Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"At What Age...?"

People ask me lots of questions like these:

How old should my child be to date? (Answer- 27)
How old should my daughter be to wear makeup? (25)
How old should my kids be to go to the mall alone? (31)

You get the picture.

While there's so many questions like this that are VERY concrete in their answers, there are some that just can't be answered like that. For instance, if a mom asks how old her daughter should be in order to shave her legs, that's pretty dependent on the child and her ability to keep up with the endless task of shaving. But if it's a matter of the child's well being, here's a little litmus test I like to use.

A child cannot get a driver's license until he/she is 16. Right? (I'm not talking about their learner's permit. That is NOT a license, even though kids like to call it that.) Once that precious bundle of hormones has his license, he is capable of driving a motor vehicle wherever he wants to go. This means he is literally a moving weapon all the time. He is inches away from death on any two lane road he's on. He has the ability to change his life, and the lives of others, every time he gets behind the wheel of his car (or his parents' van...heehee)

In light of that responsibility, I am a FIRM believer that until a young man has proven he is old enough to drive a motor vehicle, he CERTAINLY is not old enough to navigate healthily through a relationship with my daughter. And even then, it's on MY terms with MY boundaries.

Let me tell you this. There were no age-givens in our home growing up. Age 16 did NOT automatically qualify you as license-worthy in our house. We knew from an early age that if we didn't get our hineys in gear and show responsibility and respect, our driving, dating, and social privileges would scoot further and further away from us. There was no magic number for ANYthing. We had no guarantees. What we DID have were parents who watched us like hawks, especially when we didn't know they were looking. They observed our patterns, our habits, our maturities, and in a time when THEY deemed it appropriate, privileges were given.

And keep in mind the fact that what one child can handle at 14, the other might not be able to handle until 17.

Uh oh. This means we have to actually BE INVOLVED in our kids' lives in order to see who and what they are.

The other night, Abi told me that a boy in her class had "been in love" with her during the school year. (Keep in mind, this was kindergarten). Of course, I said, "He wasn't in love with you, Abi. He liked you. But being in love is when you're ready to love someone for the rest of your life." We moved on. But it made me see how early a child will push to move on to the "next level" in their lives. They are surrounded by a world that is spinning out of control all the time. It's like they're watching a game of jump rope and waiting for their moment to jump in.

But parents, WE SET THE TEMPO. Don't let the world tell you that your child should wear makeup at 12, date at 14, and drive at 16 if she's not emotionally ready. And SHE doesn't get to decide when she's ready. After watching and partcipating in her life on a front row basis, that's YOUR job and YOUR prerogative.

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