When Are Children Ready?

The other day we asked a neighbor to come over and help us move a bed upstairs.  He was barely in the door when he said:  “I need to ask you something – I need help!”  He then told us how his almost-15-year-old daughter has a sudden interest in body piercing – she would like to have her lower lip pierced.  He is against it, saying she is too young, but his wife might be OK with it.  So this situation is causing tension between husband and wife as well as between parents and child.

We are always reluctant to tell other people what they should do, so we tried to offer our neighbor some ideas to consider.  After raising four children, we have faced many situations in which our children wanted to do something that we didn’t think they should.

We believed that some activities and privileges are not appropriate until a child has reached a certain age or level of maturity.  We listened to the child’s reasoning and arguments, but it was our responsibility to decide when the child was ready.  We believed that doing so helped to keep our children out of situations and experiences that they weren’t ready to handle and that waiting for a specific age or demonstrated level of personal responsibility also gave them a reason to grow up.  We found that sometimes they had lost interest by the time we had agreed to let them have the item or engage in the activity in question.

Three of our four children eventually had body piercings.  We allowed our daughter a single piercing of each ear when she was small and a second one when she was sixteen (that was Rita’s influence), but refused to sign for anything more.  While all three had pierced ears and one of the boys an eyebrow, they had to wait until age eighteen.  As soon as they applied for real jobs after college, the boys stopped wearing any body jewelry and now say that it really wasn’t a great idea.  When they were old enough and got the piercings on their own, we did not make a big deal about it, even though we didn’t think it was a great idea, either.

As we talked, our neighbor pointed out the large tattoo on his arm and talked about being eighteen at the time and thinking it would be great.  Now he talks about being self-conscious and how people judge him based on the tattoo.  He is especially concerned about showing it in church.  He is trying to protect his daughter from doing something that she will regret all her life.  One of our sons   has a small tattoo on his back, obtained after he was on his own.  We had a discussion about it and he told us that he was careful to place it where it would only be seen when he takes off his shirt, knowing that there are situations when it would be a negative for him.  We still don’t care much for tattoos, but at least he was old enough to understand the potential consequences of his decision.

We applied these ideas to other situations as well – dating , for example.  We allowed our children to socialize in mixed groups at dances or movies starting in sixth grade, but dating as one boy – one girl not until age sixteen.  We also encouraged them to call us if they found themselves in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation and that we would pick them up, no questions asked and no repercussions.  We let them use us as an excuse when they were invited to a party or other event that they really didn’t want to attend or were concerned about.  On the phone they would say, “Let me ask my parents.”  Then they would cover the mouthpiece and whisper to us:  “Say no!”

We found it easier on us and better for the kids when we presented a united front.  When only one of us was present we usually made them wait until we could have a discussion.  It didn’t always happen but we tried to look ahead to the kinds of situations we might face in the future and have a discussion so that we were in agreement and knew how we would respond.  For example, when our children s’ friends started to get body piercings we talked about it and were ready when it came up.

We’ve told you what we did in raising our children, but how effective was it?  We have good relationships with them and they are now old enough (ages 28-41) that when we are together we sometimes hear stories about their growing up that we have never heard before – stories they didn’t want us to know.  We have also asked them about their experience of growing up with us.  They told us that they weren’t always happy with our decisions and didn’t understand our reasoning, but as they grow older and are raising children of their own, they have come to appreciate how we protected them from some (but not all, of course) poor choices and that making them wait for something was a reason to look forward to growing up and becoming responsible adults.  Perhaps the best affirmation we receive is that we see them using many of our methods as they raise their own children.

Our children didn’t always agree with our decisions and we often were unsure ourselves.  There were difficult times, but we worked to stay close to each other and bumbled along, making decisions as best we could.  It took lots of prayer and asking God for the grace of parenting to get us through, and we are always grateful for our children and the adult lives they lead now.

Do you agree or disagree with us?  Have any good ideas to pass along to others?  Please leave a comment.

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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at thewonderofmarriage.com and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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