Balancing Adolescent Freedom and Parent Involvement

Question

My wife and I are increasingly concerned with the dangers facing our kids.  How can we balance giving our kids freedom and knowing enough about what they are doing to protect them yet without spying on them and becoming overbearing parents?

Answer

Is “spying” on your kids always a bad thing?  How much time should you spend checking their cell phone, checking their social media or going through their room?  At what point does not knowing what’s going on become irresponsibility on your part?

The most important step is for you and your spouse to sit down, think about, pray about, and discuss what is your God-given responsibility as a parent.  What does the God who has known you and your child from before the foundation of the world and who has “loaned” this child to you expect from you as a parent?  What needs to happen for you to hear “Well done good and faithful servant?”

I’m convinced that best way to protect your child is to have a great relationship with them, but that can be difficult during the adolescent years.  Spend time with them.  Try to understand their world.  Listen and ask questions ten times as much as you give advice.  Pray with them and for them.  Be a safe haven when they are hurting.

If your kids seem happy, sociable, engaged, and talk to you then there is probably less need to spy.  But if they become withdrawn, start losing weight, become more secretive, or seem depressed then you probably need to start digging around to find out what might be going on.

I believe it’s the responsibility of every parent to know what is going on in their children’s lives and at times that will involve “spying” on them. Parents need to know who their friends are, where they go, what they listen to and even the websites they visit.  Most parenting “experts” see no problem in having access to their computer and in being a “friend” on their Facebook.   It’s appropriate to be aware of our children’s online behavior to protect them from sexual predators, bullies, or suicide sites on the web.  It’s valuable to know what they listen to.

I remember the first time I saw one of my sons with a CD that had the “Parental Guidance” warning on it.  I think it was by a new (at that time) artist Eminem.  I asked him who the artist was and why it had the warning on it.  He said, “Oh dad, don’t worry about it.  It’s not that bad.”  I replied with, “Well, if it’s not that bad you won’t mind if your mom and I listen to it.”  I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t want that to happen.  After listening to a couple of tracks we realized that this was dark and destructive material.  Then I went online and downloaded the words to the songs and was astonished.  The three of us sat down together and as I read the words to some of the songs I could see my son’s shame and embarrassment, especially with his mom sitting there.

After thinking and praying about it we told our son that because we loved him we would from time-to-time be looking at his CD collection and if there were any with a “warning” label on them we would take them, destroy them, and that he would be grounded.

He said, “Don’t you trust me?”  My immediate response was, “Yes honey, we do trust the part of your heart that knows the Lord and makes wise choices, but we don’t trust adolescence, and we don’t trust the part of your heart or our hearts that can make unhealthy or even sinful choices and our job as parents is to protect you from danger and help you grow to become a good and godly man.  The more we see you make wise choices the more we will be able to trust you.”

There are wolves who are after the hearts and minds and the very lives of our kids that didn’t exist when we were growing up and we must be vigilant in modeling Jesus Christ for them and in protecting them from the evil one.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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