The care and keeping of adolescents

My husband and I have four children.  Two are in their early 20's, and two are still teenagers.  We've been living in the transitional, hormone-infused, crazy-land of adolescence for almost 10 years, and we've got another 5 or 6 yet to go.  Over the past year, I think we have finally come to feel like we know what we're doing. When I say that we know what we are doing, I don't mean that we have rules and techniques that will infallibly result in good grades, nice behavior, and excellent choices at all times.  Sorry to disappoint so early in this blog.

Here's what I mean when I say we know what we're doing:  we are way less worried about good grades, nice behavior, and excellent choices at all times.  We have gotten better at knowing what's our part, what's theirs, and what's God's.  We have gotten better at stepping back emotionally and doing the right thing as we know it in this moment.  We have gotten better at doing things differently when they're not working any more, rather than being stuck on The One Right Way to Deal With This Child.  Adolescence is a training ground for adulthood.  Mistakes will be made.  By all of us.  We will all survive, thrive, and figure it out as we go along.

And we have come across some broad ideas about adolescents that are helping us to deal more calmly with occasional bad grades, irritating behavior, and sad choices.

They are children.

They need my love, my attention, and my care.  They need their dad's love, attention, and care.  They may not speak to us for weeks at a time (and boy is it aggravating when that happens), but we have to show them that we love them and value them no matter what.  Just because they are big, doesn't mean we can scream and yell and call them bad names.  When I am completely confused about what to do next, I can still love them even if they don't want to hear it.  My love is right here, waiting for them.

They think they're grown-ups.  

And this is just not true!  First of all, the State of Texas disagrees.  Secondly, the brain is still developing during adolescence, in particular the frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning ahead and making healthy decisions.  Newsflash:  teenage brains will come up with crazy things unless wiser parental brains prevail.  Therefore, we are still required, by law and by common sense, to provide boundaries and consequences.  (Read Boundaries with Kids and apply the principles as needed.)

Someday soon they will be grown-ups. 

That means I need to look beyond the current situation and think about the future.  Am I helping too much?  Saving my child from natural consequences?  If so, I might be teaching my kid that he can't do it without me.  And the reality is, usually he can.  It might be painful and ugly for a while, but he can do it.  And I need to let him.  Unless I want him to live at home for a long, long time.  Experts are saying adolescence in America extends to age 26 these days.  That might sound like fun to you, but I'm hoping to come in under the average over here at my house.

They like freedom but responsibility is another story.

OK, let's just tell the truth.  We ALL like freedom and not responsibility.  I would love to lay on the beach all day and have someone bring me one Diet Coke after another.  This is just being human.  But it's not reality.  In the real world, freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand into healthy adulthood.

I bless the invention of the cell phone, because cell phone ownership is a magnificent laboratory for the balance of freedom and responsibility.  Cell phones, contrary to adolescent opinion, are not necessary for the sustenance of life.  They are convenient and fun and "everybody has one," but believe me when I say, you can live without one.  Remember, none of us parents had one!  Having a phone is a privilege, a freedom, that someone has to be responsible to pay for.  So in our family, you are welcome to have a cell phone when you can pay the bill.  Similarly, you are welcome to drive when you can pay for your insurance.  You are welcome to have a car when you can buy it and maintain it yourself.  Either you want these things and will get a job to provide them for yourself, or not.  Up to you.  These are grown-up privileges, and this is how the grown-up world works.  I've had to stand up to some lectures from my kids about how this is unfair, unfeeling, and just plain unAmerican.  But I'm really OK with that.  I think they need to learn this, and I'm sticking to it.

Not every single thing they do is all about me.

Sometimes they do things because they're angry and want to irritate me.  But a lot of times they're just doing what they're doing.  I can invite my child to talk to me about what's going on, and if there's something wrong between us, we can work on it.  But if my child declines, I need to back off and let her be.  Differentiating is a huge task during adolescence, and I've got to learn to be OK with that.  My role as a parent changes during these years.  Some kids need a lot of space and that can be really painful for us as parents.

I am not in control.  Thank God.

It's not my job to be in control.  My job is to do my part and that is all.  God holds my children in His loving hands.  When I'm confused and afraid, He is not.  When my kids exercise their free will in ways I think are detrimental to their health and my well-being, God is still at work, doing more than I could ever ask, think, or dream.

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