Later this year, our church will be hosting a seminar on Parenting. Lisa and I have been asked to host a workshop on Parenting Teenagers. I can’t think of two words more volatile when placed together than parents and teenagers. Somehow, we have managed to survive four teenagers, all of whom are now believing, reasonably productive citizens without criminal records, drug habits, or neck tattoos. Whether or not this qualifies us to teach a class on the subject is another story.
So I’ve been thinking about a simple way to approach the topic and this is what I’ve come up with. Parenting progresses (or should progress), through four phases; each of these phases indicates a particular style of parenting:
- CONSULTANT / ADVISER
Each of these parenting styles correlates to specific stages of growth within our children. In the typical family, both parent and child are on growth trajectories. The parent is growing in how to raise their child, while the child is growing within (or challenging) the parameters defined and enforced by their parent. So none of these parenting styles are wrong insofar as they are implemented at the proper stage of the child’s growth.
Infants / Children require MICRO-MANAGEMENT — This stage is marked by constant attention to health, detail and behavior. This is the stage where we begin to frame our moral and behavioral expectations for our children. It’s a pretty small window that closes rather quickly.
Adolescents require MANAGEMENT — This is the stage where we entrust our kids with certain responsibilities and enforce the values we have distilled. Unlike the micro-manager, we don’t need to hawk over them. We should give them a certain amount of freedom to “manage” their own world, but never to the extent that we don’t interject guidance, correction, or affirmation.
Teenagers / Young Adults require CONSULTATION and ADVICE – This is the stage where our kids are (or should be) full-fledged managers of their own lives. By now, they should understand moral parameters and societal obligations. We respect their growing independence by posturing ourselves as consultants and advisers, not managers. As such, they are free to take or leave our advice. (Of course, this does not let them off the hook regarding behavior or responsibility, but it affirms their autonomy and our waning authority.)
Adults require PARTNERSHIP — At this stage, our children are adults and we should treat them like it. Lectures and scolding should be a thing of the past. They must face the harsh consequences of their own decisions or indecision. We should stand shoulder to shoulder with them, not above them as superiors, but as fellow sojourners through life.
Of course, things are never this clear-cut; every child and parental situation is different. But I believe this paradigm is helpful in thinking about parenting teenagers. From my experience, the biggest problem in parenting teens is in trying to manage and micro-manage their behavior, rather than act as consultants and advisers.
“But my teenager is not capable of managing her own life,” some would object. My response:
- Then you were remiss in not raising your child to be morally, financially, relationally, and socially responsible.
- No amount of micro-management will help them now (in fact, it will probably make it worse).
It’s a hard fact, but SOME teenage rebellion is evidence of poor parenting. There, I said it. Of course, not all of it is. Kids aren’t computers that can be programmed to boot up on cue. We and they both need grace. Nevertheless, the reason that some parents resort to micro-managing their teen is in hopes of making up for years of mismanagement on their part.
The micro-managing parent is a parent who is not confident that they’ve laid a proper foundation, fears entrusting their teenager to make the right choice, and does not trust God to handle the outcomes of both. The parent who refuses to let their teen fail, does not entrust them with responsibility, and shields them from the repercussions of their bad choices is micro-managing.
So that’s my going theory. I know, there’s lots of bugs and loopholes. But do you think it holds water? Is it accurate (and sane) to treat teenagers as managers of their own lives? Or are there times when parents need to step in and micro-manage their teen?