Monday, February 25, 2008

Thirteen Year Olds with Boyfriends... Some Thoughts

One thing I love about good friends is that they help me clarify my thinking. I love that I have friends who are really willing to say what you think. If I agree with you, I feel vindicated, and if I don't agree with you, it makes me think about why and and try to analyze and clarify. So thank-you for all your comments in the poll I took yesterday!

In the LDS church, we talk a lot about agency. Agency is basically your God-given right to make your own choices.

Now, I'm pretty comfortable with my OWN agency. Not that I always get it right, just that I usually make choices where I can live with the consequences.

My issue comes in when I am responsible to teach my children about agency, and choices, and consequences. I've always tried to teach more with reason and talking, and less by being reactionary and forbidding.

But see, you can have as many discussions with your toddler as you want about why she shouldn't touch the stove, but she'll just keep trying to touch it as long as it looks interesting. And you can't exactly say to that toddler,
"Well now, I've told you it's hot. You make the choice."

(Well, you could but if you do that too many times you don't get to be responsible for that child anymore. )

But I know more about the hot stove than she does, and about the possible consequences, and so as a responsible parent, it's my job to protect her from things that can hurt her. Whether she understands it or not is practically irrelevant.

I understand it.

And the same is true for teens. And the bigger dangers that come with bigger teen decisions. Certainly the consequences are bigger.

Do I think that the middle school version of "going out" is actually harmful to her development? Well, yes and no, but I think mostly no. Having someone to flirt with and to sit by during the school assembly is not exactly a "hot stove". But I DO think it's a burner that's been turned on. (Ha! Turned on. I crack myself up!)

And the problem is that the burner only gets hotter from there. We all know that the flirting and hugs good-bye have a limited enjoyability span. Then it takes something else to feel close.
Don't say you don't know what I'm talking about, either!

Would I let my toddler touch the burner after I turn it on -even if it's only warm at this moment.? Of course not. -

And so I feel the same about my teen. Because I don't think she really understands the possible consequences, or how fast it can get hot.

But I do.

And so this? Makes me violently opposed to her having a boyfriend right now. Not that the burner is hot now, but that it puts her in the position of the burner getting hotter and hotter. And at 13 she can hardly be expected to know where or how to stop when it's too hot.

(If I started talking about a frog in a pot here, would that mix in too many metaphors? Probably. But you see where I'm going with that.)

And so I have a responsibility to my teen, just like I do to my toddler, to protect her from whatever consequences I can.

But this time I can't just remove her from the situation and distract her with something shiny. Oh, I could step in and forbid the relationship (and enforce the forbidding, too!), but it would destroy the careful trust we're building between each other.

I know what I have to do is teach her. And teach her in a way that she can see that even if she doesn't feel the heat right now, she can trust me that it's coming, and use her agency to make the best choice for herself.

And so while she is learning about decisions and consequences with some of the other things in her life, she will have to partially rely on her parents' judgment for this one. It's too important. I've known more than one 14-15 year old that wished with everything in her heart that she could go back for a do-over.

It's going to be a difficult few days for all of us as we try to come to a balance here - between her being able to exercise her agency, and my being able to protect her.

Such is life as a parent of teenagers.

I'm trying to think of some sort of last line involving heat and parenting, but everything that comes to mind seems to reference hell.


Earl said...

One of our sons was a few years older than this, and had a friend in the ward that was very negative. Whenever our son was around that friend it was reflected in the way he treated his siblings. We had numerous discussions about this and finally we told him that if he couldn't keep the association from affecting how he treated his siblings, that he couldn't associate with the friend. He told us in so many words that we couldn't stop him from seeing his friend and that he would sneak behind our backs if necessary. We explained that the standard had been set, he knew our position and why, and if he chose to disobey that was his choice. But that he would pay a price. The price wasn't any form of punishment, it was dissappointment and loss of confidence in him on our part, and everything else that went with him knowingly doing something in direct opposition to us. It was a difficult time.

Agency on their part doesn't mean we have to lower the expectations or standards, only that they will choose. And sometimes pay the price. Hopefully they have testimonies, and feel the Spirit and make good choices. We can't force them.

Lippy said...

The thing about this situation (one that I'm dealing with myself) is that every point has a seemingly valid counterpoint and every argument from one side can be logically counter-balanced. I think it's why parents go insane eventually.
You give way on one freedom, does that compromise the right to hold fast against another?
Ultimately, it is up to each parent to make decisions for each child, which sounds a lot easier than it is.

momof3crazykids said...

Teenagers=Hell. You are correct on your last line!

Yvonne said...

Parenting a teenager is tough. We teach them the principles, give them the boundaries, and then we have to also teach the consequences. Each of them is different--some never question. For others most days are a battle.

