How can parents help a teenager move more smoothly toward independence? By protecting, preaching or inoculating? The most common method used by Christian parents involves completely controlling the teenager’s environment.
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The parents make the decisions when it comes to choice of entertainment, friends, clothes, music, reading material, television shows, and movies. Most likely they place the teenager in a Christian school in an attempt to shield her from wrong influences and reinforce Christian principles.
However, attempting to isolate a teenager from worldly influences is a most ineffective method of control. Since such a teenager must eventually leave the structured environment, she may be the least prepared of all young people to deal with the realities of life.
Another common mistake is parental overreaction to negative influences. These parents hope that by overreacting with negative remarks, their teenager will avoid such folly in the future. For instance, in an effort to deter her teenager from listening to reggae music, they constantly make belittling remarks about such music.
This technique often produces the opposite effect. Many teens simply tune out their overreacting parents. They may listen respectfully if not indifferently when at home, but pursue what their parents have ‘preached’ against outside the home. Unknown to the parents, the youngsters may also carry out clandestine activities inside the home, having become clever at secluding their behaviour from their parents.
When at last the parents discover the truth, they become fraught with guilt and grief. The overriding question is never far from mind: How could my child follow the ways of the world when we have so adamantly taught against them?
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The most effective method of teaching values and standards to a teenager has been labelled the ‘inoculation approach.’ Just as parents provide the opportunity for their child to receive small dosages of infectious agents in order to gain immunity from disease, so the parent prepares her child during the early years. The parent teaches values through example and open, direct discussion in the face of exposure to what is questionable.
When an issue arises both the pros and cons are discussed in an open way. The young person is talked with (not to) and gently guided. The parent, as frequently as possible, allows the young person to make her own choices early in the selection process even if the decision is poor.
It’s much better that the youngster learn early how to avoid poor choices than later on when decisions with greater consequences are at stake. Few parents can tolerate such an atmosphere of openness, yet it is by far the most effective approach. Most feel compelled to make decisions in all matters for their teenagers. When their teenager makes a poor choice, the parent feels tremendous guilt and failure. However, wise decisions making is an acquired ability.
Setting own standards
Parents who wish to complement the inoculation method involve their teenager in setting standards for the home in advance of the event. Certain crucial areas such as driving, dating, and sexual behaviour can be successfully addressed in such a manner. Prior to the time a teenager is allowed the privilege of dating or driving, she should be encouraged to suggest guidelines to follow when using the car or dating later on.
Such an approach takes time, effort, and patience, but rich dividends are the handsome payoff. A teenager who has been allowed and encouraged to make choices is likely to cooperate with family policies and to develop a healthy independence and positive self-respect-two indispensable characteristics.
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