Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sliding Scale of Maturity

I have a 14 year old now. I'm in my second year of parenting a teenager, and so far I'm enjoying the challenge. I have to admit that I don't always enjoy it, but overall it's been exciting.

Having a teenager provokes more introspect in me, and once again I must blog about parenting as if I'm a pro. Bear with me... In time I may re-read this and think, "Boy was I waaaay off." For now though, I will try to pen what has been going on in my head.

I think we, as parents, think of maturity as a sliding scale. We look at our teenagers and think, "They're so young," or, "They still have so much to learn," or even, "They're going to hurt themselves." The truth is they are young. They still have so much to learn, and they may even hurt themselves in the process. However, we still have to let them become independent.

Think back to your teenage years. You knew everything. If you were even a little bit mature you could listen to your parents, but you still thought that some of what they said wasn't necessary. Throughout your life you learned that your parents were usually right. Overall you were somehow able to figure out this thing called "life." Although you weren't completely unscathed, you somehow flew the coop and even lived long enough to have your own children.

Now you look at your teenager and all you can think about is protecting them from their own immaturity. This is where the sliding scale comes in. The fact is, they are mature in their own right. We have to accept this. We cannot compare their maturity to ours. Of course we are more mature. Of course we have more life experience. But this does not negate their maturity or disqualify them from trying out their wings.

I'm not a youth pastor. I don't have a degree in psychology, but I have been friends with a lot of teenagers. From my position as a friend I have seen their frustration with parents who don't value their opinions. I have seen their rebellion against parents who are trying to micromanage them as if they were still in single digits. I have also seen these "kids" fly the coop and run away from the restrictive bonds that were placed on them as soon as they were of legal age.

Unfortunately the results aren't always good. Some of these "kids" who couldn't stand their parents those last few years of high school left the church and I see them in pain, wandering down a path I wish they wouldn't have chosen. I pray for them and hope that they will eventually come back as the Bible promises. I know their parents were trying to help them, but they were so micro-managing that it drove them apart.

I heard once that Dr Phil recommends that people should wait until they're in their 30's before they even consider getting married. It's as if he's reached an age of maturity where the scale is even more ridiculously off balance. It's more obvious when you hear this kind of comment. It's ridiculous to think that you have to wait until an obstetrician considers you of "advanced maternal age" to even think about having a child. Unless of course Dr. Phil was saying that it's fine to bring a child into the world, but you're just not old enough or mature enough to commit to a long-term relationship until you're in your thirties.

I prefer to lean toward Dave Ramsey's point of view. I've listened to his radio show for a while and often some well meaning parent will get on and ask for advice about helping out their adult child who is struggling with life. Dave asks them how they made it when they were that age. Time and again these parents will say that they were married, having children, and living on their own income. At which point Dave reminds them that these "children" are perfectly capable of doing the same, but that they choose not to because it's easier to act immature and let Mommy and Daddy take care of them.

I guess all I'm saying is that it's time to start trusting your teenager to make decisions. Gradually let go. Even if it means letting them mess up. Even if it means allowing them to get hurt by their own actions. At least it will happen when they have a soft place to fall and not when they're miles away and can't come home.

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