Life Lessons as a Dad - Part 6

This post is dedicated to my only daughter, Lisa Marie Sullivant of the greatest joys of my life.

An obviously important stage of our kids growth that often holds a critical spiritual turning point for them is when they are going through puberty.

Here they begin their "individuation" process and often experience doubts about the faith of their early childhood (and the faith "handed" to them by their parents!) as they become more capable of abstract thinking and peer influence begins to exert itself. These changes actually set the stage for a deeper commitment to Jesus and His kingdom to emerge in their lives...if we have eyes to see it and trust the Lord as we journey boldly with them into adolescence.

In my experience, the "youth" of every generation look for some ways to distinguish themselves from the older generation...and that youth culture will certainly find our that an understatement or what? Parents need to be careful not to over-react to such a tendency in their teenage children by over-protecting them from being exposed to the reality of the "youth culture" in the world around them. Knee-jerk reactions can really hurt the parent/child connection that God Himself is testing and developing. Even that great apostle Paul confessed, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." (1 Corinthians 13:11-12) I recommend that parents find grace in their hearts to let their kids be kids and tolerate some of the "childishness" that they will inevitably manifest in this awkward transitional season of their lives. We ought not expect them to think and behave like minature adults. Come on...hormones are raging, thoughts are racing, emotions are rising and falling, bodies are morphing, self-images are being challenged to the core. Let's give them a break!

We sought to prepare our kids for the experience of "individuation" by helping them anticipate these feelings and thoughts and by framing the process as a good and necessary part of their growing up...we intentionally informed them about what they would experience before it started to happen. This helped to diffuse their energy around the temptation to "prove" to us (and themselves and their peers) that they didn't "need" us so much anymore. We "smiled at their future" and warmly welcomed those "teen years"...that many uptight older Christian parents had warned us were coming. We began to deliberately give them more freedom to make personal preference choices and express their unique tastes in non-essential "cultural" matters...styles of clothing, hair length and color (oh my!), favorite music styles, etc. ...all within healthy, proper, but flexing and expanding, boundaries. One time I inadvertently got Lisa in a bit of trouble at her conservative Christian school because I shaved the back of her head beneath the longer hair above it that would cover the shaved patch--I thought it looked cool. We didn't know it was apparently against the unwritten rules of the school! (Through the years I developed my barbering talents and I always cut my own kids hair--we actually bonded through this and we saved a lot of money too.) Lisa and I had some good laughs about that event.

It's interesting now to look back and see that our kids never felt the need to go to any unhealthy extremes in expressing their youthfulness. When certain harmless and benign youth fads would sweep through our culture, we allowed them to "touch" and "be touched by" them. I think that this approach actually helped them to never feel the need to plunge headlong into some strange rebellious or destructive trends. We didn't want to create an intensified intrigue around the "worldly", "forbidden fruit" wasn't worth focusing upon. (We "yawned" at most of their little fads.) However, I do remember subtly challenging each of them (during those informal philosophical talks we would have) to be their own person and "lightly resent" the fact that those evil and greedy advertisers... :-) ... on Madison Avenue were already plotting how to manipulate their personal perception of "coolness" for the next year. I encouraged them to revolt..."Everyone now join in....We don't give a rip what label is on our hip!" I spoke to them of the insecurities and foolishness behind "conforming" to the soulless herd...even the "non-conforming" youth find our sense of worth.

More to come on adolescence...crushes; spiritual doubts; family "contracts".

Michael Sullivant