Recently, an acquaintance of mine on Facebook posted asking other parents for suggestions about a monitoring app for her young teen’s new iPhone.
One of the first responses to her post was someone who said, ” You’ve raised a good kid so you just need to trust him.”
And suddenly with one comment, her very innocent FB post turned into a parenting battlefield.
That is such a tricky word when it comes to parenting our adolescent children.
To quote one of my favorite lines, from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Princess Bride.
“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Often, when it comes to trusting teens and tweens, sometimes we get confused.
Trusting our kids is very different than giving our kids total freedom over choices that their limited life experience and immaturity doesn’t qualify them to make.
Many of our tweens and teens probably wouldn’t choose to go to school if we weren’t making them go. They probably wouldn’t choose to go to bed at a reasonable hour. In many cases, especially tween boys, they probably wouldn’t choose to take a shower with any kind of regularity.
If our tweens and teens didn’t need us to still be all up in their business, supervising and guiding them to keep them from doing stupid stuff (and smelling bad), then the legal age of adulthood would be much younger.
This is true even when we’ve got “good” kids. Which most of us do.
The Myth of the “Good Kid”
I know we all like to believe in the magic formula
You know what I’m talking about – THE. MAGIC. FORMULA.
It goes something like this…
One Part: Raising our kids in loving homes in good neighborhoods.
One part: Sending them to good schools and attending all the parent/teacher conferences, awards ceremonies, school plays and science fairs.
One part: Encouraging them by showing up for all their soccer games, dance recitals, ukulele concerts, etc.
One part: Making sure they do chores, eat broccoli and finish their homework.
Combine all the parts together and voila, good kids.
And you know what, in most cases, the magic formula works. We DO get good kids.
But what we don’t get is perfect kids.
Now my tween (almost teen) would probably argue otherwise. You know, because teenagers know everything and they are in fact PERFECT.
Just the other day I was trying to impart some wisdom or another onto him in the car and he responded, “Mom, that’s such adult slang.”
Umm, “adult slang”? I asked if he would please enlighten me on the subject.
“It’s all the stupid stuff that adults say to kids,” he explained.
Yep, and this is exactly why we are in charge of them until the age of 18.
It’s also why, even though we trust our children, we shouldn’t trust that they are ready to make the right decisions in all situations.
Tweens And Teens Aren’t Quite Fully Cooked Humans
Their adolescent brains are still developing, especially something called the pre-frontal cortex. And that part of the brain is in charge of some pretty important stuff like:
- regulating emotions
- impulse control
If anyone should know about this stuff, it would be Dr. Frances Jensen. She’s a neurobiologist, but more importantly, the mom of two teenage boys.
She recently co-authored the book The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, and here’s how she explains what is going on in our kids noggins;
“They are built to be novelty-seeking at this point in their lives. Their frontal lobe isn’t able to say, ‘That’s a bad idea, don’t do that.’ That’s not happening to the extent it will in adulthood.”
Translations: Our good kids, can still make some bad choices.
Good kids will watch shows on Netflix that are too violent or sexually graphic because they don’t always know better. Good tweens will look at porn online because they are curious. Good kids will engage in sexting because they think it’s what all the kids are doing.
Good kids will snapchat naked pictures, because in the moment it doesn’t occur to them that those pictures might be spread across their school. Good kids will bully another kid online because they can’t see the painful reaction their words cause.
Good Kids Still Need To Earn Trust
Without a doubt, trust is essential when it comes to preparing our kids for adulthood. But they aren’t adults yet. So, we still have to gauge what decisions they are ready to be trusted with so we set them up for success.
Think about it this way. Let’s say you have an awesome 13 year old who you totally trust.
So, you’d absolutely give him the keys to your car and let him drive himself to school, right?
Yes, you trust him, but aside from it being illegal to drive at 13, he hasn’t taken driver’s ed or proven himself through practice that he is ready to be behind the wheel of a car. Therefore, he has not EARNED your trust to operate a vehicle.
A great philosophy for parents of teens comes from Dr. John Townsend, who says, “Love is free, and trust is earned.”
How tweens and teens can earn trust
It is an ongoing process and be very different from child to child. But here are a few important things to consider when it comes to trusting teens and tweens:
- They show good judgment
This means everything from who they are hanging out with to the way they behave in front of other adults to what they share on social media.
- They are responsible
When they make a mistake, they take ownership for their actions and don’t blame others. They understand the value of their possessions and care for them appropriately. They are able to remember whatever gear they need for school, sports, and other activities without constant reminders.
- They are respectful of rules and boundaries
They don’t necessarily have to like them, but they do have to follow them and show respect. Constantly challenging or negotiating is a red flag.
- They treat people with respect
From their parents to teachers and coaches, they are able to look adults in the eye, speak clearly and effectively and have the ability to control their emotions within reason and raise issues and concerns in a calm way.
- They value balance
Are they constantly eating junk food? Do they spend all their free time on snap chat? Overall, teenagers should begin to show the ability to moderate. If they tend towards extremes, they may not be able to recognize situations that are risky until it’s too late.
As stated earlier, our tweens and teens are not perfect. So, even if you’re answering yes to all these questions, be prepared because your kids are still going to screw up.
We parents do it all the time, so we shouldn’t expect more from them.
If you’ve got a good kid, when they make those mistakes, give them some grace and a second chance. This will not only help them regain confidence in themselves, but will also inspire them to want to work that much harder to prove they deserve your trust.
Parents, Trust Yourselves
No one knows your child like you do. Trust your own instincts.
Just because your child reaches a certain age, doesn’t mean he’s automatically ready for certain privileges. Not all 13 year olds are ready for social media accounts, just like not all 16 year olds are ready to be behind the wheel of a car.
Also, peer pressure is strong at this age and your child may be pushing for certain freedoms simply because they are seeking social acceptance.
If your gut is telling you that your child wants something for the wrong reasons and it could be damaging to them in the long run, hold your ground. You may be surprised to find out that they are relieved to be able to use you as the scapegoat for something they really didn’t want to do.
Remember, Our Kids Trust Us Too
They trust us to be their parents.
They trust us to know what they are watching and reading and viewing online.
They trust us to monitor what they are saying and what is being said about them on social media.
They trust us to know who they are texting and who they are hanging out with both in the virtual and real world.
They trust us to know them and to know when they are ready for certain decisions and when they need our guidance and intervention.
They trust us to protect both their childhoods and their futures.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard. These popular posts other parents found helpful might make it a little easier.
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