TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO MAKE DECISIONS
The TRC bank (Trust, Respect and Confidence, see Try A Little TRC) allows parents to fulfill their primary function, that of mentor. By instilling values we teach them to make correct choices. Lloyd and I always felt that by age fourteen they should be able to make most of their own decisions. As mentors, we didn’t work hard to raise a bunch of independent thinkers only to clamp down on them when they started to think independently.
One spring we bought new bunk beds for the boys’ room. I listened as Lloyd discussed with 13-year-old Aaron how to arrange the room. Aaron asked, “Where should we put everything now?” Lloyd answered, “Well, it’s your room. How would you like it?”
Aaron thought a few minutes, then with Lloyd’s help they moved around the furniture. When they were finished, Aaron had done a good job of putting together a livable bedroom for himself and his brothers. But not matter how it looked, it was now his room, and he kept it cleaner than he had before.
Homework is another area for developing confidence.
I didn’t have to remind them to do it; by the time they were in middle school they knew better than I the stomach-churning consequences of unfinished assignments. Their homework was their business, not mine. I knew I would have resented it intensely if they came home from school and nagged me about the dishes not being done, or inquired sarcastically when I was going to make my bed.
This was not to say we were not extremely interested in how they did. If they brought home a poor grade, I hied myself down to the teacher to understand what happened and what we could do about it. And we helped when asked. I saw Lloyd struggle mightily with “word problems” and I had my share of typing late night term papers, and of course science fair projects often turned out to be major family undertakings. But in general we tried not to thrust our eager help on them uninvited.
The same went for bedtime, within limits. I tucked in the little ones with songs and stories, but by age 12-14, their bedtime was more their own affair.
They could stay up as late as they wanted until 11:00 pm, which was lights out. They could get up as early as they wanted and most of the family was up by 5:30 or 6:00 because of paper routes and early classes. Having said that I have to add that I’ve seen cases where kids have so much homework they are up till the wee hours of the morning. I think this is terrible, and parents should intervene if possible to avoid this situation. If there’s nothing you can do, I don’t see any harm in letting them sleep all day on Saturday if they can.
I didn’t feel I was abdicating my role as a parent when I let my kids determine their own choices. On the contrary, besides making deposits in our TRC bank, I was preparing them to leave home successfully and be independent. Decisiveness is a skill we learn by making decisions, some of which may turn out to be wrong. After all, they do have “teenage brain” which is undeveloped and not quite mature. But it’s much better to make a few wrong choices while still at home where we can help than in the unforgiving world outside.
When I mentioned to other parents that teenagers should be able to make most of their own decisions, there is usually a gasp and a shocked, “No way! My son/daughter couldn’t possibly...” It that’s true, it’s because the parents have not taught them how or let them try.
Parents do have to make TRC withdrawals at times by setting rules for the family. We found it much easier to set limits before the teen years. We didn’t have many rules, but were were serious about the ones we did have. I tried to save my TRC withdrawals for important things and not expend much energy on trivial matters like haircuts. Or course your idea of what is important may differ from mine. So decide how strongly you feel about an issue before you make an issue of it.
Some of our statutes were unpopular--no single dating before the age of sixteen, for example. We acknowledged their feelings but still expected them to obey. A common statement heard about the food at the dinner table was, “You don’t have to like it; you just have to eat it.” The same principle applied to family rules.
It was especially beneficial if the kids themselves could help formulate the rules as much as possible. As a family we tried to foresee and discuss potential problems. If 11-year-old Ben asked, “Mom, what would you do if I shaved my head and pierced my eyebrow, nostril and tongue?” or 17-year-old MaryRuth asked, “What if I went out on a date and didn’t come home till 5:00 am?” No matter how outrageous the possibility, I tried to remain calm and discuss consequences. Talking it over ahead of time would, I hoped, head off the actual occurrence.
But not always. Once I was home, reading a book and minding my own business, when Ben came home and said, “Look what me and James did at the mall!” I looked up and saw he was wearing an earring. For once I was caught by surprise and my careful facade shattered. I screamed and fell off my chair. Ben quickly exclaimed as he helped me up, “Not really, Mom. See they’re fakes that peel right off. Although now I know how you really feel about it.” Because we laughed about it later, this experience turned out to be a deposit and not a withdrawal.
If we can live and let live as much as possible, instead of trying to direct their every move, we can go far to bridge the generation gap as well as make necessary deposits in our TRC bank. I can testify that it is even possible to enjoy your child’s teenage years.