Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Teens Who Rebel

Today is the feast of St. John Bosco. What a beautiful life and example he was for all of us who are parents, or who deal with children in any way. St. John Bosco was a teacher in Italy in the nineteenth century, who made it his business to reach the hearts and souls of his students. His motto was "Reason, religion and kindness".

As he has long been my inspiration, I would like to take this opportunity to copy here what I wrote yesterday to the Catholic Charlotte Mason Yahoo Group regarding teens who rebel. I don't remember the exact question now, but it was something about how one could homeschool, or raise one's children, in such as way that ones' teens would not rebel. As one of the "older parents" in the group, I felt impelled to comment. I think the email I responded to was entitled something like, "Teens who rebel", so that is my title, although my subject goes a bit beyond teens. For those of you from that Yahoo group, I know this is a repetition, but "stay tuned" because my next post will be a book review of Melissa Wiley's Little House book: Down to the Bonny Glen.

Before I begin the post from yesterday, I'd like to pass on a request for prayers from a friend of mine: for herself and her adult son. Hmm, please include me in your prayers also, as I have some decisions I'll be facing in the next months. Thank you so much.

My reply to the questions about teen rebellion:

I wanted to reply to the questions about teen rebellion. As a sixtie's rebel myself; and a convert, as a teen, from a non-Catholic faith to super strict traditional Catholicism; who has since mellowed out, and who has raised three kids (with three more, not yet adults); and a person who has observed many families grow from marriage to having adult children, I would like to make a few comments. I hope they will be helpful.

First of all, we must raise our children for God, the best we can, with the knowledge, graces, etc. that we have at the time. Sounds like I'm preaching to the choir, doesn't it? Everyone here knows we raise them for God! But, what I mean is that we don't raise them for our own satisfaction; hence, we don't fret if they don't turn out exactly as we had hoped. Not an easy principle, that! But it is reassuring, nevertheless, because what I'm leading to is this: If at some point in his or her young adult life, a child doesn't follow our teaching, we may and undoubtedly will grieve; but we should not waste our time blaming him, others, or even - perhaps I should say, especially - ourselves. Mother Guilt is a strong impulse but it accomplishes little. Not that we can't analyze and make some changes if we have other children to raise...but even then, we must make those changes carefully because what works for one might be different from what works for another; and it's easy to swing the pendulum too far. The bottom line is that God endowed each individual with free will and as our children become adults, they make their own choices. God is the ultimate Father, yet He did not force Adam and Eve to obey; He did not force St. Peter to be faithful and not deny Him; and He will not force our children, nor does He expect us to force them, when they become adults.

Okay, but most of you reading this are young parents looking for reassurance. You want to think that if you homeschool your children, then they won't go wrong. Nothing is a guarantee, but it's my bet that - in most families - by homeschooling, we're increasing the odds tenfold (or is it a hundredfold?) that they won't go off the deep end. I also believe that the Charlotte Mason approach is another way of increasing the odds in one's favor.

Several years ago, there was something I read in a Catholic family magazine (Faith and Family, I think.). The author of the article stressed the importance of talking about our faith with our children. In other words, we don't just talk about "The Faith", but about our own personal faith in God and His goodness, and how He works in our own lives. To some, that might be a no-brainer ("of course!"). But it is easier for some people than for others to share something which might seem rather personal. But I think it's worth the effort to grow, even if it doesn't come naturally.

The next thing I would like to comment on is just what IS "rebellion"? I think we need to examine what we require of our kids. While they are (underage) teenagers, are we, for example, requiring them to conform to a certain mode of dress and hairstyle so that our peers will respect us? I'm not referring to modest dress that doesn't invite sin, but to style; for example, does it matter if our son wears a polo shirt or a t-shirt or a Hawaiian shirt? Does it really matter if his hair is short or a bit longer, or if a girl wears make-up or chooses not to? I just picked this one area as an example. Where morals and dangers are concerned, we have to be stricter than in other areas, and of course, if their dress would mark them as being a part of a dangerous group, we might have to have some serious discussions, and perhaps the last word. The old adage comes to mind: "Pick your battles."

I'd like to share with you something Dr. James Dobson said about raising teenagers (from his book, The Strong Willed Teenager). He spoke of our teen being in a boat, riding down the river. He said that many parents picture a big falls that they are heading for. But in reality, for most kids, the water just gets very turbulent somwhere around 17 or 18, and then as they reach 20 or 21, the river starts running smoothly and calmly again. He says, in the meantime, not to capsize their boat. I have seen parents capsize their teen's boat by over-emotional reactions, by talking about their child to people who consequently don't treat the child well, or even by refusing to speak to the child themselves. (By the way, I'm not sure of the exact ages that Dr. Dobson mentioned.)

I believe that the one very most important thing we can give our children is unconditional love! Even if your children are still small, you can start now by deciding that you will love them, not only love them inside but SHOW them love, all their lives, no matter what. I am not talking about permisssiveness. And I'm not saying that when they grow up, we can't ever advise or admonish them. It's just that it's important for them to know that we love them NO MATTER WHAT...that we respect them for who they are, the good that is in them, and for who they can be. I do know a family where the father would not permit one of the grown children to come to the house because that child had left his Faith and the father was concerned about the example to the younger children. The mother decided that she would meet him for lunch once every week. In due time, the son returned to his Faith. Would he, had his mother abandoned him? Who knows. She followed the example of St. Monica. St. Augustine was converted not only by his mother's prayers, but also by her love.
And incidentally, how long did she pray and have patience with him? Some accounts say forty years. As Winston Churchill once said, as a speech to a group of graduates, "Never, never, never, never, never give up."

To return to the question about how you homeschool in such a way as to help your children keep their faith and morals, and to begin to sum up, I would say we need to try to have a balance between discipline where necessary and a relaxed atmosphere. In one Catholic book by a priest (Christopher's Talks to Catholic Parents by David Greenstock), the author says, "It is better to err on the side of leniency than on the side of strictness." Of course, this was written many years ago, before some of the dangers of the world that we have today, but I think of another thing he said, "Never make religion odious to the child," and I would like to think that he would have approved, especially, of the Catholic Charlotte Mason style of education.

Have you ever heard of the difference between, "we are here to save our souls", and "we are here to know, love and serve God so that we may be happy with Him forever in heaven"? The one looks at the bad, bad, bad; how can we avoid this and that evil; look how bad these other people are. The other looks at what we can do to serve our neighbor for love of God; how we can pray well; how we can let beauty lift our hearts, and minds and souls to God. Let us teach our children, by prayer, by example, by word, and by love to know, love and serve God so that we may all be happy with Him together in heaven.

God bless.

Margaret Mary

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice post, MM. Thank you!

(From someone who stumbled across your blog via a Spirit Daily link... who has teens and young adults... who worries about these kinds of things.... who homeschools ... )