Before she was a teenager, Chelsea* had a cell phone. She also had her own bedroom complete with a TV and a computer with Internet access. As she continued growing up into a young teen, she made regular salon visits and had an artificial tan that made her look much older than she was. By […]
Before she was a teenager, Chelsea* had a cell phone. She also had her own bedroom complete with a TV and a computer with Internet access. As she continued growing up into a young teen, she made regular salon visits and had an artificial tan that made her look much older than she was.
By the time Chelsea was 14, a new car sat in the driveway, just waiting for her to get a driving permit.
By 15, Chelsea pretty much had it all and was bored.
Compounding the shock
A few months later, Chelsea dropped a bomb on her parents. She asked for permission to get married. “After all,” she reasoned, “we’re already married in God’s eyes.” And to compound their shock, Chelsea’s school expelled her for drug possession.
“I don’t understand how this could happen,” her mom, Dawn, said. “We raised her in a strong Christian home. And she’s not some underprivileged kid. I went back to work to make sure she had all the advantages.”
Setting healthy limits
We want our kids to have good things in life. But lavishing them with too many good things is like letting children gorge on candy. In the long run, it hurts their health and hinders their appetite for wholesome things. It can even lead them to a hunger for risky, harmful ones.
Just as we limit sweets in our children’s diets, we also need to set healthy limits in other areas so that our children aren’t growing up too fast. We can do this by creating appropriate stages and boundaries.
Creating appropriate stages means putting age limitations on behaviors that rush our kids out of childhood. This can include wearing makeup, enjoying Internet use, having a cell phone and getting a job. By delaying these activities until an appropriate age, we use them as rites of passage that mark a healthy progress toward adulthood.
In setting up stages and boundaries, we give our children something to look forward to as they are growing up. We help them see that maturity is a process, not something that automatically happens when they turn 18.
This approach also teaches our children that it’s OK to wait for something. Our society says, “Have everything you want now! Don’t wait. Go for it!” But, seeking instant gratification often leads to long-term problems. These can include massive debt, destroyed relationships and wounded emotions.
Questions to consider
As they are growing up, there are no set rules for determining the ages when kids should be allowed to have or do certain things. Each family and each child is different. But as you think about stages for your kids, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the reason for letting my child have or do this? For instance, 8-year-old Taylor has a cell phone. She uses it to call her mom at work while she stands at the bus stop alone every morning. For Taylor and her mom, the phone is a matter of security. On the other hand, Lindsey started asking for a cell phone in junior high. But since Lindsey just wanted a phone to impress her peers, her mom decided that Lindsey could have one when she was old enough to get a job and earn the money to pay for it. Sometimes we have to evaluate whether an item is a frivolous accessory or something that’s important to a child’s self-image as they are growing up. A mom may balk at letting a daughter get a bra before she has the figure to fit it. But, parents sometimes need to realize that when kids see their classmates developing physically, they don’t want to be the only one in school who’s “still a baby.”
- Is my child ready for this responsibility? If my son isn’t mature enough to avoid using a cell phone during class, then I’m doing him a disservice by giving him one. Sometimes we even put our kids at risk as they’re growing up, by letting them have privileges too early. One mom was horrified to learn that her daughter was giving out personal information to men on the Internet.
- Am I ready for this responsibility? Parenting is tough enough without giving yourself extra work. When we let our children enter a new stage, we have the added job of helping them handle the new privilege responsibly. Letting a child have a phone in his room, for instance, may mean monitoring to make sure he’s not chatting with friends when he should be doing homework.
- Will jumping too soon to a particular life stage send unintended messages to my child about self-image or materialism? Will letting a daughter get too many beauty treatments too young make her think her appearance is the most important thing in life as she is growing up? Will letting a boy have too many electronic toys too young set him up for always having to buy the latest gadget?
Give them a hand
When your child reaches a new stage, enthusiastically help him or her enter it. As he gets old enough for a mountain bike, help him select one. When she’s old enough to shave her legs, pick out gel and razors together and show her how to do it. When your son is ready for a job, help him research the market. Use life stages not only as signposts of growing up but also as opportunities to start something new with your child.
*name has been changed
This article first appeared in the January, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Jeanette Gardner Littleton. All rights reserved.
JEANETTE GARDNER LITTLETON