I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
—Proverbs 4:11-12 NIV
The group e-mail sat unanswered in my inbox for a full twenty-four hours as I wrestled with how to respond. It was from the mother of one of my daughter’s friends.
“My daughter cried herself to sleep last night, because, apparently, I’m the only mom who won’t let her shave her legs, have a phone, use Instagram, or sit up front in the car. Are any of you letting your girls do these things? No judgment, just trying to see if she is telling the truth and if I’m the only mean mom out there.”
Each time I checked, there was another reply from another mom. Most of the responses were the same.
When my kids were two- and three-years-old, someone gave me this gem: “Pick your battles carefully. Win the ones you pick.”
So how do you decide if a battle is worth fighting? When should leg-shaving begin and at what age should kids have phones? Is there a strategy we can use for making wise decisions and navigating the tween and teen years?
Yes. Keeping in mind that all kids are different and that there is no “one-size-fits-all” for parenting, consider these guidelines that my husband and I use.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Parent accordingly.
I am a working mom. Because my work sometimes pulls me away from my family for a night or two, I am a guilt-ridden mom. Because I am a guilt-ridden mom, my first inclination is usually to say “yes with a cherry on top” when my children ask me for things. When I sense guilt-mom taking over, I deflect questions to my husband, who has no problem saying “no.”
My husband, on the other hand, will admit to being too quick to shut things down without first thinking it through. I act as a counter-balance when Mike puts on his “Captain No” hat.
Focus more on character than activities.
If there is a trap we fall into, it’s this. We spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about what we want our children to do. Should they play soccer or softball? Softball or swimming? Activities are not a bad thing, but they shouldn’t be the biggest thing. By focusing more on who I want my children to be, I make better long-term decisions.
For example, Mike and I want our children to grow up to love Jesus and love His Word. Because this is of primary importance, if my child wants to participate in a sport that requires travel or tournaments every Sunday, the answer is “no.” Why? Church is more important to us than sports.
We also want our kids to grow up making healthy choices. We model and encourage this by eating healthy meals around the dinner table five nights a week or so. In order for that to happen, Caitlyn and Nick must choose one extra-curricular activity at a time. Otherwise we find ourselves racing around town eating fast-food in the car.
Find out if there is an immediate reason to say no.
Back to leg-shaving and the e-mail. All but one of the moms expressed shock at the notion of letting their nine- or ten-year-old shave their legs. About half of the girls had phones, and several of those girls had Instagram accounts.
All social media users must be at least thirteen to have an account. Since I will not let my kids lie about their age, the decision is easy—no social media until they are at least thirteen, and then, only if they prove themselves mature enough to handle it.
Say “yes” to the inconsequentials.
Do I want my nine-year-old daughter shaving her legs?
Not particularly. But we say “no” to competitive sports leagues, too many activities, phones, and social media. This one, she can have.
Establish expectations and consequences.
Someday Mike and I plan on giving the kids phones. Before we do, we’ll have a conversation about our expectations.
- Caitlyn and Nick will have access to their cell phones between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. At the end of the day they will turn the phones in to us to charge overnight in our room.
- The phones will not be abused. Phone abuse includes sending inappropriate texts, inappropriate pictures, and texting-while-driving.
- We expect grades to stay within an acceptable range.
As long as they meet the expectations they are free to use their phone as they wish.
Allow them into the discussion.
I have found that some of the sweetest conversations with my children come from the discussion that follows the “no.”
Our kids respond best when we remember that they are people, with thoughts and ideas and emotions. At eight and nine years of age, my kids’ worlds are very small, so whether or not they get to do something their friends get to do is an especially big deal. If there is no immediate reason to say “no” and it doesn’t conflict with family values, saying “yes” with expectations and consequences is something I want to do as often as possible.
One of the things I tell my kids often is that I am all about giving them more freedom. I don’t want to be the referee mom in the striped shirt always blowing her whistle. I want them to have phones. I want them to properly enjoy the benefits of social media. I even want them to (gulp) date. But I take the responsibility of discipling them very seriously. So, for the time being, my daughter has the smoothest legs in the fourth-grade, and the mean mom who has no intention of budging on a phone until she’s twelve.