to our schedules.

    There is outside affirmation of this parenting style. Consider college's experience with drinking. After the drinking age was raised to 21, drinking has worsened--binge drinking at underground parties. Students no longer drink over a meal in the light of day. Non-drinkers and drinkers don't mix as much, so there's less mentoring of healthy drinking.

    I've written about this style of parenting in an Episcopal Teacher article called "Parenting the Stranger" which suggests we parent our children as sojourners who are created in God's image, as very good. They belong to God first. We are to treat them that way, and show them the blessings of our lives.