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.
~This article can also be found on http://www.cohesivehome.com – an inspiring community of intentional families ~
We were living the only way we knew. Our schedule was overwhelming. Our 6 year old, Gavin, was in baseball and Tae Kwon Do a couple nights a week, and we often brought our younger kids along. There was also heavy involvement in church activities and many responsibilities we had taken on there. With all of this piled on top of the time Gavin was away at school, there was little time remaining for us to be a family. There was an emptiness in all the busyness, and a hurt in all the hurry.
My husband, Dan, was the first to challenge the way we were living. I recall us arriving home late one school night, his hands full carrying Ellie (lying limp over his shoulder) and my hands full with Gavin’s baseball gear. Gavin was exhausted, walking alongside his father as he held on to him, his head bobbing against Dan’s side. Dan paused, released a troubled sigh, and very seriously said to me, “Why do we feel the need to live like this?” Truth be told, we were drained, but until that moment I assumed that was the only acceptable way to live. A lifestyle free from hurry seemed scandalous. We had felt the worldly obligation to over schedule and rush and had jumped in without questioning it. Life wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a life in which we were not truly connected as a couple, nor in tune with our children’s hearts, nor grounded with purpose. We were spread a mile wide and felt an inch deep.
When Dan questioned the way we were living, I was reluctant to change initially. There were fears of our kids ‘missing out.’ After much thought and prayer a sense of relief began to wash over me as my eyes were opened to the fact that we were already missing out on what mattered, and that whether we lived in the 21st century or not, we could choose a different path.
This marked the beginning of a shift in our thoughts and a pivotal change in our lives as we began to disregard the messages of our culture and instead uncover the longings God had placed deep in our hearts. Little did we fathom then that this would eventually lead us to homeschooling, moving 100 miles from the city and everything we knew, buying a little house on 11 acres and adding chickens as well as a milk cow!
Now we were on the course to simplify our lives and to guard our time. For the first time we dared to dream of a life rich in simplicity, a life that would give our children a strong foundation and tie us together as family. A life lived open enough that we could spontaneously bake a batch of cookies together, venture on wildflower hunts, identify the constellations while lying on the grass, grab our kayaks and head to the lake on a whim, learn to build a barn and our home together, linger long over dinner as we read aloud another chapter, worship alongside each other in our home and our country church, open our home to share hearts with others, create trails on our land for exploring and go cart driving. And by the grace of God, this is our life. A life in which there is time enough for the kids to explore their interests, whether it’s learning to build a magnetic generator and reading all the great books, taking his kayak out on the lake or playing his guitar (Gavin), writing the story of our family since we’ve moved to the country, floating in her kayak, taking painting lessons from her aunt or playing the piano (Ellie), climbing yet another tree, figuring out how to build what’s in his head with his Legos as well as wood, and completing his Wild Explorer Club assignments (Quinn), or all of us out on our land playing around.
It’s often messy with all this togetherness and we screw up more than I like, but that gives us opportunities to learn to love well and practice forgiveness. Our children’s relationships with each other go deep. They truly enjoy each other as they have ample time and space to do so free from the pull of screens and distractions. There is time and space to hug, create, play, laugh, explore, share hopes, discover passions, thoroughly deal with heart issues, and be. To just be. It’s vital for our soul’s nourishment and growth, but is the most rejected activity today.
Throughout the years we’ve realized that anytime we gravitate toward a busy lifestyle (even recently) we begin to deal with our children as tasks, moving through our days giving them orders and going through the motions of family life. However, when we are living intentionally and slowly, rather than merely dealing with our children, we have found that we truly see them. At those times we have the capacity to hear their hearts and share ours. We’ve also seen a strong correlation between an over-scheduled life and negative, disrespectful attitudes in our children (and us). When our lives are cluttered it can be difficult for me to even recognize that there is an issue in my child’s heart, and even harder to take the time to get to the root of it and address it.
“It’s easy, given the times we live in and the implicit messages we absorb each day, to equate a good life with having a lot and doing a lot. So it’s also easy to fall into believing that our children, if they are to succeed in life, need to be terrific at everything, and that it’s up to us to make sure they are – to keep them on track through tougher course loads, more activities, more competitive sports, more summer programs. But in all our well-intentioned efforts to do the right thing for our children, we may be failing to provide them with something that is truly essential – the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures.” Katrina Kenison
We realized in order to maintain this kind of life in our hyper-scheduled world we would need to have a game plan. I personally love to plan and this has often been my downfall, even after we resolved to live simply and drop unnecessary commitments. I have been far too eager to fill up our calendar. This has led to no less than me crumpling under a panic attack, and bickering among the whole family as we race around attempting to keep up.
So the decision was made several years back that before we commit to anything from an extracurricular activity to hosting friends for dinner we are to pray through what we are giving a ‘yes’ to and especially what we are therefore saying no to. We question whether this commitment will be beneficial to the child 10 years from now more than time spent curled up with an inspiring book, or in the quiet schooling of nature, or time spent in lessons from a neighbor or family member. Is it a more valuable use of their time than time with siblings or “the time and space they need to wake up to themselves, to grow acquainted with their own innate gifts, to dream their dreams and discover their true natures,” as Kenison stated. What are the influences in the environment? Do I want to put them in an event to see them perform or to win a medal? Am I longing to see them accomplish something because I wish I had? How will it affect the whole family? Is it more important that they learn to do a back handspring in a gym on a beautiful day, or hike in the outdoors where perspective is renewed, where they are refreshed, and learn to reverence God and grow a respect for all living things?
Seven years ago after our marriage had taken a devastating turn for the worse, Dan and I developed the habit of praying together each evening after we put the kids to bed (and this has done no less than transform our marriage in amazing and surprising ways). The more we have sought the Lord together, the easier it has become to hear His voice on the matter. Early in our marriage we prayed together occasionally wrapping it up with a quick Amen, but never taking the time to listen. To be still and expectant together. This has turned into my most anticipated part of each day. When we take the time to seek Him, He doesn’t leave us in the dark. And when we turn down a commitment because God is leading us to, we carry freedom rather than guilt. We’ve never regretted a decision we made after seeking God on the matter, but I’ve uttered a thousand ‘thank you’s’ to the Lord for steering us clear of the ‘too much’ I would most certainly have signed us up for otherwise. God has led us to a life that is not void of challenges, but a life in which we can focus on what matters at the end of the day, rich in simplicity and deepening joy.