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.
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.