How tight a rein should I keep on my teenager's social lives?

MARTHA [a caller]: I am a single parent of four children. The older two are teenagers - a girl, fifteen, and a boy, fourteen. I am trying to raise them in a Christian atmosphere, but they keep wanting to go to the dances held at their school. Many times I have put my foot down and refused to let them go. They are very good kids, and I trust them, but I worry about the atmosphere at a dance. I don't know where to draw the line between being too lenient or too strict.

RANDY [Randy Carlson]: Martha, you have asked the proverbial question that all parents struggle with at one time or another. We love our kids, but we want to set the right limits too. It all comes down to the kind of relationship we have with our children.

KEVIN [Dr. Kevin Leman]: If you say you trust them, I think you've got to start to let them go. You have to give them that freedom because they are out there living in the real world. Temptation is everywhere, and part of growing up for all teenagers is learning how to deal with temptations and challenges with confidence and personal convictions that are really theirs and not their parents'. So I understand your concern, but there are two real dangers in drawing the line too tight: One, you don't give your teenagers a chance to grow and mature; and two, you risk having them become resentful and rebellious.

MARTHA: That's what I'm afraid of. You've just mentioned that kids ought to have their own strong personal convictions. Well, I have this strong conviction that I shouldn't let them go to dances.

KEVIN: Where does that conviction come from?

MARTHA: I was brought up to believe that Christians don't go to dances. But my kids don't see anything wrong with dancing. I don't want to push them so hard that they're going to rebel and not want to go to church, and that kind of thing. But I also don't want them to think that they can go to anything they want any time they feel like it.

KEVIN: That's a judgment call that parents always have to make, but I think you have to go back to basics, Martha. You are trying to raise adults, not children, and your goal is to have open communication and a solid relationship with your kids. I think there are points where you have to draw the line, and one family will find the line here, and another will find it there. I think kids respect drawing lines as long as they know the line will be drawn consistently.

RANDY: One approach you could take, Martha, would be to sit down with your teenagers and have an open discussion about dancing. Maybe, then, they could share with you their convictions and you could share your convictions with them. You may be able to work something out, but no matter what happens, you'll keep the lines of communication open.

There are a few things you can remember, Martha, that may help. First, always pick your battles carefully because you can win the battle but you may lose the war. And the other thing is something our friend Josh McDowell said that we like to pass along to parents :"Rules without relationships lead to rebellion." When you sit down with your kids, don't just try to show them that you are right and they are wrong. Make it your first goal to preserve and build your relationship with them.

Author: excerpt from Parent Talk by Dr. Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson of Family Life Communications

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