Rais­ing teens re­quires del­i­cate bal­ance of free­dom

The Covington News - - Religion -

Ques­tion: If power is so im­por­tant to teenagers, then it must play a key role in fam­ily dy­nam­ics. How does it work it­self out at home?

Dob­son: You’ve asked a very per­cep­tive ques­tion. It is a wise par­ent who knows in­tu­itively how to trans­fer power, or in­de­pen­dence, to the next gen­er­a­tion. That task re­quires a bal­anc­ing act be­tween two equally dan­ger­ous ex­tremes. They dare not set their teenagers free be­fore they are ma­ture enough to han­dle the au­ton­omy — even though they are scream­ing for it. Ado­les­cents still need parental lead­er­ship and par­ents are ob­li­gated to pro­vide it — that’s the law of the land. One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of those who ac­quire power too early is a pre­vail- ing at­ti­tude of dis­re­spect for author­ity. It ex­tends to teach­ers, min­is­ters, po­lice­men, judges and even to God him­self. Such an in­di­vid­ual has never yielded to parental lead­er­ship at home. Why should he or she sub­mit him­self to any­one else? For a re­bel­lious teenager it is only a short step from there to drug abuse, sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, run­ning away, and so on. The early ac­qui­si­tion of power has claimed count­less young vic­tims by this very process.

On the other hand, there is an equally dan­ger­ous mis­take to be avoided at the lat­ter end of ado­les­cence. We must not wait too long to set our young adults free. Self-de­ter­mi­na­tion is a ba­sic hu­man right to which ev­ery adult is en­ti­tled. To with­hold that lib­erty too long is to in­cite wars of revo­lu­tion.

My good friend, Jay Kesler, ob­served that Mother Eng­land made that spe­cific mis­take with her chil­dren in the Amer­i­can colonies. They grew to be­come re­bel­lious “teenagers” who de­manded their free­dom. Still she re­fused to re­lease them and un­nec­es­sary blood­shed en­sued. For­tu­nately, Eng­land learned a valu­able les­son from that painful ex­pe­ri­ence. Some 171 years later, she granted a peace­ful and or­derly trans­fer of power to an­other tem­pes­tu­ous off­spring named In­dia. Revo­lu­tion was averted. At the risk of be­ing re­dun­dant, let me sum­ma­rize our goal as par­ents: first, we must not trans­fer power too early, even if our chil­dren take us daily to the bat­tle­field. Moth­ers who make that mis­take are some of the most frus­trated peo­ple on the face of the earth. On the other hand, we must not re­tain parental power too long. Con­trol will be torn from our grasp if we refuse to sur­ren­der it vol­un­tar­ily. The grant­ing of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion should be matched stride for stride with the ar­rival of matu- rity, cul­mi­nat­ing with com­plete re­lease dur­ing early adult­hood.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? We all know bet­ter. I con­sider this or­derly trans­fer of power to be one of the most del­i­cate and dif­fi­cult re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the en­tire realm of par­ent­hood.

Ques­tion: Can boys and girls be taught to treat each other with re­spect? That seems like a tough as­sign­ment.

Dob­son: They cer­tainly can. Young peo­ple are nat­u­rally more sen­si­tive and em­pa­thetic than adults. Their vi­cious­ness is a learned re­sponse, re­sult­ing from the highly com­pet­i­tive and hos­tile world in which they live — a world we have al­lowed to de­velop. They are de­struc­tive to the weak and lowly be­cause we adults haven’t both­ered to teach them to feel for one an­other.

One of the val­ues chil­dren cher­ish most is jus­tice. They are un­easy in a world of in­jus­tice and abuse. There­fore, when we teach chil­dren re­spect for oth­ers by in­sist­ing on ci­vil­ity in our class­rooms, we’re lay­ing a foun­da­tion for hu­man kind­ness in the world of adult­hood to come. It is a fun­da­men­tal at­ti­tude that should be taught in ev­ery class­room and ev­ery home.

Ques­tion: What do you think of the phrase “Chil­dren should be seen and not heard”?

Dob­son: That state­ment re­veals a pro­found ig­no­rance of chil­dren and their needs. I can’t imag­ine how any lov­ing adult could raise a vul­ner­a­ble lit­tle boy or girl by that phi­los­o­phy. Chil­dren are like clocks, they must be al­lowed to run!

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