"The law gives strength to sin."
Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (Emphasis added by me.)
Tell a kid he can't do something–heck, tell an adult he can't do something!–and there's something within that compels him to want to rebel, even if he has no intention of following through. Christians would call that sin nature but those outside the faith would chalk it up to human nature.
No matter how you characterize rebellion, it's something you must wisely navigate during the season of tween and teen.
My advice? How we've tried to parent in our home?
Extend liberty whenever possible. Say yes more than you say no. And help your child to see beyond the present choice into the future of consequences when poor (rebellious) decisions are made.
Let's take tattoos. How could you possibly know as a teenager what body art you'll want FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? Relationships change, tastes certainly change, and the things you loved at 18 won't likely be the things you adore at 30. Rather than tell your teen she flat out can't get a tattoo, draw her into conversation about it.
Why does she want one? What would she want? Validate that it's a current trend and you understand her interest. But then go farther to explain the consequence of that decision. We have young friends who have had a hard time getting a job because of piercings, guages and tatts; they expressed regret. I've talked to 30-somethings who hate what they got as a rebellious teen. But the funniest explanation came from my baby sitter years ago, when the trend leaned towards flower or sunburst tattoos around their navel: "I'm NOT getting a tattoo like that! What about when they're old and pregnant and it stretches…and after the baby it doesn't look anything like it did before…."
Let's go with an even hotter issue. Alcohol. My husband was raised where alcohol was not permitted under any circumstance; understandable because of my in-laws' experience with alcoholism (resulting in loss of job, early death) in their family. On the other hand, I was raised with alcohol in our home, and though I don't recall my father telling me I couldn't drink it, that was understood.
I realize some of you reading don't agree with drinking because of your religious, moral or experiential convictions; I hope you won't discount my entire parenting series for what I'm about to admit….
I made some poor decisions when I was a teenager that involved drinking; I wasn't drinking illegally because back then the drinking age was 18, but I made bad choices that could have resulted in horrible consequences to me personally or to others. Thankfully, I was spared.
We have had conversations about alcohol with our children since they were in middle school. They attended a conservative, Christian school where drinking even among adults was taboo…and yet my husband and I enjoy wine or a cold Blue Moon on occasion.
When our tweens asked questions, we invited them and answered honestly. It pained me when one asked, "Have you ever been drunk?" and I had to say yes. It hurt worse when, incredulous, he asked, "More than once?" and I had to say yes. Imagine how I felt when I even admitted to driving after drinking back in the day!
In spite of my embarrassment, I saw each of these conversations as teachable moments. They opened the door to a frank discussion about poor decisions, potential consequences and regret. It also gave us invited opportunity to talk about the legal drinking age and to express our views on alcohol…and why others, even within our family, disagree.
Our kids understand that drinking is a choice and that we're fine with responsible choices when they're of the legal drinking age. We don't tell them they aren't allowed to drink; we focus on the liberty of doing so appropriately and responsibly.
It has sapped the strength of the law.
Taking that one step further, I've allowed my children to taste my wine and beer. I extended the freedom to them to explore their curiosity, a calculated risk I was willing to accept.
They hated it. They don't understand why anyone would drink.
At 19, 17 and 14, they have no interest in drinking. Their curiosity has been satisfied. The law has no strength for sin in this area, I believe, because we have extended liberty to them on the issue. We've drawn no lines; we've focused on what they can do (legally and in the future), not what they can't do.
We've diluted the mystery.
We've talked about the consequences, why others disagree with our choices, and put the onus on them for making wise choices.
Please know that in NO way am I suggesting your change your position on this issue; I know it's personal and I respect your reasons for making your choices.
Of course there are other issues beyond tattoos and alcohol; but if you frame them as conversations with your tweens and teens, consider with them the appeal associated with prohibition, the liberties of asking questions without judgment, and the consequences of THEIR poor decisions, maybe the temptation will lose its allure.
So…if you disagree, might you respectfully share your thoughts in comments? Or if you have other "hot button issues" you've dealt with in your family, would you be willing to share them in comments? I'd love to hear!