Hey! Can we go jump off the bridge?
My teenage daughter, Molly, motioned to the end of the dock that extended into the ocean. She said it nonchalantly like she was asking something innocuous like "Can I walk to the neighbor’s?" She and several of her friends crowded around and anxiously waited for our reply.
"Uh. Nooooo," my husband said in his "What? Are you crazy?" voice.
Molly turns to her friends: See?! I knew we should’ve just done it!!
Then she turned her attention to her thrill-kill parents: Why?! Why can't we?! It's perfectly safe! People do it all the time! We talked to some guys over there who've done it and they said they'll jump with us!
So, with the hearty and highly valuable endorsement of “some guys over there,” we gave them our blessing. Not.
Dad: Okay, so if someone told you to jump off a bridge, you'd do it? That's comforting.
Molly: Dad!! Come on ... watch! You'll see other people doing it. It's really safe!
Me: Well, no one is getting paralyzed on our watch. It’s too risky. You don't have to jump off a bridge to have fun at the beach.
Molly: Yea. You do. Whatever. (turns and leaves in a huff)
My daughter has wanted to do a lot of “bridge jumping” lately. Her fun-loving, thrill-seeking nature has collided with her teenage thirst for freedom and feelings of invincibility.
Whatever their ages, children generally push against our boundaries, as well as God’s boundaries (which many of our boundaries are drawn from). Our challenge is to help them understand that God gives us boundaries for our protection and to give us freedom. Freedom from being enslaved to addictions, freedom from physical and emotional harm. Freedom from the separation from Him that we feel when we insist on doing it our way.
So how do we teach our kids that boundaries bring freedom?
Instructive Examples. Sadly, there are plenty of cautionary tales out there – in Hollywood, among our kids' classmates and in their communities – about young people who have made unwise choices and are reaping tragic consequences.
It’s important to open dialogue with your preteens and teens by asking questions like, “What do you think about their choices?” and “What do you think led them to make those choices?” Helping them make the connection between seemingly “fun” choices and the bondage those decisions lead to -- on their own -- is so important. Especially with teens. Hysterical or judgmental lectures don't work. Trust me on this one.
Loving boundaries. I used to be all about rules. You do it because I said so! I’d regularly get angry or impatient when my kids disobeyed or were disrespectful. And that was a big mistake.
I’ve learned that always communicating love as the primary reason for giving them a consequence makes a huge difference in their attitude about their offense. They may be angry or upset at the consequence, but when they are assured each time that the motive is love, I’ve noticed their hearts soften much more quickly. (Sometimes I have to wait until I feel a little more loving to communicate this effectively.)
Share your journey. Kids aren’t the only ones who make mistakes and reap consequences. Especially as my kids have gotten older, I’ve been more open with them (without giving unnecessary detail) about what God is doing in my life and some of the painful lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
Emphasize God’s faithfulness. In addition to talking with them about what God is doing in my life, I also encourage them to pray (and pray with them) about all the little obstacles throughout the day – like when I can’t find the car keys (this is a frequent prayer) or when my daughter can’t find a contact lens (she just started wearing them, so this has made it to the top of the prayer list also). Bringing Him into their daily experiences and concerns emphasizes His love for them and concern about the details of their lives.
I certainly don’t have this all figured out. I’m in the trenches, girls. But I’m sharing some lessons I wish I’d known and put into practice when my kids were much younger.
With God's help, we can help our kids to look before they leap.