Aug 072014 15 Responses

Five Rules For Every Teenager

Before I had my first girlfriend, I was asked to speak at a Valentine’s Banquet for married couples. Had my guest asked the question out loud, “Should we invite someone who has never kissed a girl to speak to us about marriage?” I would’ve never been invited. Thankfully they never asked it out loud, so they invited me.

After years of marriage and dealing with married couples, what I would say today would be different. Yet some of what I would say today would not be better. It would be different, in part, because I would be trying to justify some of the things I do or don’t do. In looking over my notes from all those years ago, much of what I said is not only true, but convicting. (See: The Five Most Read Marriage Posts of 2013)

While I was at a large disadvantage since I didn’t have any experience in marriage, I was also at a large advantage because I didn’t have any temptation to justify myself. I spoke truth.

I am not a parent of a teenager. We are still several years from that journey and I have no desire to speed up the process. But I do pastor many teenagers and I talk to their parents about the struggles taking place.

From my perspective, there are Five Rules for Every Teenager:

1. If I pay for your phone, I get to know everything on your phone (and decide what apps are allowed). “But you are invading my privacy,” they will say. “Yep,” would be my response. It’s a dangerous world and smart phones bring that world into the lives of our children. Until I can fully trust them to make wise decisions or until they are able to pay for their own things, I am responsible to assist them in learning to navigate this world. One aspect of training is regarding how to use technology, especially a phone. Nothing should be deleted by a child until the parent reviews it (and yes, I don’t mind comparing phone records against the actual text messages stored on your phone.) As a parent, I will allow you to have one of my phones in your possession, but never forget the phone belongs to me and not you. (See: Parenting–Too Involved, Not Involved Enough)

2. If I pay for your phone, it will be in my possession by 10pm every night. One of the most overlooked aspects of parenting is ensuring our children have proper rest. We often overlook it because we do a poor job in that area with ourselves. However, everyone needs rest and it is hard to rest when your phone is going off all night (just ask a pastor or his wife). Since a child needs rest and because children are more likely to make bad decisions at night, phones will be turned in at 10pm on weekdays (and 12am on weekends) in order for the child to sleep.

3. If you need to take a prescription pill, you will get it from me (and I will get it out of the safe). If you have teenagers in your house and your prescription pills are not in a safe, you are playing with fire. How would you feel if there was cocaine in your house? Probably not good. Yet there is a far greater problem with the abuse of prescription pills among teenagers than the use of cocaine among teenagers. Every prescription should be in a safe with only the parents knowing the combination. No exceptions.

4. Other than phones, there will be no screens (TV, computer, tablets) behind closed doors. I won’t being looking over your shoulder at every minute, but there is no reason you should be doing or watching anything which I can’t see. We are a family. Each person gets privacy, but there is also an openness as we live life. You should be ensured total privacy as you use the bathroom, shower, and change clothes. Other than those moments, you should live in such a way that people can pop into and out of your space. Doors should be open when screens are on. (See: When You Feel What No One Else Has Ever Felt)

5. For all technology, you will use a password I give you (and you should know I will use it too). At night, when you hand me your phone, I might (not always, but on occasion) look though it. For that, we need to have a common password. Most apps have private messaging capabilities. In order to assist the child in learning what is proper and improper communication with friends and strangers, I will need to know their password. (See: When to Teach Your Kid a Lesson)

As parents, we have a job. The job does not have a primary function of earning the good feelings of our children in an individual situation. The primary function is to love our children to the best of our ability. Love means I will do what is in their best interest whether they like it or not. I doubt any child will like any of these rules. But I also do not doubt that each of these rules are in the best interest of every child.

I do not have teenagers, but if I did, these would be the rules I would have. If you are concerned those rules are too strict, consider this: they are based on the common rules I live by as a pastor. Other than turning my phone in at night, every other rule applies to my life. I do not have a screen behind a close door (unless the door has a window). My wife knows the passwords to my phone and email. My wife and administrators can search my phone and phone records at any time. I do not delete texts or messages for at least a month so that they can be reviewed. And I do not take serious prescription pills (hydrocodone, etc) without my wife’s knowledge. (See: How to Respond to Others When They Make Bad Decisions)

It’s a scary world and we all need protection from some of the temptations and possible addictions which exist. If it’s true for a grown man, it’s definitely true for a teenager.

15 Responses to Five Rules For Every Teenager
  1. Kevin Gilbreath Reply

    Great post Kevin. I had no idea you had this blog until my pastor posted this link. You were my encourager back at OBU before we were blessed by marriage, family and grey hair. 🙂

