More than a year ago, I followed a link (probably from Facebook) and arrived at a blog post about parenting teenagers. The homeschooling blogger said something like this:
Responsible parenting involves making strict rules. Our teenagers will probably protest, but we have to stand firm (parenting isn’t about being popular) and enforce these rules because they will keep our children safe from the dangers of the world.
After reading the post and all the approving comments, I pondered this thought: If teenagers have no interest in doing all the things parents don’t want them to do, they’d be no reason to make rules. I decided to explore this idea in a blog post of my own. For some reason, I never actually published the post. Until today.
If you’ve listened to last week’s podcast, episode 119: When Unschooled Kids Reach the Teenage Years, you will already have heard this story. If not, you can read a slightly edited version of it below.
When Rules for Teenagers Aren’t Necessary
If parents don’t say no and fail to make rules their teenagers must abide by, are they irresponsible?
Perhaps children need to be told such things as:
“You can’t go to that late night party.”
“You can’t wear that immodest dress.”
“Alcohol? Drugs? No way!”
“I don’t want you associating with those teenagers. They’re a bad influence.”
“You can’t play that computer game. It’s too violent.”
“You can’t smoke.”
“No, you can’t read that book. It’s full of coarse language.”
Because is it really okay if a child does any of these things?
Should we make strict rules in order to protect our children? Perhaps we should explain our reasons but say an emphatic no.
We could think:
“Sometimes we have to tough because we love.”
“We have to lay down the rules even if our children protest. Parenting isn’t about being popular, you know.”
“We can’t side-step our parenting duty.”
“We might be in for some battles, but that’s to be expected. It’s part of keeping our kids safe.”
“It’s just what we have to do.”
Or is it?
What if our kids don’t want to do any of the above things in the first place? Then there wouldn’t be any need for rules, would there?
Is it possible to bring up children so that we can trust them to make the right choices, without us telling them what they can and cannot do? I think it is.
Some people might object: “Teenagers can’t be trusted. They’re too young to make their own decisions. They are easily swayed by the opinions of others.”
Maybe the objectors would be right if trusting is all about letting children go their own way and accepting whatever they do no matter what that may be: “Do what you like!” But that’s not responsible parenting.
In order to trust our children, we have to be so connected to them that they will accept what we believe is right and what is wrong.
So how do we do this? It’s hard to explain in a few words. However, I think it’s all to do with treating our children with respect and unconditional love so that they will trust us, respect our opinions, and be willing to follow our example. This isn’t easy. But then again, policing rules isn’t easy either.
“Hey, girls. What would you say if said I won’t let you go to an all-night party, you can’t smoke, and you’d better not even think about dressing immodestly? And if you want to go to see an X-rated movie or read an unsuitable book, well, you’re not going to be allowed to…” My voice dies away. My girls are giggling.
“Are you serious, Mum? You don’t have to tell us we can’t do those things. We don’t want to do them.”
If teenagers don’t want to do all those things we are worried about, why make rules?
A while back, my girls were talking with some of our friends about rules.
“Rules are necessary!” someone said. “How else will children do what is right and avoid what is wrong? How else can parents keep them safe? You can’t bring up kids properly without rules.”
Instead of protesting, Charlotte asked, “Do you think I turned out okay?” Everyone nodded before she added, “I was brought up without rules. Mum never makes rules for any of us.”
So what do you think? Whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts!