Anybody else been both fascinated and repelled by the on-going saga of “Aunt Becky” of Full House fame who, along with others, paid megabucks to circumvent college admissions systems? Pass me the popcorn because I’m following it like a reality show as our family sifts through stacks of college info, schedules campus visits, and nags encourages our son in his SAT prep. Those click-bait headlines should all be grouped under “How NOT to Launch Your Kid into Adulthood.”
But let’s be honest: for all my amazement at the lengths to which wealthy, connected parents have gone to engineer their kids’ happiness, I still wonder if given the means and opportunity, some of us “regular folks” would fall for the same temptation. Yes, our integrity would be in shreds, and yes, our kids would be cheated out of the chance to work hard for their own success. But they’d be at their dream schools, well on their way to brighter futures, right? Would it be worth it?
OK, so most of us don’t exactly HAVE the means and opportunity, at least on a scandal-worthy scale, but I know I deal with a hundred smaller choices for how I raise my teenagers with thoughts toward their future success or failure. After all, there’s a reason “helicopter parent” is a term. Sometimes we want so badly for life to be happy and pain-free for our kids that we hover, we micro-manage, we orchestrate.
However, for everyone on the helicopter end of the parenting spectrum, there are moms or dads who are so hands-off that their “free-range” kids are raising themselves with nobody in their corner as they try to figure out the future. To quote the book Meet Generation Z, they are navigating a culture of “sexting and [social media], bullying in schools and internet porn, cutting and hooking up” without the wisdom that comes from an adult perspective.
Yikes! That sentence alone could make a (recovering) helicopter mom want to go into high gear, but what we really need is balance.
For the next few posts, then, I want to look at three concepts for parenting teens that seek a middle ground between helicopter hovering and free-range disengagement. These are practices that McLeod and I are trying to follow with our kids, albeit imperfectly, and that come from strategies in the Bible for launching young people into adulthood.
The first principle is apprenticeship. This is the chance for kids to learn Adulting 101 much as an apprentice would learn from a master craftsman. This is the hands-on training piece of preparing teens by modeling everything from laundry to money management to how to drive a car. (If that last one is scaring you, there’s a blog for that: 10 Ways to Say “Be Careful” and Other Mom-ventures in Trust. I promise, you’ll love having another driver once you’ve stopped feeling like you’re going to hyperventilate.)
Apprenticeship shows up all over the Old and New Testaments. The prophet Elijah sought out a young farmer named Elisha to succeed him, but he didn’t hand over the reins immediately. Elisha spent years as an apprentice-prophet, watching and learning from Elijah (1Kings 19). As King David transitioned his kingdom to his son Solomon, he didn’t just tell him, “Someday you’re going to build God’s temple in Jerusalem. Good luck with that.” He spent time going over detailed plans with Solomon and identifying trustworthy people the young man would be able to count on in the years ahead (1 Chronicles 28:10-13). Jesus spent three intense years training his disciples so they would be ready to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel once Jesus ascended to heaven (Matthew 4:18-19). This pattern of daily, hands-on training in close proximity—what I call apprenticeship—is just the kind of parenting that teens need, too, as we prepare them NOT to need us someday.
So what does teen apprenticeship look like? First, we have to remind ourselves that teens have NO IDEA HOW TO ADULT, despite the way they act sometimes. They are still kids even though they look pretty grown up on the outside. In terms of brain development, they don’t do well with theoretical concepts alone: they have to see “adulting” in action and then practice it with good coaching. Viewing this stage of childhood as an apprenticeship means that we give them hundreds of opportunities to try and fail and try again. I’ve had to develop a launching mindset that reminds me that if I constantly do things for my kids that they can do for themselves, I’ve cheated them out of learning a skill they will need and the satisfaction that comes through growth and maturity.
Any adult skill is up for grabs, but let’s take money management. Ideally, we start them off early earning a few bucks so we can teach them to save, give, and spend within their means. As they get older, we also increase the amount of control they have over their portion of the family budget so that by high school they are managing their own debit account and adding to it from outside earnings. Do they want to spend all their clothes budget on a pair of shoes? Early on in this money-management-apprenticeship, we coach them to save some for future clothes they’ll need, but by the time they are in late high school, they should be able to make those decisions and live with them. Do they have a Spotify subscription? Want money for the movies or the Taco Bell drive-thru? Then, they will need to earn and budget for that, too.
Laundry, cooking, learning how to maintain the car–all of these are great ways for our teens to be apprentice adults. They are also opportunities to spend time with them, and as busy as the teen years are, that time is precious because it gives us a chance for the second principle for parenting teens: mentoring. We’ll take a look at how mentoring comes into play in the next post. In the meantime, what are some adult skills you know your daughter or son needs to develop, and how can you make room in your schedule to let them learn from you?
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