Before she was a teenager, Chelsea* had a cell phone. She also had her own bedroom complete with cable TV and a computer with high-speed Internet access. By the time she was a young teen, she made regular salon visits and had an artificial tan that made her look much older than she was.
By the time Chelsea was 14, a new car sat in the driveway, just waiting for her to get a driving permit.
By 15, Chelsea pretty much had it all and was bored.
A few months later, Chelsea dropped a bomb on her parents by asking for permission to get married. "After all," she reasoned, "we're already married in God's eyes." And to compound their shock, she was expelled from school for drug possession.
"I don't understand how this could happen," her mom, Dawn, said. "We raised her in a strong Christian home. And she's not some underprivileged kid. I went back to work to make sure she had all the advantages."
We want our kids to have good things in life. But lavishing them with too many good things is like letting children gorge on candy — in the long run, it hurts their health, hinders their appetite for wholesome things and leads to a hunger for risky, harmful ones.
Just as we limit sweets in our children's diets, we also need to set healthy limits in other areas. We can do this by creating appropriate stages and boundaries.
Creating appropriate stages means putting age limitations on behaviors that rush our kids out of childhood — such as wearing makeup, enjoying Internet use, having a cell phone and getting a job. By delaying these activities until an appropriate age, we use them as rites of passage that mark a healthy progress toward adulthood.
As we set up stages and boundaries, we give our children something to look forward to. We help them see that maturity is a process, not something that automatically happens when they turn 18.
This approach also teaches our children that it's OK to wait for something. Our society says, "Have everything you want now! Don't wait. Go for it!" But seeking instant gratification often leads to long-term problems, such as massive debt, destroyed relationships and wounded emotions.
There are no set rules for determining the ages when kids should be allowed to have or do certain things. Each family and each child is different. But as you think about stages for your kids, ask yourself these questions:
When your child reaches a new stage, enthusiastically help him or her enter it. When he's old enough for a mountain bike, help him select one. When she's old enough to shave her legs, pick out gel and razors together and show her how to do it. When your son is ready for a job, help him research the market. Use life stages not only as signposts of growing up but also as opportunities to start something new with your child.
*name has been changed
This article first appeared in the January, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Jeanette Gardner Littleton. All rights reserved.