One common referral we receive at SHELTER might sound like this: “My teenage son has run away from home several times, has got into trouble with the police and may one day end up appearing a Juvenile Court. I would like to place him in a home, but I need to be sure that he can be controlled.”
One can understand such concerns, but there are other more vital issues to consider here. The situation above places the emphasis and the responsibility mainly on those who are in a position of authority over the teenager. Is this the best approach?
When you look at the basic child development, isn’t it significant that the adolescent stage (approximately 13-18 years) is positioned just before the adult stage (18 and above)? What should be happening at this time to prepare our teens for adulthood? How can we assist them in this process? If asked the question, “How would you like your teenage child to cope in life when they grow up?” I’m sure our answers would include the following: “I want them to be able to be independent, be responsible and make the right choices about careers, relationships, and finances and so on.”
How can this work in practice? Firstly, it is important to keep the lines of communication open. We may hesitate when our teenage son says that he wants to have a hand-phone. One immediate response may be “no way”. End of story. Your teenage son then processes what this means and what he feels about your response: “My friends have one. I want to be able to communicate via SMS. I want to be part of the group. My parents don’t seem to care. They don’t want to listen to me.” What if our response is something like – “ok, you’d like a hand-phone. I can see why. But your allowance is so much per week and there are these other things to pay for. See if you can work this out on your budget and then we’ll take a look.” This shows respect, understanding, leads the son to think through the implications, teaches him to be responsible and helps him to take a small step on the way to independence and maturity.
Take another scenario – your five year old daughter refuses to put her toys away when you request her to do so. What are the options? Raise your voice, get angry and repeat the request? What if all these fail? You want your child to learn responsibility but she doesn’t cooperate. The answer lies within the old saying that decisions carry consequences – “ok, you want to read to you before you go to bed, but since I have to put your toys away, there won’t be much time to read. You can decide what you want to happen.”
In the end, the question is not about how we can control our children or tell them what to do but how we can help them learn self-control and work things through for themselves – and this process can start from much younger than we think. Limits are invaluable – but only if they are given in such a way that enables your child to own them and feel responsible for them.
One final thought – God made us, His children and gave us responsibility for His world. What an enormous responsibility! There have been countless times in history when we have made enormous mistakes. God has given us the blueprint as to how we are to live our lives, but He leaves the choice with us. However, we live with the consequences of those choices. That is true freedom. God will never coerce, never force – he gives us the choice, throws the responsibility back at us but, at the same time, longs for us to live His way but lets us live with the consequences. We can learn much from His approach.