Having children is one of the most incredible opportunities afforded to us. Scripture tells us that the man (or woman) whose home is filled with children is truly blessed. It was clearly in God's design that we would create homes bustling with children who would ultimately become fantastic adults.
The birth of my two sons were clearly peak experiences in my life. Preparing for Joshua and Tyson's birth, building cribs, and decorating children's rooms were all part of the eager anticipation I felt before their arrival.
Easing into their childhood years was generally delightful. Watching them move from teetering toddlers to tantrum-ing two year olds was exciting, if not a bit challenging. Then came the school years, replete with over-packed backpacks, and after school sports involving hordes of kids moving around the soccer field like a swarm of bees.
Too soon the elementary school years gave way to the awkward junior high years, where a blemish was viewed as a blight, and a rejection was reason for emotional panic. Self-consciousness took on a whole new meaning.
Nothing in these early years, however, prepares a parent for what comes next. No amount of parenting, books of instruction, lecture or warning adequately prepares a parent, or adolescent, for the teenage years.
Can you feel the collective shudder?
Recently I received the following email from a woman, grasping for help with her adolescent daughter.
Dear Dr. David. I've lost my daughter. It's not that she's gone. It just seems like someone has come and taken her away, replacing her with someone who seems constantly angry, irritable, demanding and selfish. She used to be the sweetest girl I'd ever met. We used to be very close. I was always proud of her and valued the time we spent together.
Lately, however, she has become incredibly selfish. She acts like everything my husband and I do for her is owed to her. She feels entitled to everything we give her. If she doesn't get her way, we pay for it with her moods and anger. We feel like we have to tiptoe around her. Of course, when we get angry with her she really gets mad at us. Nothing we do is good enough and we question our parenting. Please give us some advice on how to cope with our daughter, and offer any suggestions on how to get our loving daughter back.
First, fasten your seatbelt. As the airline pilot said, "We're in for a bumpy ride." Knowing this, however, can go a long ways to coping with the rollercoaster ride. Adolescence is a time of transition between childhood and adulthood, and the transition is often tumultuous.
Second, don't take this challenge personally. There are a limited number of things you can do to make the ride smoother—none to make it completely smooth. Adolescents struggle to make sense of their changing bodies, challenging social scene, developing self-concept and refining moral, emotional and spiritual values. It's not all about you.
Third, give them room to experiment within the safe boundaries of your values. Adolescents need room to grow—to test out ideas, experiment with styles of dress, ideas and preferences. While they should not be enabled to defy authority, or experiment in a dangerous manner, they must be given room to develop their personalities—distinct from you. Again, don't take this experimentation personally.
Fourth, do give them a solid foundation. As the saying goes, "Give them roots and give them wings," and this will help them immensely. Children need very clear moral principles and must see them displayed in your marriage and family relationships. Consistent childhood training will be the foundation they return to after a season (adolescence) of pushing against your limits.
Fifth, expect some defiance. Remember, adolescents must determine who they are separate from you. If they don't push away, they can never develop their own individuality. Offer them healthy choices, acceptable within your family values, as ways to express this sought-after individuality.
I distinctly remember the day my oldest son, Joshua, took me aside and gave me the following lecture:
Dad. I know what you and mom think I should believe. You've been very clear about that. I know your faith and values. I know what you'd like me to believe and I'll probably end up thinking just like you. But, for now, I need to decide for myself what I believe. Okay?
Sixth, set healthy boundaries. Make it very clear to them that defiance of your authority will be met with immediate, but loving, consequences. In the midst of their personal storm, be a solid rock for them to come back to time and again.
Finally, be reassured that this too shall pass. Scripture reassures us that our parenting is not in vain. "Train up a child in the way they should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22: 6) A huge percentage of children return to the very values they have seen played out in their home consistently over the years. Know that all your parenting has not been ignored.
Please share your "adolescent stories" with me. How have you handled a rebellious teenager?
Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington
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