Raising Adolescents—The Role of Wisdom
“We try hard to guide our son and daughter, but it seems that we’re forever reprimanding them for something. We sometimes wonder whether we’re building their self-confidence or destroying it. Finding a balance is a real challenge.”—George and Lauren, Australia.
RAISING an adolescent is no easy task. Besides dealing with the new set of challenges their child presents, parents may have to confront their own misgivings about the fact that their son or daughter is growing up. “Just realizing that our children will be gone one day is a sad thought,” admits a father in Australia named Frank. “It is not easy to accept that you are no longer in control of their lives.”
Lia, quoted earlier in this series, would agree. “It’s difficult to treat my son as a young adult, because I still view him as my little boy,” she says. “It seems like only yesterday that he was off to his first day at school!”
Hard as it may be to accept, adolescents are no longer little children. They are ‘adults in training,’ and parents are their teachers and their cheerleaders. However, as George and Lauren noted above, parents have the power both to build and to destroy a child’s self-confidence. How can parents find the right balance? The Bible contains helpful advice. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Let us consider some examples.
Good Communication Is Vital
The Bible tells Christians to be “swift about hearing” and “slow about speaking.” (James 1:19) While this is good advice when one is dealing with children of any age, hearing—or listening—is particularly important with adolescents. And it may require great effort.
“I had to expand my communication skills when my sons became teenagers,” says Peter, a father in Britain. “When the boys were younger, my wife and I told them what to do, and they listened. But now that they’re older, we have to reason with them, talk things through, and let them use their own thinking abilities to resolve matters. In short, we have to reach the heart.”—2 Timothy 3:14.
Listening is especially vital when there is a conflict. (Proverbs 17:27) Danielle, in Britain, found this to be true in her case. She relates: “I had an issue with one of my daughters over the way she talked back when I asked her to do anything. But she told me that I was always shouting at her and ordering her around. We resolved this conflict by sitting down and really listening to each other. She described the way I spoke to her and how it made her feel, and I described my impressions and feelings to her.”
Danielle found that being “swift about hearing” helped her to discern a deeper issue. “Now I try to be patient with my daughter,” she says, “and I try to speak to her only when I’m not angry.” She added, “Our relationship is improving.”
Proverbs 18:13 states: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” Greg, a father in Australia, found that to be true. “Conflicts with our children sometimes arise when instead of listening first and acknowledging our children’s feelings, my wife and I are quick to lecture,” he says. “Even if we disagree totally with their attitudes, we have found it very important to allow them to express their feelings before we provide any needed correction or advice.”
How Much Freedom?
Perhaps the most frequent cause of conflict between parents and adolescents has to do with the issue of independence. How much freedom should be given to a teenager? “Sometimes I feel that if I give my daughter an inch, she wants a mile,” says one dad.
Obviously, granting youths unrestricted freedom will reap bad results. Indeed, the Bible warns that “a boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” (Proverbs 29:15) Youths of any age need firm guidelines, and parents should be loving but consistent in their enforcement of family rules. (Ephesians 6:4) At the same time, youths need to be accorded a degree of independence so that they will be better prepared to make wise decisions later in life.
Think, for example, of how you learned to walk. At first, as an infant, you had to be carried. In time, you began to crawl and then to walk. Of course, becoming mobile can be dangerous for a small child. Thus, your parents kept a close watch on you and may even have put up barriers to restrict you from hazardous areas, such as stairways. Still, they allowed you to move about on your own so that in time—after a number of inevitable falls—you would learn to walk with ease.
Attaining independence involves a similar process. At first, parents, in effect, carry their small children. They do this by making decisions for them. Later, as their children demonstrate a degree of maturity, parents allow them to crawl, so to speak. They permit them to make certain choices for themselves. All the while, barriers are kept in place, and these protect youths from harm. As their children mature, parents allow them to “walk” on their own. Then, when they become adults, they will be fully able to ‘carry their own load.’—Galatians 6:5.
Learning From a Bible Example
Evidently, as a preteen, Jesus was granted a measure of independence by his parents, but he did not abuse the trust that was accorded him. On the contrary, he “continued subject” to his parents as he “went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.”—Luke 2:51, 52.
As a parent, you can learn from this example and grant your young ones increased freedom as they show themselves capable of handling it. Note what some parents have to say about their experiences in this regard.
“I used to interfere with my children’s activities far too much. Later, I taught them principles and let them make decisions according to what they had learned. After that, I noticed that they began weighing their decisions more carefully.”—Soo Hyun, Korea.
“My husband and I are always a bit apprehensive, but we have not let this keep our children from exercising in a responsible way the freedom that they have rightly earned.”—Daria, Brazil.
“I have found it important to praise my teenage son for the good way he uses the independence that I grant him. I also do what I ask him to do. For example, I tell him where I’m going and what I’m doing. If I’m running late, I let him know.”—Anna, Italy.
“In our home we emphasize that independence isn’t something our sons are entitled to but something they have to prove they can be trusted with.”—Peter, Britain.
Bearing the Consequences
The Bible states: “Good it is for an able-bodied man that he should carry the yoke during his youth.” (Lamentations 3:27) One of the best ways a youth can bear the yoke of responsibility is to learn by experience the truthfulness of the statement: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Galatians 6:7.
Likely with good intentions, some parents shield their teens from the consequences of unwise actions. For instance, suppose through frivolous spending a son gets himself into debt. What lesson will be taught if Dad and Mom simply pay it off for him? On the other hand, what lesson would be taught if the boy’s parents helped him to work out a plan to pay off the debt himself?
Parents do their children no favor when they fail to allow them to learn the consequences of irresponsible behavior. Rather than prepare them for adulthood, this only teaches them that someone will always be there to bail them out, clean up their messes, and cover up their mistakes. It is far better to give teens the opportunity to reap what they have sown and to learn how to work through their problems. This is an important aspect of having their “perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Hebrews 5:14.
“A Changing, Developing Person”
There is no doubt that parents of adolescents face a daunting task. At times, they will likely shed tears of frustration as they strive to bring up their children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
In the end, effective parenting is, not about controlling, but about teaching and instilling proper values. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) Easier said than done? Absolutely. “We are dealing with a changing, developing person,” says Greg, quoted earlier. “This means that we must continually get to know and adjust to that new person.”
Strive to apply the Bible principles discussed in this article. Be reasonable in what you expect from your children. But never relinquish your place as the primary role model in their life. The Bible says: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”—Proverbs 22:6.
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Gaining independence is like learning to walk—it is a gradual process
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As a preteen, Jesus was granted a measure of independence
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“Reaffirming Your Authority”
The fact that your teenager may be upset by your restrictions does not mean that you should relinquish your authority. Remember, adolescents are inexperienced in life and they still need guidance.—Proverbs 22:15.
In his book New Parent Power! John Rosemond writes: “It is easy for parents to let themselves be intimidated by their children’s emotional upheavals and begin allowing them more responsibility than they can handle in order to avoid confrontations. Exactly the opposite is called for. This is a time for reaffirming your authority rather than allowing your children to dismantle it. Although they will surely reject the notion, it’s also a time for children to know that hands other than their own are ready to take the wheel.”
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Often teenagers want more freedom than they should have. At the same time, some parents tend to extend less freedom than they could. Somewhere between the two extremes, there is a balance. How can you find it? For a start, you may want to consider the list below. In which areas is your son or daughter demonstrating responsible behavior?
□ Choice of friends
□ Choice of clothing
□ Budgeting money
□ Adhering to curfew
□ Finishing chores
□ Completing schoolwork
□ Apologizing for errors
□ Other ․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․․
If your adolescent is already demonstrating maturity in a number of the above areas, why not think of some ways you can extend further trust?
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Allow them to express their feelings before you provide any needed correction or advice
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Parents need to teach their children to be responsible