Savvy Parents Identify the Swing Issues
By Susan Yates
Author and speaker Susan Yates is the mother of five children and a regular contributor to Today’s Christian Woman magazine. This article is excerpted from the book A House Full of Friends by Susan Alexander Yates. Copyright © 1995, Susan Alexander Yates. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
I was almost asleep when I heard whispering in the hall, then an unmistakable bumping sound interspersed with giggles coming from the stairs.
What is going on? I wondered. I knew that my son John was due in from youth group, and this his sister had gone to get him. But something was definitely up. It was later than usual, and the bumping and laughter were getting louder. Groggy with sleep, I went out into the hall to see what was happening. Four teens were trying to get the dirtiest-looking couch I had ever seen up the stairs into the boys’ room.
“What are you doing with that?” I asked.
“Mom, it’s our new couch!” John responded joyfully. “I found it on the street during a treasure hunt. Someone put it out for trash, but I thought it would be perfect for our room.”
“But it’s filthy!” I exclaimed. “You can’t put that gross thing in your room.”
“Mom,” my son said in a serious voice, albeit with a twinkle in his eye, “this is my teenage rebellion. Be grateful.”
He got me on that, and the couch was moved into an already crowded bedroom where it lived as a monument to his “rebellion” for the next three years. Its presence reminded me of an important principle for parents of teens: Distinguish between basic issues and swing issues.
Developing a Plan
Teens need boundaries, and they need freedom. We must carefully choose where to stand firm and where to let go. The couch, though unseemly, was not a basic issue. It was a place to let go. It wasn’t vital to character building. It was a place where I could give in, even though the interior decorator in me—not to mention my sanitary instincts—didn’t want to. On the other hand, clear disobedience, back talk or violating family policies would be issues of the most basic kind where I would have to stand firm.
It’s important that Mom and Dad agree on what the crucial issues are for their family. Clear explanation and consistent implementation are vital. Explain the why of family policies to your kids. They won’t necessarily agree, but it helps your relationship with them if you attempt to explain and to hear their opinions. Then be consistent. “No” means “no,” not “maybe, if you argue enough.” A teen sees right through a parent who is wishy-washy, and that parent becomes a “wimp” in the mind of the adolescent.
We have clearly defined curfews for our teens. They don’t go home with a member of the opposite sex unless that person’s parent is present. And we always know where our kids are and with whom they are spending the evening. If one of them is going to be late or their plans change, they know they must call us. The same goes for my husband and me. We call them when we’ll be late. It’s family policy.
There are often times when teenagers will argue for more freedom, but they do want guidelines. Guidelines communicate to them that we care.
Let Teens Become Young Adults
When we are firm with our young children, the teen years will be less difficult. Often parents do just the opposite—they are relaxed in the early years and then come down too hard on their children in the teen years. The teen years should have parameters, but there should be a gradual lessening of rules by the parents and the entrusting of self-discipline to the child.
I’ve found that fulfilling the needs (not necessarily the wants) of adolescents enables us to forge strong, life-lasting friendships with them. Yes, the teen years are by definition awkward. Yet these years can be the most precious time in the life of a child and in the life of the parent. As we begin to let go, we can cultivate friendships with our teens at a much deeper level.
We never “arrive” as perfect parents. Growing in parenting lasts for a lifetime. We are people in process. It takes time and effort to build strong relationships with our teenagers, but it’s worth it.