Monday, January 23, 2012

Free To Choose

Yesterday, someone noted the continuing problem of losing youth to inactivity in the Church.  He observed age 14 to be the critical point.  I have noticed this too.  14 is not an arbitrary age any more than 8 is arbitrary when considering the age of accountability.

In my work with troubled youth the age of 14 commonly stands out as the age of rebellion.  While there are younger exceptions, there are few older.  Oh, there are older rebels, but the vast majority rebelled at 14.  I believe the younger exceptions stem from accentuated abuse most of the time.  Occasionally, parents ask me how they can avoid these early teen pit-falls to which I always respond, "Your job is to teach them how to make healthy, correct, even righteous choices, and, to prepare them to have full reign to make those choices by the time they reach 14."  Then I advise them to prepare themselves to actually give full reign to their children at that time.  That's the hardest part.  Few accept my counsel.  Few have prepared their youth, to their own satisfaction, for the challenge of such personal responsibility.

Commonly, they ask, "What if I don't give them their freedom?"  To which I reply, "Then they'll just take it anyway."  14 is the age at which God intended His sons and daughters to begin to choose the direction of their own personal lives.  Parental efforts to restrict those choices will quite naturally be met with rebellion.

Another common question is, "What if I haven't adequately prepared them?  Is it too late?"  My answer is always, "No!"  It is never too late.  One of the things we all need to realize is that there are no perfect parents.  As a result no child is 100%, fully prepared at age 14.  We all know that, and you'll, given the chance, notice that the kids do too!  Remember 14 is not the age to be kicking kids out of the house.  They still need a safety net and you, Mom and Dad, are it.  If your children feel free to make their own choices, you will find them frequently seeking advice and assurance about the choices they are making.  If they feel no such freedom, you will be the last persons they will seek for counsel.

Let me give you the classic example:  At age 14, young Joseph Smith had a choice to make, "Which church should I join?"  How many of us would be willing to offer such a choice to one of our own 14 year olds?  It is clear that Joseph felt free to make such a choice.  Did he feel adequate for the task?  Clearly he did not.  But he had been well schooled in how to make such choices and given the freedom, he sought the Lord for guidance.  14 year olds are serious about things.  They are earnest about life and their futures.  They don't want to blow it.  If, like young Joseph, they have been taught that God cares about them and will joyfully entertain and respond to such questions, they are unlikely to make big decisions without first consulting with their Heavenly Father.

You will also notice that after, Joseph received his glorious answer from the Heavens, he still, willingly sought the counsel of his parents to affirm that he was on track.  I don't think Joseph Smith was all that unusual as 14 year olds go.  At least he doesn't appear to be as unusual as his parents were.

I realize these are scary times and our natural instinct is to shelter and nurture.  Too, often though, over-responding to that instinct results in smothering, rather than sheltering.  Remember we, and our children, are called to be in the world, but not of it.  The world is intended to give us experience, which must always be associated with agency, or the good work of the Lord in sending us here will be wasted.

Wild animals tend to flee rather than fight, but when cornered, and fleeing is no longer an option, fight they will.  14 year olds are no different.  If they find themselves in a situation without other options, fight they will. Watch carefully, that you do not press them into such a corner.  Watch carefully, for times when they may foolishly paint themselves into such corners.  Be sure to give them a way to escape.

Psalms 124:7
7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are
If Jesus is willing to break our snares, perhaps we should be prepared to do the same for our youth who occasionally become ensnared.  Even Joseph Smith fouled up a time or two as the learned and grew.

As these principles apply to parents, so they also apply to Church Leaders and Teachers, who occasionally apply Satan's manipulative arts and also reap the rebellion of our fledgling children.  Remember that agency is theirs as a God given possession, the stealing of which is evil and will most certainly satisfy Satan's objective for both you and the child.

As a litmus test you might consider that the number one symptom of the manipulator is frustration and the primary symptom of the manipulatee is rebellion.  If you are experiencing frustration or rebellion in your relationship with your 14 year old, please step back a little and let him out his corner, where he can make a more healthy choice.

I believe we can do this and that the result will be far fewer youth lost to forbidden paths than we are experiencing now.

1 comment:

Mindy said...

Thank you for this!! It's made me think a lot... I've had a hard time knowing how much freedom to give Tyler (14 years old). I think you are wise, and correct. I'm going to talk with Brandon about this tonight.

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