Many people talk or write about “Phases of Childhood,” or “Stages of Development” for children, and these are important to understand. They deal with observing and understanding the changes that take place in the growth process of a child. But it is arguably more important to understand the “Phases of Parenting” since these deal with applying changes in our goals and practical strategies for dealing with our children in a way that best fits their age. These deal with application rather than just observation.
Friendship is not the starting point of parenting, it is the eventual result. Before a healthy friendship is possible, parents must work through three relational building periods with their children. The success of each phase is largely dependent on the success of the preceding phase.
Phase one: Discipline, 0-5 yrs. In this period, you are establishing your right to lead and building the foundation for obedience. Your leadership is not oppressive, but it is authoritative. You must be fully confident in your right and responsibility to lead and give direction. You are in charge. If you cannot control your child, your cannot train him to his full potential. Tight boundaries are to be maintained and first time obedience is to be expected. Children will test those boundaries, but if they find the boundaries of the home secure, it will add to their own sense of security and respect for your leadership. Some of those boundaries will be expanded based on the child’s demonstration of responsible behavior. But you will only be able to hand off the authority that you gained in the younger years. If you have not gained authority in the younger years, your child already has that authority in their middle and teen years and will not be willing to allow you to make any decisions for their safety, protection and moral well being.
Phase two: Training, 6-12 yrs. A trainer works with an athlete through teaching, exercises, drills, and post-play evaluations. During practice, he stops the player at various times to make corrections, give explanations, and show the proper way and reasons for certain techniques, moves and plays. When it comes to rules, you are teaching the moral reasons behind the rules and the biblical principles by which we live. They also need to know that you are subject to rules as well, because they are based on eternal truths and absolutes. They should begin to realize that your authority, which was established in phase one, is based on and subject to the higher principles of God’s orderly universe and what He has instructed us in Scripture. In this phase, kids begin to make many of the day to day decisions, choosing from options offered by the parents. Freedoms in those decisions (e.g. friends, leisure activities, restaurant menu choices, clothes) are given at a pace commensurate with responsibility (obedience, chores, homework).
Phase Three: Coaching,13-19 yrs. This is a phase when many parents try to assert more authority and stricter boundaries, often in response to the natural pushing for freedom that teens exhibit. But your role at this stage is to begin to transfer responsibility to your teens so that by the time they are adults, they are fully responsible for their own lives. In non-moral areas, teens should be allowed to exercise more freedom. In other, more significant areas, teens should be given more freedom based on their level of responsibility. This “freedom based on responsibility” should be clearly explained. Teens should be made aware of the very important principle that increased freedom, comes from earned trust, which comes from making good choices. There are things that are privileges (sleepovers, use of a car, time with friends, personal electronics, fun activities … these are not inalienable rights) that can be earned by being cooperative and responsible (getting up on time, keeping good grades, honoring curfew). These are also years when many parents feel that their teen would rather not spend time with them, so at first, they accommodate and spend less time with their kids. But this lack of nurture for the relationship leads to distance and even a sense of abandonment. The teen then responds to the distance and sense of abandonment by acting independently, at which point the parent all of a sudden grasps for that parent-child relationship often in unfruitful ways (e.g. trying to assert more authority). The nurturing of the relationship should be a priority throughout this phase and a parent should carefully guard against this tendency toward emotional or relational abandonment.
Phase four: Friendship, age 19 and up. Friendship is the relational goal of our parenting. We are adult friends with wisdom and more experiences and they can ask for advice, but we are not their authority. We can offer advice, but they are not obligated to take it. Some parents continue to try to exert an inappropriate amount of influence through subtle and manipulative ways. This is self-serving and sabotages the transition of the adult son or daughter into a responsible, productive and secure adult.
In the transition from each phase to the next, we much carefully consider our goals as parents and thoughtfully and prayerfully adapt our strategy and actions to effectively fulfill the appropriate role (disciplinarian, trainer, coach and friend).