Middle school is often a confusing time for kids. Even though we lived through it, it is really no easier for parents. One reason it is challenging (besides puberty!) is because they are at a critical transition point as we move from discipline to discipleship. This is a shift from external motivation to internal motivation. We want them to grow up by learning self-control and discipline. We want them to learn to make good choices on their own. I’d like to offer three tips for how to move through this transition.
Offer new responsibility and freedom in response to obedience and respect.
Create an economy in your home for freedom. Help your children understand how to earn freedom and how they will lose it. When they are obedient and respectful they earn new responsibility and freedom.
For example, if my 14-year-old son consistently fails to complete his chores, then he loses some of his freedom to socialize on his own time. If my daughter does not follow the rules about using the computer, then she loses the freedom to use it for anything aside from work.
Correction can take the form of discipleship, instead of discipline, when there is respect and teachability.
The way our children respond to correction is very important. We often find ourselves getting sucked into an argument with our kids and wonder how we got there. When my kids respond with a disrespectful and argumentative spirit, I let know there are two paths forward.
One is the path of discipleship. If they choose to be respectful and teachable, then we can have a discussion. Sometimes, we can even negotiate. The other path is discipline. If they are going to be argumentative and disrespectful, then there will be no discussion. If they try to argue and do not immediately follow instructions, then they will receive consequences (usually the removal of freedom or privileges).
Give them freedom to make their own choices so they can develop conviction.
I wrote a blog post about the time my son wanted to live in the woods for 24 hours . . . on a cold, rainy day. In the post, I entertained the question: When Should I Let My Children Make Their Own Decisions?
Instead of always giving or not giving permission to do something, sometimes we ought to let our kids make their own decisions. We can help them understand the situation, including their responsibilities, and then let them learn to process what is wise, right, or effective. Often in these situations we can even give them counsel but then give them genuine freedom to decide. Doing so gives them an opportunity to think and pray about their decisions. They can consider counsel and process what is right and wrong. These are abilities they will need for the rest of their lives!
If you would like to hear more about these principles (and many others), please join us on Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. for our next webinar, Discipleship at Home. Learn more and register for free here.
– Matthew McDill