Stage #3 - Terrible Tweens-Teens
So, we have a period where the child is the center of his own universe, cared for, pampered and catered to. Then there is the break into reality where the parent asserts authority. Next comes a long period of training in personal responsibility in order to properly socialize the child and instill in him his parents' values and spiritual life (1-They are responsible for their choices. 2-Choices have consequences. 3-Life is not always fair but doing the right thing is its own reward.).
But then, around 12 years of age, it dawns on this preadolescent that he will not be living with his parents forever, his future is not with them but with his own generation. During the pre-teen or "tween" period the child will "unplug" (disengage) from his parents and plug into his peers. At this point the media and the education system, along with the marketing companies, will all encourage this process. Dr. Rosemond calls it "peer group worship" (Teen-Proofing - p.34).
The problem for the parents here is that almost overnight they feel that they are losing control of the parent/child relationship. What is happening is the reverse of what took place at the "terrible twos" stage. At that time the parent removed the child from the center and placed the parent/authority figure in the center. It was a dramatic change for the child and caused trauma referred to as the "terrible twos." Now, the child removes the parent from the center of attention and makes their peer group the focal point. For some parents this is threatening and they fight to regain the central place in their child's world. These changes, if not understood and dealt with constructively, often begin a long conflict that starts at the tween point but can last throughout the teen years.
Of course, what pre-teens are doing is asserting their independence. For nine years the parent has been at the center and in authority. Now a change is taking place as the child puts peers at the center of attention and starts looking to them for cues about how to act (what is right or wrong), begins acting like peer approval is more important than parental approval, and derives primary security, identity and acceptance from peers (it is not enough that parents accept you, you need your peers to accept you as well). At this point it is the tween who changes the rules and the parents who feel insecure. A tug of war begins over who has control. Parents have taught them to make decisions and take ownership, and now that they actually do, these same parents become frightened because they know from experience that the world is a dangerous place and from their vantage point their children seem so young.
In response to this change, parents usually do one of three things:
Parents redouble their efforts at establishing their authority. They strap a GPS device to their teen's ankle, snoop through their e-mail, and demand an account for every minute, activity and friend. Micromanagers do not listen, discuss or debate. They make and enforce rules, because rules equal SAFETY! There is only one problem with this style of response: it does not work because it does not teach or build, it only creates conflict.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger
- Ephesians 6:4a
The Apostle Paul tells parents not to exasperate and discourage their children by the way they parent so that obedience becomes difficult. The more a parent micromanages, the more devious, resentful and ill-prepared for adult life the teen becomes.
This is the opposite of micromanagement, these parents allow their child to control the parent/child relationship. The tween screams, whines and pouts, and the parents give in because they do not want to lose their child's friendship. This usually happens because the parents were never able to establish their primary authority role at the beginning and have abandoned it now as well.
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
- Proverb 29:15
There are many reasons for permissive parenting as a response to tweens and teens: guilt from divorce, a long illness of sibling or parent, absence of one parent for some reason, leaving the responsibility for parenting to just one partner, personality types, laziness. Whatever the reason for their permissive response, these parents do their teens a disservice in not providing them with what they really need to make it safely through their adolescent years, and that is a mentoring relationship.
As tweens move into their teen years and shift their center of attention to their peer groups, parents have to transition from authority figures to mentors (experienced and trusted advisors). It is not done overnight, but the exercise of shifting from one to the other becomes the working out of the relationship between parent and teen. You are seeing and accepting that they are changing; they are seeing and accepting that you are changing as well.
Mentor-parents realize that what they control is the parent/child relationship, not the child. There are still rules based on those principles (learned during the previous stage) and there is enforcement of the rules. For example, there are still rules about curfew, the consumption of alcohol or drugs, sexual behavior, etc., but the relationship is not based on policing the rules, it is based on developing a new kind of interaction (teacher/student).
Mentor-parents control the relationship in that they control the consequences of the choices that are made, not the choices that are freely made by their children. Take, for example, Adam and Eve. God allowed them to exercise free will but retained the knowledge of their potential choices and the exercise of the consequences if they disobeyed.
Allow me to share an example of this from my own family. In our home we had the "Mazzalongo Clean-Up Day." My wife, Lise, and I had four children close in age. This meant that they were all teenagers at the same time. Each had their own room and early on I would constantly be after them to keep their rooms clean and tidy throughout the week (like Lise and I kept ours). This constant nagging to "clean-up" did not work very well and demanded so much follow through on my part that it became a sore point in our home. Obviously we needed a way to have some order in the housekeeping, but without a major battle each day. This is when the Mazzalongo Clean-Up Day was instituted.
At a family meeting it was announced that the four teens could keep their rooms in the condition that they wanted until Saturday at noon. At that time there would be a room inspection to check for made beds, clear floors, absence of dirty dishes and the emptying out of trash bins, etc. If rooms passed inspection, plans for week-end activities could proceed. However, if the room failed inspection, there were no plans and the weekend would be spent in the house. With this arrangement our teens owned the choice, and we, as the parents, owned the consequences. I hated the mess all week but was willing to live by their choice without complaint or comment. They, on their part, accepted the consequences when they had to stay home and miss an activity with friends due to dirty laundry under the bed on Inspection Day. There was peace (on this issue) and not many failed inspections.
Mentor-parents are in the process of transferring the responsibility for their teen's life over to the teen, and the teen knows it. The goal is not absolute control by the parent or absolute freedom by the child. The goal is the responsible independence of the child facilitated by the parent so that the child can move through adolescence well equipped to embrace freedom and full adulthood without trauma.
Obviously there is so much more to all of this than what we have covered here about child development, but these things are important highlights.
Just a few things to remember:
- Each child is different, but the parenting goals for each are the same. The strategies to reach these goals will depend largely on the child, the family situation, as well as the experience and background of the parents. Thankfully, there are many resources available for those who want to improve their parenting skills.
- Each child has a mind of his own. You can mold and temper a child's character but you cannot change it. They are not blank pages that we write on, they come with a built-in program that we have to work with.
- Parents also have to realize that they are not the only force/influence in their child's life. Children are subject to all the same temptations and false promises of Satan that we were at their age. As human beings they will sin to a greater or lesser degree (Romans 3:23 is for them as well). A Christian parent's task, therefore, is to help them know how to deal with the sin in their lives. If God Himself had children who sinned, why do some parents think that they can do better? God allowed them (Adam and Eve) to make and own their choices, but provided the way to be redeemed.
As a parent I feel that I have succeeded if my children go to Christ in faith and obedience to receive forgiveness for their sins and renewal from their failures in life. My spiritual goal is to raise faithful children, not perfect children. Preparing for teen-parenting is a long process. The more you invest at an early age, the more you will benefit when they become teens. I think this may be what Solomon was getting at when he said,
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
- Proverb 22:6
There is no guarantee that they will choose the right path. The guarantee is that if you teach them what the right path is and they choose to follow it, they will know what it is and will not leave it once there.