Parenting - Ideas and Insights - Teenagers

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I Pity You When They're Teenagers!
Ideas for Parents, Insights for others
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August 1997
    "I pity you when they're teenagers!" I got the impression it was not so much pity, as vengeful glee that the speaker was entertaining, at the thought of teenagers being "inflicted" upon me.We live in a strange world, where the dawning maturity of our offspring is anticipated with dread, and beloved family members are expected to spend seven years as "the enemy". Why should they become our enemies?  

    Actually, there are some good reasons for teenage conflict. The primary one is, that there is no such life-stage as "teenage". No-one is happy to be forced into a role that doesn't exist. In traditional cultures one makes the transition directly from the well-defined world of childhood, directly to the equally well-defined world of adulthood. When a Jewish boy on his thirteenth birthday says, "today I am a man", he means it. All at once, his parents lose the right to obedience, and become mere advisors who, having had their say, must let their son make his own choices -- and let him live with the consequences. Our culture "invented" teenagerhood, because our adults are unwilling to let our children have their own responsibilities.  

    The argument is made that at thirteen, or even nineteen, a person is not ready to take on adult responsibilities: you certainly wouldn't expect them to pay room and board. Wrong! At nineteen, or even thirteen, a person who does not choose to accept your advice cannot be forced to accept it. Sixty years ago he might have run away to the frontier or the army, today he can run to the streets. And you will lose him . You had better make sure all the groundwork for your child's character is complete by the time he is twelve, because that is the only chance you will get! And, if the groundwork is complete, we can trust our young-adult children to continue the building themselves.  

    We have only twelve years to give a child all the "upbringing" that he will get. If that inflicts a terrible sense of urgency upon the parents of infants and toddlers, so much the better. Let us pour our energies today, into giving our children the best spiritual training we can; and at the same time let us train up our own hearts in courage so that at the right moment, we can let them go.   

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