What happens when you teenager wants more freedom and independence and will do just about anything to get it?
First off, it may help to realize that the desperate pursuit of independence is nothing new. In its selfish form, it’s been causing problems since the human race first arrived on the planet. And as our kids seek a positive, necessary form of freedom, we can look for ways to help them understand the deeper spiritual need revealed by that craving and point them toward healthy ways to satisfy it.
Thankfully, the kids themselves offered a lot of wisdom for this process, starting with the appeal to neither give them all the freedom they want nor clamp them down so hard that they’re dying to get away. Instead, they say, we can help them learn to want the rights and to handle their independence responsibility. Let’s look at how we can exactly do that.
1. Get to know your teen
One of the most common appeals we heard from the teenagers was for parents to see them as individuals and understand how they’re wired. Quite simply, some children can handle more freedom than others.
As we look for evidence of growing maturity, recent events can provide insight. Does she lose her cell phone weekly? If your son can’t turn in his math homework, is he really responsible enough to be entrusted with your car?
One particularly helpful exercise is to determine which of these two actual teen comments sounds most like your child:
“I have to admit that if my parents were more lenient, I’d take advantage of it.”
“I’d never take advantage of them. I enjoy their trust and my wide leash.”
2. Choose discipline with their key fear-triggers in mind.
The fear of losing freedom often explains why a teenager’s reaction seems way out of proportion to a given situation. And knowing what freedoms are most important to your child will help you avoid unintentionally triggering her fight-or-flight instincts. For example, one child might view her cell phone as her lifeline to the world and as a vital to her identity as a “real person.” For another teen, the use of the car may be far more critical tool of interdependence.
Since we usually have multiple discipline options at our disposal for a given infraction, it may be most productive to focus on the option that brings home the consequences without setting off the “loss of freedom” radar. Sometimes the loss of freedom is itself the appropriate consequence, but we want to exercise it wisely, understanding that for our child it is the “nuclear bomb” of discipline.
3. Set specific expectations.
Your kid will tend to feel more settled and secure—and be more honest with you—if he understands exactly what circumstances will result in losing a particular freedom and what circumstances won’t. For example, if your child feels particularly possessive about his cell phone, establish that it is for your convenience as his parent, and if he doesn’t answer your calls or if he abuses his minutes, the phone will be taken away. But if he sticks to the rules, he can rest assured his cell phone privileges are secure.
Teen expert Vicki Courtney saw the power of establishing clear expectations when her kids started using the Internet. Setting the ground rules, she told them, “Now that you’re going online, it’s not a matter if you’ll be made uncomfortable, it’s when. I know you can accidentally stumble onto bad sites, and I know that bad people can contact you. If a porn ad pops up, or if someone contacts you and makes you feel uncomfortable, let me know so I can figure out how it happened. I promise I will not take your Internet away.”
Since gaining freedom is a huge incentive, you might want to help your child realize that he’ll have more freedom if he shows he can handle it—and that purposeful deception is the quickest way to lose it.
Equip them to cope wisely with their growing freedoms.
We’ve seen that seven out of ten kids will do what they want to do, no matter what we say. Even the fear of their parents’ finding out doesn’t compel them to stop their behavior, only to hide it. (Scary!) So we need to help our teens want to do the right things and not want the wrong ones. Beyond consistent, fervent prayer-which we advocate wholeheartedly-here are a few suggestions for pointing them in the right direction.
Help your kids learn to think through their decisions-and see where they might have been wrong.
As we’ll detail in another chapter, the kids said they have to understand the reasons for the rules-embracing the rules for themselves and not thinking of them as being externally imposed. In addition, since that frontal lobe of your child’s brain is probably underdeveloped, she may need to act as an “external frontal lobe” to help her think through consequences. (“If you go to the mall, what does that mean for how much time you’ll have to do your homework?”) Similarly, your child could easily de deluding herself about whether a choice she already made was actually a bad one or whether it involved deception.
Help them move from fearing parents to fearing God.
On the survey, we were surprised that fully six in ten kids said they consider whether God sees everything they do when they’re tempted to do something that might be wrong. And among those God-aware kids, six in ten also said that the fact that God might be disappointed in them was a bigger influence that whether their parents would be disappointed. Parents can help such kids transition from fear of Mom and Dad to fear of God.
As we watch our cherished no-longer-little-ones begin the process of flying free, what a comfort it is to entrust them to the One who made them and to know that he holds them securely in his hands.
Although it may be scary to watch your child venture toward adulthood as an independent person, one thing the kids said was scary for them was figuring out who on earth that independent person is.
Used with permission from For Parents Only