  2. Lisa Grant Reply

    I think you may read this post some years down the road (after you have parented teenagers) and find you would take a different approach. Speaking as someone who has worked with teens for 20 years and has parented three children through the teen years, I understand the dangers young people face. I have also seen scores of parents who have taken the approach you suggest regarding shared passwords and parents reading everything, and the results have been disastrous. Teens do not see this approach as something done by a loving parent who wants to protect them; they see it as an act of control done by a parent who doesn’t trust them. In addition, teens living under this kind of parenting tend to go “underground” in order to exercise their growing need for independence. While this kind of parenting has the best motivation in mind, it ends up causing kids to become sneaky and deceitful. We have to allow our teens to learn how to function in the big, bad, dangerous world, and that’s best done while they are still under our roof. I’m not saying they should have open access to everything on the internet 24/7, but they should at least be allowed to have private conversations with their friends. You cannot protect them from everything, but you CAN help them learn how to navigate those dark and murky waters and make the right choices. Ask questions like, “What do YOU think you should do?” when faced with temptations or negative choices. Affirm them by saying, “I know you will make the right choice” when they are faced with pressures from the world. They need to know you believe in them and trust them. If they mess up (and they will), parents have the opportunity to model Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness, and teach the Holy Spirit’s leading to repentance.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Lisa, you could be very right. I don’t doubt my thoughts will change. The prescription pill one probably won’t. I see too many dangers that I think all pills in the house should be under lock and key if for no other reason than because of friends coming over. I totally agree that kids should have private conversations with their friends. Sorry if I came across saying something different. But I do think checking who young teens are communicating with is a good rule. Thanks for reading.

      • Lisa Grant Reply

        Kevin, I agree with you about the prescription pills, as that is a very different issue. Thank you for your gracious response. I enjoy your blog and share your posts often.

    • Vikki Spencer Reply

      Lisa. You completely nailed it. I just commented on the FB friend’s page who posted this (she doesn’t have teens yet either) and I wrote: “While I agree with all this as a baseline, it doesn’t work in practice. While we should all implement all these, when we cannot (and there will be many many many times), we should be able to fall back on our parenting and trust them.”
      But you beat me to it. 🙂

  3. Lisa Reply

    We didn’t consider RX drugs, thanks. Otherwise, these are our rules except our turn in time is 9 pm. And no screen unless permitted (after homework, housework, exercise, etc). We get push back but we remember growing up with one rotary dial phone and we had plenty of friends.

  4. Kevin A. Thompson Reply

    A few great points: some parents can follow each of these rules and have horrible results. Some parents can ignore each of these rules and have great results. We must be careful in playing the cause and effect game when it comes to parenting, too many issues are at play. While it’s a fair critique to say you’ve seen these rules applied with disastrous results, it is not fair to assume the rules are what caused the results. Clearly I could be wrong about any of this–except maybe #3, I’m pretty confident that all medicines should be in a safe–but I do think they cause a parent to think about some things which many parents are not considering. I’m hard pressed to believe we should hand a 13 year-old a phone without any restrictions, oversight, or guidance. I don’t think anyone on this thread is saying we should. My hope is that this will cause parents to think.

  5. Jane Reply

    Kevin, having parented three into responsible adulthood, I would make one suggestion to point 1. Never make the issue dependent upon if I pay for it. Paying for things does not give us the right to control them and not paying for them does not relieve our responsibility for those areas in our children’s lives. Consider the price of a movie. Do you give permission for those movies if you buy the ticket but allow your child to see whatever they want if they buy the ticket? Just a thought to consider.

  6. […] are the two posts I reference about cell phones and televisions: Five Rules for Every Teenager and W...
  7. Rgibbons04 Reply

    These were the rules we had for our two, now 21 (son) and 20 (niece we raised) year old. Except the password, we had a place for them to write all their passwords down. I told them that I would respect their privacy until they gave me a reason not to. Which happened a few times and each time it was “caught in the nick of time” situation. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to teach our children how to make good decisions within the safety of our parental rules. If we do not set boundaries, they can never learn how to create them for themselves or respect them for others.

  8. Leah snider Reply

    What do you think the right time for a child to have their fist smartphone? Or social media? It’s hard when the average age to get a phone is 10, and everyone has social media.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      What a great question. I don’t know. I would slow roll into both of them–phone without social media, then social media that is shared with parents, etc.

  9. Leah Reply

    I am a 15 year old girl. My rules for phone usage are…

    1) Put your phone on the night stand before you go to bed
    2) No phone in my room or upstairs
    3) 2 and a half hours per day for daily usage (regardless of day)
    4) If I get lower than a B+, my phone gets taken away for a week
    5) I have to get every app approved (parental controls some family thing)
    6) thirty minutes of total social media per day
    7) Only one game at a time (if it even gets approved)
    8) installed circle on my phone to track everything I do, where I am, and stuff like that
    9) bed time starts at 8:30 (my wifi gets cut off at that time)
    10) Youtube is blocked
    11) spotify is limited to 30 min

    I’m going to be very honest, I think these rules ruin my life. Some rules make some sense. For example; the rule about having my phone on the night stand and a limited amount of social media per day (though I do not agree with 30 min).

    The other rules are absurd! I have after school activities that end at different times per day; I need to contact my mother. My algebra teacher did not teach in a way that I understand, so I used to use Youtube as a resource to teach myself. I also used Youtube to follow the Japanese text books that I have since there are no Japanese schools around here. I destress when I listen to music which is limited to 30 minutes per day.

    On top of these things, my whole friend group facetime each other on Saturday to just hangout while doing our own little thing. They’ve been doing this for around three months now and I haven’t been able to attend a single call since I have a 8:30 PM bed time (not that I sleep at 8:30).

    Though I think you have made this post concerning the safety of your children, I can assure you that if they are anything like any other teen; they will feel a great restraint on their freedom. We live in a day and age where children have cell phones. It is a time where parenting has become harder, I understand that, but I can’t learn, I can’t play, I can’t communicate, I can’t have proper friends. Please be considerate when making your rules; us teens will feel unheard and freedom deprived compared to our peers.

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