Many parents today, possibly due to their own negative experiences, view exercising authority as a power-hungry act rather than a gentle and firm act of love, protection, and connection.
Others focus merely on behavior and don’t tend to their children’s hearts. It’s all too easy to fall into one extreme or the other, and I have certainly spent time parenting in both camps.
A lack of boundaries and heartfelt discipline is a common theme.
Parents feel frustrated and helpless while their children are frustrated as well, disrespectful, and often entitled.
Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting and The Soul of Discipline, wrote, “The current parenting trend, which assumes that a young child has the emotional and decision-making capacities of a teen or adult, is misguided. When a child is given too many choices, serious behavioral problems result.”
The pressure of too many choices overwhelm and upset them.
It’s a weight they weren’t meant to carry. Contentment and gratitude are hard for them to come by. The array of choices also makes it more difficult for them to submit to authority.
The message is clear: they are the ones in charge.
We mistakenly believe we’re being kind to a child by asking them what plate they want, where they want to sit, what they want to drink, when to even eat and sleep, when in actuality we are burdening them. This doesn’t mean we take away all their options, but as they slowly grow and mature, so do their options.
We may believe we’re being kind to kids or teens by allowing them to live their life through a screen if they so choose. But this sets them up to be disconnected from the family, and they will likely suffer in many areas of character development as their brains are adapting to immediate gratification and overstimulation.
They will not have learned how to live life balancing the pull of screens.
It’s a common theme today – to retire our parenting role as soon as we have teens and resistance swells, but our role as parents must not end with adolescence, or once they can drive.
Children and 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, because we take the time to seek out their hearts and support their interests.
They feel secure, rather than restrained, within healthy boundaries.
In his book, The Soul of Discipline, Kim John Payne writes, “Many parents are even wary of presenting themselves as authority figures within their own family: They worry they will squash the will of their child by introducing boundaries and providing direction. However, there is a significant difference between a Malevolent Dictator, who forcefully bends others to his or her will and a Benevolent Governor, who acts out of caring to bring safety and calm to the family estate.
Limits and boundaries instill feelings of safety, trust, and above all orientation in your child. Compliance to a parent’s direction further solidifies your child’s orientation. The compliance I refer to here is very different from the ‘blind obedience’ many children experienced growing up in the fifties and sixties. Your child must not be forced to accept an edict from a rigid, overpowering authority. Soulful disciplinary compliance is firm, yet loving. Furthermore, it is vital to a child’s social and emotional health. In learning to comply, a child accepts his or her parents’ warm but unwavering direction and develops inner flexibility.”
“Discipline should not simply be about being corrective. It should be a definer of family values.”
Sally Clarkson said, “A child who is not trained and taught to exercise strength in righteousness, truth, work ethic, relationships with integrity, will often be at a disadvantage his whole life, because instead of his character serving him, his lack of training and ignorance will detract from his ability to live an excellent life.”
“Teaching your child little by little to be patient, to control his spirit, to exercise self control, is training your child to wait on God.”
It is important to remember to not only look at our children’s behavior, but to assess the situation as well. Has our schedule been busier than it needs to be? This will likely result in behavior issues. Have I been paying enough attention to this child or is this a cry for connection?
We have to be careful that we’re not making excuses for a sin issue that we need to deal with, but we do need to look into the situation.
When our 3rd child, Quinn, was 3, he walked over to Gavin and Ellie who were sitting on the floor playing. Quinn has always been a rough and tumble kind of boy, but he acted visciously pulling their hair and stomping all over their toys. As I was walked toward him to remove him from the situation and discipline him, I heard the Holy Spirit speak so clearly. “You have not paid attention to Quinn in days. He is running on empty. He needs your love.”
I calmly carried him away and asked if he’d like to snuggle up with books while I read to him. I could see how surprised he was as he eagerly said, “yes Mommy!” I decided I would pour into him before I discussed his actions with him.
After I read a couple of his favorite books to him, he jumped out of my lap and ran over to Gavin and Ellie. WITHOUT ANY PROMPTING FROM ME, HE APOLOGIZED TO THEM AND HUGGED THEM! I stood there, dumbfounded, and thanked the Holy Spirit for His guidance. It was an eye-opening experience.
The vital importance of one on one time became crystal clear that day.
Again, this does not mean we regularly dismiss sin, but just that we tune into the heart of the situation, leaning into God’s insight as to what is really happening.
Just as continual sin causes a rift in our relationship with God, so disrespect between parent and child distances us.
But wholehearted discipline deepens our connections with our kids and teens..
We take the time to listen and hear their hearts, and when needed, correct them gently and firmly, requiring respect.
Without requiring honor, kids are taught that parents aren’t worth honoring, and the possibility of a deep connection to them is not likely. When this habit of disrespect takes root in their hearts, they won’t likely honor God or others.
Fear based parenting.. fears that consequences and boundaries will harm the parent/child relationship. Children may be allowed to be rude to the parent and others with little to no consequence.
But this lack of healthy boundaries results in a sense of injustice and helplessness within the parent, and rebellion in the child, which often stirs up frustration as the child is acting out, resulting in anger from the parent..
And this damages the relationship – the very thing the parent was trying desperately to prevent. An angry parent teaches the child that the parent is the problem, rather than their behavior.
I’ve been that parent – lacking in boundaries and resorting to anger.
But consequences, when given fairly, firmly, and through a calm parent, teach the child that their behavior was the problem, not the parent. This motivates the child or teen to think twice .. builds self control.
Impulse control is developed when they learn they can’t have everything they want when they want it, when they learn to wait. They grow inner flexibility, strength, and contentment.
If we allow them to whine continually – they will take on a victim mindset and sense of entitlement rather than gratitude.
In our home it looks like this..
if someone asks for something in a whiny voice.. they have to repeat it in a kind, respectful tone before it’s considered. If they demand to have something, they may not receive it at all, and if they do it’s only once there’s a heart change.
Of course, we take circumstances into account that my have drained them, and give grace accordingly, but we don’t allow whining or rudeness to become a habit.
If they’re repeatedly struggling with kindness toward siblings, then they lose the privilege of hanging out with friends for a while; this includes the use of their phone (if they’re old enough to have one).
They need to think about a better way they could have handled the situation, and then practice that. We also have them copy out pages of scripture for repeated rudeness.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
We walk through the process of asking for forgiveness with them until they’re old enough to do so on their own.
If it sounds like hard work, it’s because it is. BUT, as strength of character is built within your child through your heartfelt guidance and boundaries, it is no exaggeration to say that both you and your child will be rewarded for it the rest of your lives.
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.