When I was talking about saying "Yes" to our kids yesterday, I neglected to mention some examples of "Yeses" that our big kids want.
Most of them include something to do with friends (being with them or being like them), and invariably require lots of cash.
Besides letting go of my grip on the pocketbook, perhaps the hardest "yes" for me is when my kids are ready for new freedoms, and I'm not ready to grant them. There is that fear that they will take their freedoms and then royally blow it. There is also the mistaken idea that if we keep them from being exposed to every bad thing in the world, we can somehow prevent them from being tempted by it.
I remember when Allie was about 10 and she informed me she wanted to get her hair cut in layers, "Just like Mary-Kate and Ashley [when they were like, 11]." Oh, how I agonized over that decision! I don't want her looking to pop stars to determine what is fashionable! Next she'll be wanting to wear revealing clothing and end up living a fast and loose lifestyle like Paris Hilton.
After weeks of begging, the hair thing became an obsession of hers. An hour didn't go by when she didn't mention it. She looked online at hairstyles, wanted to buy hair magazines, and constantly looked in the mirror. I decided this was not a hill I was going to die on, and I relented: I let her get the "in" haircut.
Wouldn't you know, she fixed it maybe once or twice, then realized it was a lot of work to blow-dry it. Into a ponytail it went. She realized that growing out layers is no fun, but they do grow out. And that was the end of [that particular] hair argument. All that worrying, and for what?
Not long ago Neal-13 asked if he could go to the local bounce-house party place. "It's teen night," he explained. "All my friends will be there."
I inwardly sighed. Great, a bunch of thirteen-year-olds jumping on inflatables, supervised by a few high school students. Sounds like a bad idea to me. But, because he was going with a group, we let him go anyway.
Later in the evening we got a call from the manager. "It seems Neal was caught pulling the plug on one of the inflatables while kids were bouncing on it. When that happens, since it puts kids in danger, it's our policy to call their parents and tell them they can't come back for two weeks."
I politely thanked the manager and Dennis went to pick him up. "Dad, I wasn't the only one doing it. Kids were pulling the plug all night. They just thought I was the only one doing it, so they kicked me out."
Uh-huh. And your point?
It took little doing, but Neal finally admitted he needed to take responsibility for his own actions. It was embarrassing, but thankfully no one was hurt, and the point was made.
Failure? Yes. Effective teaching moment? Couldn't have asked for better.
A couple of months ago, Allie-14 and a friend from school planned to go to a movie on opening night. To beat the crowds, they were going early, so the Plugged In review was not posted yet. I knew from seeing the cast of characters and from what little I'd seen on the previews, that this was going to be a Really Lame Movie, all in the name of comedy. She was very insistent, however (here's where the argument comes in). Against my better judgment, I eventually said she could go.
When I got home from dropping the girls off, I read the movie review, and my suspicions were confirmed: It was full of bad humor. I felt horrible. What kind of mother am I, anyway? Letting my daughter see such rot?
Later, when I picked up the girls, Allie was breathless. "Mom, that was absolutely the worst movie I've ever seen. The women were all dressed with their [parts] hanging out, there were g*y references throughout the whole thing, and all the humor was suggestive. I'm never going to a movie like that ever again."
I tried to contain my surprise. "Allie, that was exactly what the review said about that movie. I'm really proud of you for recognizing how bad it was. Next time if you are at a movie like that, you walk out of the movie and call me. I'll come pick you up."
Allie looked smugly at her friend (who is not a believer), "See, I told you my mom would be proud of me!"
The rest of the ride home was discussing ways we could avoid having this kind of thing happen again. Allie was so proud of her ability to discern a good movie from a bad one. So was I.
I wondered later if telling her "No" to that movie would have had the same impact as letting her make the decision and realize it was a not-so-good one (granted, it was not an "R" movie or something blatantly harmful. Most decisions we delegate to our kids are going to be within pre-defined boundaries, preferably "good or better" rather than "right or wrong"). I doubt it.
Letting our kids have new freedoms is very frightening. There is a very real possibility for failure, and that may reflect on us poorly. There are consequences to saying "Yes" to teens that are much bigger than making a mess with play-doh or poster paints.
But I am finding that both success AND failure at handling new freedoms have opened doors for really great conversation with our growing teens.
Almost as well as denying our kids the freedoms they are ready for closes them.
It's a risk, but one I'm willing - as they are ready, and with lots of prayer - to take.