It's hard to believe my little toddlers are all tweens and teens! The old saw, "the days crawl by, but the years fly by" has certainly been true in our lives. Parenting tweens and teens is a challenge I've looked forward to for many years. I'll use the verse from Luke, " And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." as my outline for our thoughts on parenting through the tween and teen years. This letter is bittersweet for me, because I will most likely be home in Heaven by the time you need these words.
Assumptions before we begin:
Infant & Toddler years: Selfishness and willfulness were parented out. Child learned immediate, complete obedience to authority and was taught to be consistently thoughtful and polite with others.
Pre-K through 6th grade: Character was parented in, salvation and a pursuit of godliness has begun. Child has made an initial decision to follow Christ, and biblical character qualities as well as social graces have been deliberately taught. By sixth grade, children should be able to give simple definitions of desirable character qualities (kindness, hospitality, cheerfulness, etc.) and be able to implement them with the parents' or teacher's prompting. Parents continue to "call out" rebellion and selfishness and teach the child how to recognize and confront these common sins of pride. Transition from strict obedience to submission and honor of authority has begun.
Increasing in Wisdom
Hearing + Meditating + Doing + Persevering = Wisdom, or to put it more simply, "Wisdom is doing the next right thing.
You've spent roughly ten years of your child's life teaching them the ways of righteousness. You've gently and consistently required them to do the right thing every time. Now they've entered the dialectic stage of development, and all of the pieces will start to come together into a cohesive whole. They'll finally be able to understand how kindness, or honesty, or perseverance fit into the life of a believer. They'll understand that love has to accompany truth, and truth, love. This is an exciting time as a parent!
- Keep them personally in the Word every day, and faithfully in church every week. Inspect what you expect. Ask your child to share with you what they read and help them think through how that should reinforce or change what they are already doing. In our family, nothing trumps church: not a ballgame, not an overnight with friends, not a school paper.
- Teach them how to meditate. Jason Janz's little book Alone with God is a great resource to help them transition from talking with you to talking with themselves about what they read. As the Word of God works it's way into their thinking patterns, their "gut" reaction will begin to become the right reaction.
- Teach them to choose right, even when it's difficult or costly. You're transitioning to a coaching stage of the game, now. Instead of simply telling them what is right to do, use questions to help them assemble what they know into the correct response to the situation. Yes, this is a lot of work!
- Encourage them to keep doing the right thing. This is hard. Very hard. Coach your daughter to keep returning a soft answer and kindness to the mean girl who likes to tweak her. Coach your son to be patient and forgiving time and time again with a little brother who constantly drives him nuts. It's not o.k. to just do right once, you have to teach them to keep doing right.
Increasing in Stature
Your child's body is undergoing huge and scary changes as they age.
- Protect their purity. Pray, pray, pray. Nothing protects your child from the wiles of the world like the hedge of a mother's prayer.
- Give them information about their own bodies before they need it, especially if they're girls. We chose to have the "birds and bees" talk on your thirteenth birthday. Curiosity can drive a child to a place of sin.
- Make sure they know they can come to you with temptations and failures. You're a coach, now, not a prison guard.
- Carefully monitor what they read and watch: an internet protection program like Net Nanny should be installed on every computer in your house before your first child begins puberty.
- We never allowed sleepovers, knowing that purity is often compromised mentally if not physically.
- Lust exhibits differently in boys and girls: Boys desire girls, girls desire a boy to desire them. That questionable outfit your daughter wants to wear is every bit the same lust as the bikini babe you find your son staring at in the checkout at the supermarket.
- We didn't allow any boy-girl relationships during the tweens. That didn't mean there wasn't desire, we taught you to wait.
- Physical intimacy follows the same pattern in every relationship. If your child is touching the head or hair of someone of the opposite sex, the next thing they touch will be inappropriate for an unmarried couple. Keep an eye out for this "tell" that your child is in a relationship with another child.
- Teach them to provide for all of their own basic needs. A ten year old is old enough to learn to do all of her own laundry, start to finish; cook breakfast, lunch, and simple dinners and clean the kitchen afterwards; keep her room clean & tidy; and manage money and school assignments independently. Remember the simple formula for teaching a new skill: show them, have them tell you what comes next as you do it, have them do it with your supervision, and finally have them perform the task independently.
- Express your expectations clearly.
- If you can't measure it, don't mess with it.
- Inspect what you expect.