Melissa said...

:::fingers in ears::: LA LA LA!! I'M NOT LISTENING!! Parenting teenagers will be easy... parenting teenagers will be easy... sigh... who am I kidding? My mother invoked the "mother's curse". You know the one "May you someday have children that cause you as much grief as you have caused me." I am in SOOOO much trouble.
I wish I had some fantastic advice to give you. You are a great mom! I know you'll be able to come to a balance with your daughter

NG said...

Nicely put. Good luck figuring out how to implement it now. I'm very interested to know what you do as my 4 year old came home yesterday and announced she was going to marry a boy in her class. I dread her teenage years.

Marilyn said...

hang in there! gosh, agency is great, except when your kids decide to exercise it. i remember thinking about this many times as my kids have been growing up. Remember, Heavenly Father loves your child and He loves you too! We can give lots of advice but no one lives in your shoes or knows your child like you do. Also, none of us are entitled to inspiration for you and your child either~but you are! So again-hang in there!

Tonya said...

Okay, it's official, I'm not letting my child become a teenager.

But seriously, she is lucky to have a mom that puts so much thought into things like this. I don't envy you in trying to explain this all to her but I know it will work out.

Corrine said...

I don't look forward to the teen years, as right now I have a hard enough time redirecting to shinier things! all I can do is say prayer and express your love to her and your opinions on the matter and let her figure it out....

Corrine said...

you could also tell her that free agency doesn't kick in until she is 21!

East of Eden said...

Your burner/stove analogy was brilliant. Good luck with her though. I have no idea what I would do....well, I do, but it would not be nearly as nice as you are being. :)

kristen said...

randi, you are AWESOME. You know how to draw the line between being a friend and being a parent. Kids need parents; not more friends. Providing guidelines and expectations now will do her more good than she'll understand, (and it might take her 10 years to realize it). I think you're right on with this and are doing the right thing.

I love all the analogies (esp the correlation with heat....)

The Wiz said...

Fortunately the end of the world is coming before my kids enter their teenage years. So I'm good.

Maybe you'll get lucky and this boy will do something stupid/gross/lame and she'll "dump" him. Boys do that, you know. Especially 13 year old ones.

Contrary to what your daughter may think, relationships for 13 year olds rarely last. Just keep praying for that. Or for, you know, the best thing to happen, which is probably better.

Heather said...

If you don't have a blog in 10 years you better move by me. I'll still need your expert advice!

I would have commented "No" to the prior post but my face was glued to the toilet seat... good luck!

No Cool Story said...

Parenting is not for wimps.
My mom also invoked the "mother's curse" on me. So far my kids are nothing like I was as a at least I have that.

You know, this is pretty tough, what with the agency, trust, maturity, expectations, etc.
I wish the best for you Randi, you are a good mom.
Prepare to ruin your kid's life :)

No Cool Story said...

I also loved the analogies!

Tori :) said...

I thought this was a great post Randi!!

Janell said...

Sure, there are a lot of good reasons for her to have a "boyfriend," but there are also a lot of good reasons for her to not have a "boyfriend." I think this is an instance where you have to lay down the boundaries and play the, "I'm the mother," and "because I say so" trump cards. As much as any teenager hates to hear it and despite how adult and grown up she may think she is, you're still the adult and parent.

Scuttle said...

my 13 year old son still thinks girls are gross and that has given us a whole bunch more Problems in the school yard. But I like what our bishop said Sunday God made us free and he gave us commandments to keep us free. He also said Satan is good at coming through the cracks of our Armor and the Freedom he offers is a mirage

And I also remember someone on our home moms list stating that she told her Child once that if they could find a Prophet stating it was okay to do what they were asking then it was ok for them.

I have been known to tell my son Here is the strength for youth and your scriptures, you know what your parents have taught you. Please go and honesty study and pray about the choice you need to make.

maybe Older siblings can help too?

Paul said...


21? That's for boys. For girls (specifically, my daughter), the age is 35.

I'm just saying.


Kimberly said...

Oh Randi, this post is brilliant on so many levels. Please may I remember this as my girls grow up!

Jenny said...

I agree with the analogy. And if it is any consolation, I was thinking the frog/pot thing too! lol
Great post!

Whitney said...

I definately don't know what it's like to be in your shoes. I have 0 kids, so I don't know how difficult it actually is. I hope that everything works out for both parties (although, we all know it's going to be just a little bit more in your favor ;) ) Teenage years are the hardest, good luck :)

Whitney said...

By the way I loved the hot burner analogy. I have never heard it that way, and that makes it a lot clearer than some other analogies. :)

The Morris Fam said...

