"The law gives strength to sin."
I remember my friend Robin saying that to me years ago, presenting a Biblical explanation for why we want to tiptoe across lines as soon as they're drawn in the sand.
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!
THANK YOU for following my parenting series and for telling others who might benefit. Also, if you haven't subscribed to PENSIEVE already, might you do so in a reader or by email?
My kiddo is 8, so we’re not into alcohol or tattoo territory yet. But we found we needed to take a similar approach with things he is dealing with right now – the big one was cursing.
The three of us are Transformers geeks. Hubby & I grew up with it, and we passed on our love of the robots in disguise to B. We were practically beside ourselves when the movies came out – and quickly deflated (especially at the second movie) at the amount of profanity and unnecessary sexual references.
By that point, we couldn’t bear to break B’s heart and not let him see it, so we chose to rent it. We sat down together to watch the movie, and paused it everytime a word came up that he didn’t know. We explained what the word meant and why it wasn’t nice. We gave him the chance to ask questions and told him that he should always ask us if he thinks a word might be bad but isn’t sure.
That dialog was perfect. He’s been remarkably good about watching his tongue (better than I am, to my own shame). He’s never hesitated to ask me about words he doesn’t know, and sometimes he covers his ears when he knows the word is coming at him!
I know I can’t protect my child from the world, and I believe that sheltering him is a bad idea. Our theory was that if I expose him in the safety of my own home, with the chance to explain the whys and why nots, he won’t wind up embarrassing himself later on from naivety, and hopefully he will learn to set the boundaries for himself.
My parents were like dictators when I was a teen, or at least that is how I felt. We had a health class in 9th grade that had a section on drugs and alcohol. We had to take papers home and have our parents fill in what they would do if they caught us drinking or doing drugs. My parents put that they would ground us and take us to our church leader. I felt horrible when that was what they put on there. No talking to us about what was going on and why were doing it, just punish and send us to someone to “fix” us. There was no discussion about it. Just “you are not allowed to drink or do drugs.” No explanation of why or anything. My suggestion would be to talk to your children about why you don’t want them to do these things. How it can affect them for the rest of their lives (if they were driving and got in an accident while drinking or drunk, alcoholism, being more susceptible to sexual abuse, etc.). Being sure to include your love and concern for them while discussing it so they know it isn’t just you being some mean person who wants to control their lives is vitally important (in my opinion).
I rebelled. I am an alcoholic. I wish I had listened to my parents. The consequences are lifelong. They aren’t gone. I haven’t drank in 9 years, but it isn’t easy. Who wants that for the rest of their life? Alcoholism runs in my family and my husband’s family. I believe drinking is never okay (but I won’t judge others for their differing views).
I LOVEEE this post! You are right~ we do make rules based on our experiences far too often. My husband and I were both raised that drinking is wrong. However he in a more legalistic way than I was. With our children(17, 15, 13, 11) we have chosen to have open conversations about alcohol and tatoos. Talking about the long term and short term effects and consequences has helped us all. My husband and I do not drink at all. He used to, socially. I never have~ can’t stand the taste. WE decided many years ago to stop based on the poor choices that friends and family made in the use of alcohol. We have lived in communities(northern and isolated) for too many years where alcohol is used excessively as a medication, form of entertainment and abused beyond belief. People don’t know how to gather together without it and they don’t know to NOT bring it with them when they visit. So, like smoking, we just banned it in our house and on our acreage. It forced people to recognize their own issues and how much they rely on it as a vice. For our kids, they’ve smelled it, seen the drunks on the streets, seen friends hospitalized over it and seen the consequences. When they are of legal drinking age(19 here), they are free to make those decisions but based on what they know, they have all said they have no desire to go there. Honesty, openness, communication….keys to avoiding the legalistic trappings. Thanks again.
I totally agree! My daughters are 9 and 12, and we have been very open about everything! A very sweet, wise, godly woman once told me not to let anything be taboo in your home. We try to communicate about everything, and the girls feel comfortable about asking everything. I do think you have to be careful with drawing lines, and that there is a balance between what God says and being curious. Both of our girls have made professions of faith, so we usually share what God says about a certain thing, and answer any questions they have. We pray that God’s spirit in them will help them to make wise choices that are in line with God’s word. Thanks for sharing, this is one of my favorite series!!!
Thank you for teaching your children. I raised my children and watching my grandchildren being raised in this amazing world of choices. My advice to all you young mothers…yes, you are doing the right thing but remember we live in a fallen world and there will be times when your children make will make the wrong choices. Sometimes choices that will be with them for a lifetime. You will need to be there to comfort, pray, forgive and accept them. Even in the midst of the poor choices as adults (and it will happen) don’t turn your back on them. You have taught them well. When they are young adults, keep silent, let God speak to their hearts and do His work. He knew those days were going to happen and even though you are white knuckling it..in the midst of your pain and tears (and you will have them) He is in control. Such peace does pass all understand!
Great post! I feel like I could have written it myself–right down to the occasional Blue Moon. I think the only thing I would add that we have done differently with our teen and tween is, in conversations about tattoos, to recommend that if they DO someday decide to get a tattoo–once they are grown and out of our house–they should put it in a place that can easily be covered up in case it doesn’t fit into their professional life or later in life they decide it is not their style at all. That way, they have options with how they want to present themselves.
I love the succinct way that you talked about sapping the strength and diluting the mysteries. Great conclusions. Can’t wait to read the rest of these posts!
EXACTLY how we have handled it. Great job, Robin!
First time visiting your blog thru the 31 days event. As the parent of a 17 year old daughter I could very much relate to your advice. I look forward to reading more. thanks.
Love. My children taste wine every week at church…
I agree that involving them in a conversation where they come to their well though own positive or negative conclusion is paramount to any parenting demand.
ok – that was “their own well thought out conclusion” whether positive or negative…
PLus how can a mom named Liberty put the kibosh on it in general?!
I have to agree that my parents definitely “diluted the mystery” of alcohol for me, too! On my 19th birthday my dad asked if I wanted a glass of wine. And I said, “Dad, if I haven’t drank until now … why would I?” I personally didn’t drink at all until I was 21 because it was illegal, and if I choose to now it’s very infrequently and mildly!