Friday, July 20, 2012

Understand the Phases of Childhood

Passionate Legacy Principle #7: Understand the phases of childhood and adjust parenting goals and methods for each phase.

At what age do you allow your children to.…  Pick their own clothes in the morning?  Order from a menu in a restaurant?  Pick their own cereal?  Have an alarm clock?   Have a say in what movies they watch?  Select their own music?  Choose their own clothes at the store?  Get pierced ears?   Have a Facebook account?  Wear make-up?  Pick their own homework time?  Sleep over at a friends house?  Choose their own hairstyle?  Go out on a Date?    

How do you discern what issues are worth the relational strain that comes from saying ‘no’?  Many parents are concerned that they will lose their friendship with the child and this becomes more important than training and protecting?  They lack a grid for what is appropriate for what age and why.

Friendship is not the starting point of parenting, it is the end result.  Before the friendship arrives, parents pass through three building block periods with their children.  The success of each phase is dependant on the success of the preceding phase.

Phase one: Discipline, 0-5 yrs.  Establish your right to lead.  Lay down the foundation for obedience.  Your leadership is not oppressive, but it is authoritative. This is a phase of tight boundaries and limited freedoms.  Your task is to get control of the child so that you can effectively train her.  If you cannot control your child, you cannot train her to her full potential, nor will any one else be able to do so.  Parents make all the day to day decisions.  The child is completely dependant on the parent.

Phase two: Training, 6-12 yrs.  To use a sports analogy, a trainer works with the athlete through drills and exercises.  He can stop the player any time and make immediate corrections, explaining the reasons and showing him how to do it.  Kids make most day to day decisions choosing from parent directed options.  Transition happens gradually.  Freedom (friends, leisure activities, restaurant menu, clothes) and responsibility (homework, chores) move at the same pace.

Phase Three: Coaching, 13-19 yrs. Your role now is to transfer all responsibility to your teens so that by the time they are adults, they are fully responsible for their own lives.  Trust is earned, not automatically given.  Everything is a privilege (sleepovers, food, friends, choice of hairstyle, music and media, etc.) to be earned by being cooperative and responsible.  Children move to a position of total independence based on how quickly they show personal responsibility (good choices, good grades, timeliness, good attitudes, etc.).  Parents retain veto power.

Phase four: Friendship. Parents are adult friends with wisdom, children can ask for advice but we are not their authority.  Their decisions are no longer our responsibility.  The relational goal of our parenting is friendship. Just as it was with the Lord and His disciples, it should also be with you and your children, a discipleship relationship culminating in friendship. The process begins with tight boundaries, which give way to responsible behavior, leading to freedom and independence.

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.

The secret is the balance between protecting and preparing your children as well as the balance between parental control and a child’s individual freedom.  The child’s freedom and responsibility should increase at the same rate gradually over the 18 year that he lives under your roof.

There are two common parenting mistakes that many Christian parents make.  The first is to start protecting the child at birth and continue to protect the child all the way to eighteen years old or beyond.  This prevents children from wrestling with how to make wise choices for themselves.  The result is usually that they run out and do everything you wouldn’t let them do while at home as soon as they graduate just to experience the freedom of making their own choices.  This may result in life altering consequences!

The second mistake many parents make, is to let the children run the show from the very beginning, allowing them to decide the schedule, the agenda and the tone of the home.  They do not require children to follow rules consistently or do  anything to contribute to the home and family.  Young children’s bad behavior can seem harmless at first.  When two year old Susie speaks disrespectfully or spits at people it just seems cute.  Jimmy is allowed to watch anything he wants on TV, for as long as he wants because he won’t understand what he is seeing anyway.  Six year old Jordan can have an ipod, cell phone, computer, cable TV and Xbox in his room because no harm will come from it.  Eight year old Allison can choose her own friends, spend all of her time at any friends house anytime she wants, spend the night anytime and anywhere she wants no questions asked.  And then when the children begin to make poor choices in the teen years, their parents freak out. They realize that their children are out of control, self-centered and have no sense of boundaries.  So, to get things back under control, the parents start to play the authority card and take away privileges but it doesn’t work, it only causes the child to step up their out-of-control game.

It is a mistake to give kids large amounts of freedom on the front side of their childhood and then take it away from them when they become teenagers.  You want it the other way around.  Control should be on the front side of childhood and low on the back side.  Individual freedom should be low in early childhood, gradually increasing as they move through adolescence.

For more information in this topic, read Why Christian Kids Rebel by Tim Kimmel.

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