When it comes to our children growing up and taking more responsibility lots of parents, newbies and the well-acclimated, struggle with setting boundaries and loosening the ‘reigns of freedom’. Mainly because every child is different. Our organization has worked with over 8,000 hard-to-reach teens in a residential setting and I’m here to tell you that there are no magic rules to follow. So, as a parent, what can you do? Your child is growing and they are either too young to be adults or too old to be children, either way, there are a few things to consider to help guide you in your journey of parenting.
1. Start early As early as possible start by giving your children responsibilities. This might look like chores around the house, special project(s), etc. When my twins were 3 we introduced the ‘what comes with you, goes with you’ rule. That meant, for example, that if a toy left the house and made it to the car for a trip, then the toy left the car when going back into the house. It took some time, but eventually it became second nature.
2. Principle over circumstance This step requires some discipline on the parents’ part. This looks like setting a boundary and following through with it. If you’ve clearly stated the expectation and the consequence, then it’s your (parent) responsibility to follow through when expectations are not met. If your teen or tween never ‘cross a line’, then they’ll never learn where the boundaries are. There’s safety and peace for your kids when they know where the limits are. A solid personal example comes from setting morning expectations for my kids (on school days). They have a short-list of things to do (make bed, brush teeth, clean up after they eat), when this short-list isn’t done before they leave for school, then they face consequences. That’s the principle or the expectation. The circumstance(s) are what make this point challenging for parents. Let’s say the kids are running late, forgetfulness or laziness to name a few. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating ‘drill sergeant’ behavior. Leniency is encouraged, however, at some point you’ll need to draw a proverbial line in the sand and promote a principle over circumstance environment.
3. Freedom within structure Personally, I love watching my kids wrestle with responsibility. It’s the part of their development that excites me. Experience in the making. The birthplace of their perspectives and opinions. The safest way that I know to give them as much ‘responsibility practice’ as possible is to give them freedom within structure. A generic way to look at this point is to start with a set of basic assumptions: Your child is not you. Your child will not do things the way you do them and your child will make mistakes.
One example is staying up late without adult supervision. A general expectation in our home regarding content on TV lines up with our values. No ‘R’ movies, no racy content, no gratuitous violence, etc. It’s true that they interact with a lot of garbage at school and around town, however, our home is our safe zone. Our peace zone. It’s our home. So the freedom within structure says that you can have the freedom to stay up and the structure is that what you do without us lines up with our minimal expectations.
4. Failure is normal
The natural tendency to protect or in some cases over-protect is in all of us. In rare occasions growth and maturity will develop absent this crucial experience: failure. Failing doesn’t make your child a failure. Your parental role will be more important than ever when you observe their short comings and walk them through it. Observing 3 points: A. Where they passed, B. Where they fell short, C. What to look out for next time, your child will become more self-reliant and responsible in ways you never imagined. I am father to 5, from High School to Elementary and they are all growing into responsible people. They are not perfect kids and our journey is far from over, but by being intentional with their development I believe that they’ll be ready for what life throws at them as it happens.
5. Say Yes
While working with numerous house parents in our residential programs, we noticed that our first response to almost any question posed by the students was no. Just the word, ‘no’, causes most kids to stress out. We realized that most of the time we didn’t even know what we were saying no to. So not only was the student losing control, but we were in a consistent state of frustration. After some team discussion we settled on a new strategy. Every time we were asked a question, we automatically said, ‘let me think about it’. This did 2 things: it forced us to actually listen to what they were asking and it began to establish a new level of patience in the student. Lastly, it made us realize that ‘yes’ was just as easy as ‘no’. So many times we don’t have a good reason for saying no, because we weren’t really listening.
As a parent, are you a dictator or a passive friend? What are your experiences with freedom?