Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fifth Grade Fears

Bigger fears for children or parents?
It was around fifth grade that Donald Crank and I began making Creepy Crawlers. We took advantage of the creeping fears that are pretty common around fifth grade, especially with girls who didn't like finding plastic snakes in their seats!

What we didn't know was that fears were often greater for our parents than the ones we had.

Beginning somewhere near fifth grade, adolescence starts interfering with the good thing parents have going. Children start changing, getting ready to move into adulthood. They want new situations and new people. We don't have the control we had and simplicity of life is swallowed up with increasing change. Sometimes we just want to stop it, to keep our children the way they are.

Can you relate to Mary's comments when Jesus was twelve? "Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you." If Mary was anxious about Jesus, maybe there is something to our concerns.

The problem is that our fears untamed hurt our children.

Two things can happen if our fears drive us to keep our children close and protected when they are ready to move out of our eyesight and beyond our reach.

Somehow we made it!
First, our fears can teach our children to be afraid."If mom is so afraid to let me walk through Target alone or spend the night at a friends, maybe I should be afraid, too." A child who learns to be afraid of normal life in early adolescence will have a hard time facing more life when it comes. And, it will come.

Second, children held too tightly can rebel. We might hold them tight for a while, but some will have a hard time containing their growth if we don't give them room. Our fears can drive our children away, physically or emotionally. If we hold them too tight for too long, they will lose respect and look for wisdom about life from someone else.

Now you might be really scared! But, relax. Millions and millions of parents have helped their adolescents make it and have turned their own fears into convictions to help their children enter adolescence in healthier ways.

If you are afraid, I hope you can settle your fears with faith, knowledge, and a plan. But, while ending fear, you still should not let go of the need to wisely navigate your child through adolescence. As you probably already feel, it is the wrong time to just give children total freedom, especially in a culture that creeps into places that used to be safe and invades the sanctuary of home.There is no magic switch when a child is ready to be on their own, not in fifth grade, not starting high school, and not at sixteen. They need you, not to be afraid, but to wisely guide and and prepare them for bigger slices of life on their own, until they are ready to go.

After Mary told twelve-year-old Jesus her anxiety, Jesus came with Joseph and Mary and "continued in subjection to them." And, "Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

Notice that Jesus did it, not Mary. She couldn't. And shouldn't. Jesus kept increasing in responsibility after twelve years old. The same should happen today. Children should increase in their responsibility for their minds, their bodies, their relationship with God, and their relationships with others. Parents should decrease, still with a watchful and wise eye to guide and teach, but not control and do.

How do we do that? How do you help children increase in their responsibility, without fears stopping you?

Let me suggest these, as a beginning:

1. Know you are in the business of risk management, not reaction to emotions. Check out "Managing Risk for Life's Adventures," a post from March 28, 2011. Wisely assessing and planning for risk will help you turn fears into positive actions.

Bigger boxes of life.
2. Know your goal and build toward it. I am sure your goal is to help your children become men and women, not stay children. What sort of men and women? I hope pleasing to God and using the gifts God has given them. With courage. Keep working on how to give your children "bigger boxes" of life. Teach them, then let them try. Review what happened, and do it again with a bigger box, with more freedom and responsibility.

3. Learn about adolescence. For example, I stumbled on this quote from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Adolescents take risks to test and define themselves. Risk-taking is both beneficial and harmful. It can lead to situations where new skills are learned and new experiences can prepare them for future challenges. Risk-taking serves as a means for discovery about oneself, others and the larger world. The natural and normative proclivity for risk-taking plays a central role in adolescent development, making it a time of both great potential and great vulnerability." This is a good article using brain research.

4. Give them a safety net. Let your children do normal things, but prepare them for problems. Talk about what happens if they are at some one's house and things go bad; give them a code word so they can secretly call for rescue.  And, let them use you as the bad guy, "My dad said I need to come home." Talk through the situation they are getting ready to do, practice the words they may need to say, and review the options for help. Then let go.

5. Work on your faith. Risk is real in growing. There is danger. But, we have a great God who is sovereign and loves your child more than you do. Hard things are how we grow. Help your child have slices of life that are increasingly large and hard, as your care shifts from protection to prayer.

Between Mary's anxious moment and Jesus becoming a man, she "treasured all these things in her heart." May you learn to treasure the moments between twelve and launching instead of being blinded by fears. You will have a treasure chest full of memories to enjoy for years,when the time comes for your child to leave.