- Teach them how to care for an adult body. Kids should be taught how to independently make wise choices regarding nutrition, exercise, cleanliness, and grooming during the tween years.
- Be patient with accidents. Every time your child grows, their arm span grows by the same amount. They are going to be incredibly klutzy. Depending on their personality, gentle teasing or sympathy is in order.
Increasing in Favor with God
At some point during the tween years, your child will say something like: "I'm not sure I knew what I was doing when I got saved -- I barely remember it." At this point, I asked each of you: "If you were to die today, and stand before God, and He asked you: Why should I let you into Heaven?" , what would you answer?" All three of you instantly answered "Christ paid for my sin and took my place". Salvation is so simple even a child can understand. As their critical and abstract thinking develop, however, their relationship with Christ will change.
Now begins the great eternal work of your life: transitioning a child from your authority to that of the Holy Spirit. By the time your child reaches 18, the goal is to have them obeying the Holy Spirit as quickly and completely as they obeyed you as a toddler. The trust and closeness the two of you share should be eclipsed in their life by their personal relationship with Christ. That transition takes several years, and many, many hours on your knees. Eric Liddell, an Olympic athlete and missionary to China encouraged Christians to obedience, submission, and humility as the foundation to the Spirit's work in their lives. Disciplines of the Christian Life, handwritten while he was interred at a Japanese POW camp, is a tremendous resource for this age group.
A question pricks the conscience, an accusation hardens the will. Read your Bible: God always uses questions when confronting a sinning individual. If anyone has the right to accuse, certainly He does! If he chooses questions, so should you.
Find a ministry that allows your child to begin serving. A daughter may be able to help in nursery on your night, a son should be able to teach the Jr. Church lesson for 3-5 year olds. Both boys and girls can be a help in keeping the church tidy and greeting new kids warmly. Some churches have junior usher positions for the boys on Sunday or midweek services. If your church doesn't have service positions, consider bringing your child to a nursing home service, or ask your pastor privately about opportunities, however small.
Increasing in Favor with Man
Junior aged kids become hyper-critical of what they perceive as hypocrisy in other kids and adults. Teach them early and often that discerning sin in another's life is a matter for prayer, not criticism and gossip. Mom, you have to model this, or your words will fall on deaf ears.
Continue to teach them thoughtfulness for others, and help them begin to take initiative in this area.
- Teach them to be attentive to others. Don't burst into a room talking or yell for someone from another room. If you see someone working, offer to help. Pick up the eleventy-two shoes on the living room floor and bring them back to the bedrooms. Learn to recognize the signs someone is upset or hurting and learn how to respond graciously.
- Teach them humility. The bluster and pride of toddlers will be back in force! Teach them to watch and listen, and respond in a humble manner. They don't know it all.
- Teach them initiative. Stay after Sunday School class for a few minutes and help your teacher clean up. Run a load of laundry. Clean up from supper. Pick up and mow the yard. Help your little sister with Math when Mom is busy.
Discern whether your child is happier leading or being a "second man" and guide their training accordingly. Again, I vastly prefer to be a "worker bee". Some children long for leadership and then quickly discover they are "worker bees". Take the time to place your child in each position and then talk with them about which they prefer and why. Even if they prefer working to managing, they should know basics of management and servant leadership. A good manager has to be a good worker so he knows how to lead and encourage others.
Teach your child to be a good friend to a few rather than cultivating popularity with a crowd. Teach them how to be and find good friends. They aren't quite ready to deal with troubled or toxic people, yet, so keep running interference with peers that are a problem. Two good kids can have a toxic relationship. Just because you admire your friend's children doesn't mean that your children will necessarily have a good friendship. Don't just look at the other child's character, look at the dynamics of the relationship.
Teach them how to respond and appeal to an authority figure that frustrates them. Mom needs to stop running interference with teachers and coaches, and teach kids how to handle difficulties with an authority figure graciously and effectively.
Teach them biblical communication skills with family, but hold off on friends until the teen years. Tattling incidents should be few and far between. Once your child reaches the tween years, they should be taught to confront a brother or sister who is sinning and encourage them to stop and go to Mom or Dad for forgiveness. Only after personal confrontation has been disregarded should they come to you with a problem. If a brother or sister attempts to threaten or bribe them during confrontation, they should be certain of your love and protection. They will learn these same skills with friends during the teen years, but it's best to start with siblings.
Whew! That was a long 'un. I hope these few simple principles will help you as you parent your little ones into a life of godly service.