My oldest son is leaving the house in about a year. He’ll be packing up his boxes and books and traveling across the country to college and beyond. I’m trying to prepare myself by crying a little every day.
As I look back over the past 16 years of my son’s life, I know that most of the real preparation is over. He’s not just finishing up his last few academic classes. He’s building the character and ethics that will define who he is as a man.
There is a lot that his father and I are proud of, too. We’ve given him the best homeschooling we could. We gave him music education and sports and a church upbringing. We took him on trips across the country (even to Peru!) and served with him in ministries and charities and community work. We’ve tried to instill our values into him while sharing our perspectives as descendants of both America’s founding fathers and brand-new immigrants and survivors of broken homes and broken churches and members of thriving, healthy marriage and congregation and neighborhood. We didn’t always have much money; he slept in a closet when he was two. But all-in-all, I think he had a good childhood.
As our son was growing, though, his dad and I came to realize there was much we couldn’t give him. Not just our lack of McMansion or designer jeans, either. Even though we poured into him our hopes and dreams and knowledge as we homeschooled him and drove him to AWANA and dragged him to volunteer events, we knew that ultimately his success in life depends on his ability to function without us.
And that means to learn without us, too.
So very intentionally, over the past several years, we encouraged our son to seek advice and information from outside our home. We even pointed out individuals around him that God has placed into his life to help him — pastors and Sunday School teachers, coaches and bosses, neighbors and friends who can offer a helping hand.
Too many homeschool teens, I fear, have somehow gotten the impression it is wrong to seek advice outside their small circle. Maybe because their teaching has primarily happened within the close, nurturing confines of their immediate family. Perhaps because the church they attend is small and somewhat exclusive. Maybe because the outside seems large and foreboding while the inside is the only known safe environment.
Or maybe their parents told them that they can’t trust anyone else.
But that can’t be further from reality. God has placed us within the body of Christ, and we must depend upon one another for healthy growth, for protection, for security. God has even ordained our environment, the acquaintances, work associates, and neighbors around us. Just like we as adults need support, encouragement, and help from those around us, our teens need it even more. It behooves us to teach our teens to reach out regularly.
We must teach our teens to seek advice from others.
When teens begin looking for advisers, they begin building their own support system. My son now has over a dozen in his corner — pastors, teachers, deacons, business men and women, neighbors, and scientists whom he consults when he is unsure what his next step should be. Just now he passed me while I was typing this, muttering under his breath that he needed to ask Dr. Mitchell something else about college.
The more our teens ask others for advice, the more different advice they get. It seems obvious, but it’s a great new step in learning — evaluating opinions. They need to learn to ask for advice from more than one person, then to compare notes and determine which applies best.
By seeking counsel from others with more experience and wisdom, teens learn wisdom. It’s so tempting, especially for the homeschooled teen who has graduated at the top of his class, to think one has arrived at the ripe old age of seventeen. To humble oneself to ask someone else, to admit that one has more questions than answers, that’s an important step toward learning maturity.
Sometimes our teens will get advice contrary to what we would tell them. That’s a real bump in the road. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to gently remind them of the values and principles that are of a higher priority. Sometimes it’s a reminder to us as parents that our young adults can do things differently from us and still be just fine.
Once in a while, too, one gets lucky, and the person gives our teen exactly the same advice we’ve been harping on for some time. Then we win, in spite of rolled eye balls and “I told you so’s.”
There is advice, there is understanding, there is wisdom that can’t come from mom and dad. It has to come from outside to fully make its way inside. Let’s start early to encourage our teens to seek counsel often.
Who does your teen look to for advice?
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