Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to contain the subject of raising teens within one blog post, nor am I claiming to be an expert. This will likely be my first of many posts on the topic simply shared from our experiences as well as what we’ve observed and studied.
We live at a time in which I feel there’s this battle raging against childhood. There’s an influx of busyness, screens, pressures to perform, comparisons made all too easily with perpetual testing and social media, often a lack of parental boundaries and loving guidance, and in our culture especially, peer orientation has become the norm that folks accept without question. Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate cover this topic in their book, Hold On To Your Kids:
For the first time in history, young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults, but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults. Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity. They are being brought up by each other.
Even in home educating families, this can be a devastating issue if parents aren’t intentional regarding their connection to their children and are unaware of the danger of peer-orientation.
“But aren’t we meant to let go?” many parents ask. “Aren’t our children meant to become independent of us?” Absolutely, but only when our job is done and only in order for them to be themselves. Fitting in with the immature expectations of the peer groups is not how the young grow to be independent, self-respecting adults. By weakening the natural lines of attachment and responsibility, peer orientation undermines healthy development.
Children may know what they want, but it is dangerous to assume they know what they need. To the peer-oriented child it seems only natural to prefer contact with friends to closeness with family, to be with them as much as possible, to be as much like them as possible. The child does not know best. Parenting that takes its cues from the child’s preferences can get you retired long before the job is done. To nurture our children, we must reclaim them and take charge of providing for their attachment needs.
Since our Gavin turned 16, (he’s now 17), we’ve been asked several times if he’s always gone. Is family life viewed as something to escape, rather than a place in which you are loved as you are, heard, guided; a place where you work hard and play hard and share in the rhythm of feasts and forgiveness?
I wonder, if abandoning home life is the mindset, then has it become the norm for parents to throw up their hands in surrender, giving up on cultivating family life and parenting once a teen can drive, or even as early as puberty?
Yes, I believe independence increases over time, but it is a s l o w increase – one that is dependent upon a teen’s character and level of responsibility, but home is still home.
We believe teens need our unconditional love, guidance, encouragement, boundaries, and sometimes consequences. They need to feel it deeply – that we are for them and believe in them. They feel secure, rather than restrained, within healthy boundaries.
Teens will gravitate where they feel heard and supported the most.
It’s all to easy in this age of peer orientation to believe it’s hopeless to connect to our teen’s heart. Many believe the lie that their teens don’t want to have anything to do with them, that to pursue a close relationship is pointless. But at the heart of every child and teen is the longing to have those close ties with a parent who loves them unconditionally.
Many parents, in an attempt to avoid coming off as controlling, resort to the other extreme. They retire their role as parents prematurely, often as early as the onset of the teen years when resistance swells. Possibly due to their own negative experiences with figures of authority, they view exercising authority as a power-hungry act rather than an act of love, protection, and connection.
But in allowing a young teen (or an older teen who has not proved to be responsible in maintaining a healthy balance) to determine how many hours they will spend on a screen each day, how often they will hang out with friends, and to basically manage all the details of their young lives, (in most cases) these parents are setting their kids up to be disconnected from the family.
The pressure of too many decisions and options can weigh heavily upon them.
A teen lacking strong family ties is socially and emotionally volatile, often lacking the grit to overcome challenges as well as lacking confidence. The boundaries that provide security and training as to how to live life in a healthy balance are not present.
I’m often asked what a healthy limit for screens is. I think in all areas of parenting we need to lean into the Holy Spirit for guidance as there’s not a perfect answer. It will look different in our unique families. For us, we’ve had peace with waiting until a child is driving to allow them a phone. This gives more time for their character to develop before setting such a device in their hands, more time to be free from the pull that can steal from a wonder-filled childhood.
Once they have a phone, we set an hour limit per day that includes texting, email, and social media as they are learning to balance it in their lives; Dan and I rarely spend more than this on ours, apart from Dan’s time at work. When school is demanding, it is less; when sick, it is more.
As they grow in maturity and responsibility, demonstrating they can wisely manage their time, we give them the increased freedom to do so.
If there’s a lack of kindness and respect toward siblings or parents, the phone is taken away for a while. A ‘vacation’ from the phone at this point has done a world of good, and once we see that the family connections are truly tended to and made stronger, the phone is given back. This has taken anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. We’ve seen this time ‘off’ do its beautiful, restorative work as deep connections become the focus.
Yes, dear friends are part of their lives, but not their life.
Screens are part of their lives, but they do not consume their life.
Hold on to their hearts. Bravely create a different family culture than the norm. Don’t fear healthy boundaries- they still need a parent to assist in guarding their hearts and to (gently and firmly) confront them over concerns.
Love them wildly, come alongside them in supporting their interests, and watch them flourish.