“… Teach them diligently to thy children…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

“Why don’t you just let me make my own mistakes?” David shouted over his shoulder as he stormed out of the house. Jill and Stan stood in complete shock.

What on earth would make their mild-mannered son lash out like this? Hadn’t David always complied in the past? Jill looked to Stan for answers, but Stan was as confused as Jill.

Days earlier David didn’t seem too upset when Jill had once again jumped into his social planning. She had explained to David how she would prefer he and his friends spend the weekend at their house swimming and watching movies––rather than attending the end of summer backpacking trip they had planned.

David and his friends, who were all getting ready to start their senior year of high school, were good kids––really. I mean sure, they’d gotten speeding tickets and skipped out on classes from time to time, but for the most part they weren’t kids who looked for trouble.

Four of the boys had grown up in church together. A few of the other boys had become part of their group over the years. Jill and Stan were not too sure about the values of some of the newer boys, but they had confidence that David’s core group of friends were level-headed young men.

So, why were Jill and Stan so afraid to let David too far out of their sight? It’s not that they didn’t trust David. They were just trying to protect him from harm. Or from being exposed to anything that might tempt him to do wrong. What if the boys encountered a wild animal on their trip? What if one of the boys brought alcohol or talked about inappropriate pictures they’d seen on the internet? How could they protect David if they weren’t there to oversee his activities?

Maybe this story sounds familiar. In almost two decades of youth ministry my youth pastor-husband and I encountered kids whose parents were not at all interested in what they did with their time. And we also knew lots of teens whose parents were very involved in their kids lives.

And do you know what we learned? There is a balance. A tightrope parents must walk that lands somewhere between “I’m here for you. I’m not gonna leave your side” and “I’ll leave you to yourself to figure things out.”

In our experience we discovered that neither extreme is helpful. Our eldest son––who did not become a part of our family until he was 15 years old––had up to that point been virtually without parental supervision. He found security in having to be home by curfew. Our parental oversight showed him we valued him and cared about him. However, our biological son pushed against the rules when he turned 15 because he felt like we were holding him back from becoming a man.

What’s a parent to do––right? No, really––parenting can be so confusing. Can I get a witness?

When our son-in-law worked as Resident Director in a boys’ dormitory at a Christian College, he met young men who began their freshman year ill equipped to self-discipline because they’d so relied on their parents. And some who weren’t allowed to play video games found themselves skipping class to play their roommates’ games.

How on earth are parents supposed to know when, where, and how to guide their kids without micromanaging their every step? While under-parenting can throw our kids to the wolves, is it possible that over-parenting can turn our kids away from faith?

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