Beyond the Dos and the Don'ts
By T. Suzanne Eller
Question: Do your parents teach you by showing you the “don’ts” or the “dos”?
I really just need encouragement. They are quick to tell me what I did wrong and punish me, but I rarely get encouragement or guidance. I’m just expected to do what is right. -- Becca A., Age 15
Our oldest daughter is only nineteen months older than the twins, so they passed all the big hurdles—driving, dating, and leaving home and college—at nearly the same time. I thought changing diapers for three babies was hard, but teaching three teenagers how to drive was insane!
When Leslie received her driver’s permit, my husband and I took turns teaching her how to drive. We realized quickly that this would be a bigger challenge than we had imagined. She had an annoying habit of throwing her hands off the steering wheel when she panicked, and she pulled out of parking lots into traffic without looking because there weren’t any stop signs. By the end of her first year driving, her older compact vehicle looked like a bumper car with all its dings and dents.
We quickly came to the conclusion that our straight-A, beautiful daughter was a bad driver. One night we were in the car (she was in the driver’s seat, but it was still a joint effort at that point) and heard a siren. “What should I do?” Leslie asked. I glanced at her hands and noticed that they still clutched the steering wheel. We were making progress!
“Pull over to the side of the road and let the ambulance go by,” I said. When the ambulance came into sight, Leslie swerved to the curb. But she didn’t stop there. She then ran over the curb and sped into the nearby parking lot. A utility pole loomed before us. She threw her hands off of the steering wheel and pulled her foot off of the gas pedal. The car was a standard and came to an abrupt, screeching halt.
We stared at the light pole only one inch in front of the hood of the car. I slipped off my safety belt and took a deep breath as Leslie did the same. Without a word, we both climbed out of the car and traded places.
Understand that I’m young and that I learn as I’m growing up. -- Kayla T., Age 15
Our teens are adults under construction. It’s our responsibility and privilege as adults and parents to show them the way. Teens learn as we patiently work beside them to help them take the reins of their own lives. This learning process is a partnership between teens and parents as we share with them how to assume responsibility, make life decisions, and learn practical skills.
Too often adults toss out the “don’ts” and consider that to be a sufficient education. We tell our teens all the things that they should avoid—don’t have sex; don’t cheat; don’t dress like that; don’t talk like that; don’t drink; don’t do drugs—yet fail to show them what they can do and how to accomplish it. This also applies to faith. How many sermons are preached about what not to do while a teen is sitting in the pew wondering how to live his faith in a real world?
It would have been easier to tell Leslie all the things that she shouldn’t do as a driver and walk away, but it would have also been dangerous. She needed us beside her in the beginning. If I had tossed her the keys and given her a long list of don’ts—don’t tailgate; don’t use your cell phone while you drive; don’t get in a wreck—it would have been irresponsible of me. Yet it happens all the time with other issues in our teens’ lives.
It was the “dos” that made Leslie a skilled driver—eventually. I showed her the basics—how to turn the key, how to use the brake, how to navigate in traffic. Then we graduated to the more difficult aspects—how to drive on slick or icy roads, how to merge in seventy-mile-an-hour traffic, what to do in case the car broke down on the side of the road.
When our kids turn thirteen, we are showing them the basics—how to view themselves as God sees them, how to say no to temptation by making good choices, how to make friends that will treat you like a friend. By the time they reach sixteen we are somewhat in the passenger seat as we show them how to gain our trust by giving them greater freedoms (as they show that they are trustworthy)—how to choose a person of the opposite sex based upon something other than appearance, how to work to make and save money, how to look beyond high school and make goals for the future. By their senior years in high school they should be independent enough to take care of themselves. They should know how to do their own laundry, cook a meal, balance a checkbook, and have a work ethic, and they should have at least an idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Spiritually, they are on the highway of life. You are an influence, but they are now making the calls.
When Leslie jumped the curb and almost hit the pole, she made a huge mistake—one that could have cost both our lives. But if she was going to learn to drive safely, it was my job to hang in there until she got it right. I couldn’t give up because it was tough or because she wasn’t grasping the fundamentals as quickly as I thought she should. Leslie is now a 24-year-old and in her second year of law school, and she’s a really great driver. She’s proving what we knew all along: A teen can be brilliant, but she still needs parents for some things.
Your teen will make mistakes. Mistakes are growth opportunities. They give you a chance to show your teen how to take responsibility for his mistakes, work his way through them, and learn from them.
Read Suzanne's past articles:
How to Have a Good Fight
A Different Type of Adoption
What You Teach Me About God
Does Your Teen Feel Accepted at Home?
Are You Really Listening?
'But I’m Almost 18!'
My Teen Won’t Talk to Me
Suzanne Eller is a veteran youthworker, youth culture columnist,
conference speaker, and author of Real
Issues, Real Teens – What Every Parent Needs to Know (Life Journey, 2004). You can reach Suzanne at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://realteenfaith.com.
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