I always try to imagine how HF feels up there looking down on us...He has godly patience and all but how often does he just have to pinch himself when he gets the urge to just shock people that are being stupid? Maybe you could pray for a good shock...but after all, it probably wouldn't help.I guess that's why we hear that L & L story so much! The shock effect sure didn't last that long. It will be interesting to see how my 3, almost 4 yr old fairs. Hopefully I can teach as much cause and effect as possible while the price tag is low! As I write, he saw a knife and he picked it up. He knows knifes are sharp but I told him anyways to put it down. He quickly obeyed, but as he put it down he rubbed his hand across the blade, I'm sure just to test it and see if he really would get cut. It didn't cut him...but is it a but loco for me to wish it had given a tiny slice? Probably!

The Morris Fam said...

Oh yeah, thanks for promoting deep thought today...Some days in my head, not many sparks are firing!

Jodi said...

Just a comment from a "been there" mom. Teach her what you just wrote about the hot stove (loved your 'turned on' pun btw!☺) and once you have taught her the correct principles, you have to let go and just have faith....which I might add includes lots of time on your knees. Relationships at age 13 are pretty fleeting for good kids, although it drives us as parents bonkers. You are doing the right thing. Now, just take a deep breath and relax just a wee bit. It will be okay. If she is as good of a kid as you are a mom, all will be well.

A big happy family said...

You have such a way with words, so fun to read! My kids are still young, but I dread the day I have to deal with this situation. It sounds like you are doing all of the right things...hang in there. Someday you'll both look back on these years and have a good laugh. (hard to imagine huh?) said...

hi randi,

your oven hot comment made me giggle, too! i could almost hear you cracking up there.

so agree! amen sister! thanks for sharing our candid emails the other day about this. it is black and white to me. a little creeping in (like your frog in the pot of water getting hotter and hotter until it's too late and all that is left is regret) just doesn't work. we/they get too comfy and you're so right, then it seems like it takes more to "get and feel closer." slippery slope that we already talked of. but if you can keep them from the pot of water for as long as possible, everybody is better off. i know you know what i mean. i like how our church preaches this randi ... know what your decision is before you are even placed in the situation. when you already KNOW what your decision/answer is, when faced with it (and so many of us have been here and know exactly what i mean -- just insert any temptation) we will KNOW better what to say and do and will be less tempted. but put us in the pot of water, let it stoke up a little, let us get comfy, pretty soon we will turn up the water too and faster and before long, we won't feel like we can stop ourselves ... and then we will have so many regrets ... like you mentioned with the "wish i could do that all over" kids comment in your post.

you're doing great and you are a terrific example of an excellent parent to me randi. really.

and it is cute. your comments are showing up on my blog at THIS VERY moment while i am writing on yours. cutie.

kathleen xoxo

ps. keep standing your ground. you have little cubs to protect until they are ready to leave the den.

The MomBabe said...

Wow. Beautifully said. and you didn't use too many metaphors, not by a long shot.

Jill said...

Loved your stove analogy!
Yesterday, after I read your post, I spoke with my kids and told them that at 13 they would, under no circumstances, be allowed to have a BF/GF. The 9 & 7 year olds nodded their heads in agreement, and the 12 year old said, "Don't worry about it Mom, like I've said before, there are more interesting things in life that girls...... like technology!"
I just hope he feels that way for a few more years.

Lauren said...

Great analogy! I can't see a 13 year old wanting to do anything farther than hugging. I was always grossed out by the thought of kissing haha. Maybe I was just foolish...that was probably it.

Anonymous said...

I like that many of the commentors on this post are deciding to tell their children ahead of time about the rules. It's much better when the rules are just known rather than new ones popping up.

Baby J said...

haha stoves, he**, todlers..good stuff good stuff!

MommyJ said...

Hmmm.. my kids aren't there yet. I do understand the struggle though... from both sides of the spectrum, because I remember being the 13 year old with a boyfriend.

For what it's worth, I think it sounds like you are doing a great job... the fact that you are concerned in the first place puts you far above the average parent of a teenager.

mindyluwho said...

As a mother of three teens and three up and coming...I feel your pain sister! This is a very insightful post and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

My oldest will be 13 in May. She's homeschooled. That means a very limited pool of prospective love interests.

Whew!(For Now, anyway.)

I alternately take my older girls to work with me and indoctrinate them with a heavy dose of Dr. Laura on the radio who maintains a similar philosophy to mine about teenage dating and relationships. I pray that all that wisdom and teaching is soaking into them.

"Vern" said...

satan's plan sounds more intriguing when teeangers arrive, doesn't it?

"Vern" said...

and you know I'm just kidding, right?

Nancy Face said...

Great job, mom! :)

Your post was beautifully written, and you obviously have a good relationship with your daughter, which is extremely important when these and other issues come up. Being able to discuss things together really makes a difference.