October 1, 2010

Parenting Teenagers

I recently wrote about the stage of motherhood I find myself in--the elementary years--and the personal challenges and joys these years are presenting. My parenting wisdom, what there is of it, stops with my experience so as I look ahead to the middle school and high school years, I often feel fear and trepidation.

I turned to my friend Dayna Nichols for insight about what those years are like and what I can do now to lay a good foundation for what's ahead. Over the next few posts, I will be sharing her answers to my questions. But, first, let me tell you about her and her family.

I met Dayna at Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas. Through multiple opportunities, I got to see her teach preschoolers, interact with her children and her husband, and serve in the church. She is generous with her love, time, and home--she even let 60 of our college students bombard her home for a Christmas party when we asked it of her. She and her husband of 20 years have three girls (ages 17, 15, and 12) and one boy (age 9). They currently have two boys (ages 8 and 3) that they have accepted temporary responsibility for and a college student living in their home as well.


When I talk to other moms whose children haven't reached the teenage years yet, there seems to be a collective fear about parenting teens. Did you have those same fears as you moved into this stage of parenting?   When do you think your kids started to become "teenagers" and how did you know they were there? 

If I would have seen the teenage years coming, I might have been scared.  They kind of snuck up on me.  We have never been the kind of parents to set age limits on things.  We have allowed our children to have freedom in certain activities based on the level of responsibility they have shown.  We parent based on trust.  So the teenage years, as a specific number or milestone of freedom, never really happened around here.  Our girls have stepped into certain privileges as they were ready,  not necessarily at a certain age benchmark.  For example, curfews are set based on the specifics of an event and the present attitude of the child, and only my oldest two have cell phones.  They received them at different ages based on need not because they wanted a new fashion accessory. 

I really think that if you parent intentionally in each stage of your child’s life that you both, parent and child, will be ready for the teenage years.  It is a process.  My husband likes to compare the 2's to the teens.  We were very methodical and consistent with our children when they were two.  We developed a healthy respect that is still in place today.  Our children know that ‘no’ means ‘no’.  They learned it when they were trying to clear the pretty things off my coffee table.  They still understand it as teenagers when they are denied a request.    

God provides what you need at each stage of parenting.  There is no need to be fearful.  I think the fear is based on the feeling of losing some control.  It happens.  You no longer can pick out clothes and dress your 13-year-old like you did when she was two.  But you don’t want to still be potty training either!  God loves them more than I will ever understand.  He is also equipped to protect them.  I have chosen not to live in fear, but by faith. 

Don’t be fearful.  Look at each situation or circumstance as it comes.  Look at your specific child, not what the world tells you about teenagers.  Look to God.  There is a lot of fun to be had with the maturity that comes packaged with hormones and attitude.  You just have to know how to unwrap it.  If you learn to look at your teenager as a gift, there is no need to be fearful.  Shake the package around a bit and then peek past the wrappings to see inside and find the blessing.

More tomorrow from my Q&A with Dayna.