Correcting our children as we guide and direct them in life is a necessary part of our job as parents, but it is not always the most enjoyable part.
Recently one of our teens needed some firm correction. This kiddo was not making wise choices in regard to their time. (I will keep this vague to honor their anonymity). They had some habits in place that weren’t healthy for the present, nor would these habits set them up for success in the future. We had also let the issue slide for too long, which had made the problem worse. The situation needed to be addressed and major changes needed to happen.
When it comes to correction, most parents lean toward one of two categories. Sometimes we avoid correction or are way too lax for one reason or another. When we do this though, we miss the chance to connect with our child and lovingly walk with them through their mistakes. We also set our child up for future pain, relying on the world alone to teach them that there are always consequences to our poor decisions. On the other hand, we might tend to crack down harshly so they will just behave the way we want them to. Not only does this damage our relationship, but here we fail to see our child and the feelings that might be driving the behavior in the first place. Both of these solutions are problematic and non-relational.
In the situation with our teen, we veered toward both unhealthy patterns along the way. But we also spent a lot of time talking, praying, and seeking some counsel on how to lovingly, yet firmly get them back on track, and we finally found our way forward. Now this example is a bit more extreme than most corrective moments with our kids. It is also more complex than I am able to explain in this post, but I am going to outline how we have been walking it out in hope that some pieces might be helpful for fellow parents. I should also mention that the situation felt overwhelming for all of us. So we tried to model staying relational and non-anxious, letting our teen know we were with them through this and together we would work it out.
- We clearly laid out what we expected: We began to have lots of conversations with our teen and repented for the mistakes we had made that contributed to the current situation, but we also let them know that things could not stay where they were. We gave clear guidelines for what needed to happen. In this process we took time to listen to their perspective, desires, and feelings about the situation (they had some big ones!). This didn’t mean they would have the final say, but we wanted to honor and validate what they were feeling and thinking. We also did several things to communicate that we believed in them and that the issue was with their behavior and NOT with who they were as a person.
- We gave them choices: Our teens need to start finding their ways out of their problems. We knew our child probably couldn’t figure this one out alone. However, we gave them a chance to try so they could see what they were capable of and where they might still need some help. We ended up giving three choices: they could figure out a way to shift their habits to meet our expectations on their own; they could ask us for help and we could figure it out together; or we could step in and implement the changes that were needed. Our teen wanted to try to figure it out on their own. They shared their solution and we gave them a clear amount of time to implement it.
- We relationally followed through with consequences: After checking in, it became clear that things were not going to change unless we stepped in. We began to take away some privileges that were central to the time usage issue and we modified some things in their life to better set them up for success. At first this was not well received, but we did our best to stay calm and relational, even when they couldn’t.We also validated the frustration and pain they were feeling. We also told our teen that it was totally understandable that they were struggling to manage their time on their own. This is a maturity task that many adults don’t do well. So we wanted our teen to understand that nothing was wrong with them for needing our help.
- We are continuing to check in and follow up: This situation has been like trying to turn a big ship around vs a small speedboat. So while things are in a much better place, it is a work in progress. We continue to check in each week to see how things are going and how our teen is doing. The focus with each of these check-ins is our relationship with this child. Our goal is to let them know they are seen and valued, to make sure their needs are being met as we navigate the situation with them.
No child likes correction, but as young adults, our teenagers are coming into their own and sometimes resent correction and parental discipline. Most teens want the freedom to do what they want and to make their own decisions. And truth be told, the teen years are a time where, as parents, we need to begin giving our children more freedom to make choices and mistakes. Yet, we shouldn’t relinquish our roles in their lives too quickly. They still need boundaries and consequences that will help set them up for success as they prepare to live on their own in the real world.2