No Rules by Age 17½

Here is article 2 of the 5 articles in the series by Jonathan McKee.



“My kids need guidelines! What rules should I impose?”

Not so fast. What good are guardrails if we don’t even know where the road is going?

Yesterday I proposed that guardrails are only part of any road taken, and the biggest question to consider is… where is this road going? Once parents provide a Biblical foundation for their values, then the guardrails can flow from this truth.

So I guess the process looks like this:
Embark on the road of Biblical truth (I talked about this in yesterday’s post).
Plot your trip, knowing where you’ll be, by when (we’ll talk about that in today’s post).
And finally… set guardrails that keep you from veering off course.

So let’s talk about “plotting our trip,” to continue using the road analogy. In other words, where do we want our kids to be, and by when?

No rules by 17½
My goal is that my daughters won’t have any rules by age 17½.

Some parents think I’m nuts. But consider my reasoning.
If I did my job right, my 17½-year-old will need very little guidance at this point anyway.
They’re free to do what they want at 18 anyway, so I might as well let em’ have a trial run while I’m still there to pick em’ up when they fall.

Parents need to look at the big picture and “plot their trip.” I don’t think many people would argue that toddlers need a lot of guidance. If we’re playing with our two-year-old son on the front lawn and he starts heading toward the busy street, not many parents would just let him run off, with a, “Let him learn the hard way!” Parents understand toddlers need lots of guardrails!

On the opposite extreme, when our kids get to age 18, they can pack their bags, move out, join the army and tell us where we can shove it (hopefully the situation won’t be that dire). At this point we can’t impose any guardrails. They are on their own. Hopefully, by then we will have already prepared them for making decisions in the real world.

Are all 18-year-olds ready to make decisions on their own? Sadly, no. But the reality is, when they are 18, they can legally move out, get their own place, and begin making all their own choices. So I guess the big question is, how do I “plot the trip” and slowly prepare them for real world decision making by the time they are age 18?

My goal is to get them there by 17½ so they can begin experiencing this freedom while still under my shadow.

Some parents obviously don’t have their eyes on the calendar. They don’t realize that the date is rapidly approaching when their kid will be free from the prison-camp they were raised in. The overprotective parent enforces so many rules and regulations, the teenager never learns to make decisions on their own. Every decision was already made for them. They were just handed a list of rules:

Lady Gaga- no, she’s the devil
R-rated movies- no way
Amy Grant- nope, adulteress
…and the list goes on

How is this going to teach our kids discernment?

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have the overly-permissive parent. This parent really doesn’t want to be overprotective, so they just let their kids do anything they want. They figure, “They gotta learn sometime!” So their 8-year-old girl has every song she wants on her iPod, their 12-year-old boy has a TV in his bedroom with a Showtimesubscription, and their 15-year-old girl has her boyfriend over to spend the night several nights a week.

I think most parents would agree that neither extreme is good.

So how do we set guidelines?

A Segue
I think the needed balance is a segue—a gradual decrease—from heavy guidance to very little guidance. This is basically the concept of incremental independence. When my daughter was 5, I didn’t give her the keys to the car. When my son was 16, I didn’t let him go on a road trip with his girlfriend for the weekend, even if he “promised to be good.”

As parents, we’re used to providing age-appropriate discipline and guidelines:
Toddlers need playpens and cabinet locks so they don’t hurt themselves.
Kindergarteners need discipline when they don’t share their toys.
5th graders might need to have their video games taken away for a week when they hit their sister.
13-year-olds might need to look up the lyrics of a song and discuss it with their parents before downloading it, because the words do affect them.
16-year-olds need to turn their iPhones off at night so they aren’t texting into the midnight hours.

As I mentioned yesterday, these guardrails should all help our kids stay on course and begin to teach them good decision-making.
They don’t know that a good night’s sleep actually helps them; subsequently, we impose a bedtime so they can get the needed 9+ hours of sleep. By age 16 or 17, they might begin see the value in a good night’s sleep.
They don’t realize that texting while driving is dangerous, so we tell them, if they ever text while driving, they lose both a car and a phone! If they ever see the real world consequences of someone texting and driving—a ticket, an accident, injury or death—then they begin to see and experience the logic behind this guardrail.
They don’t recognize all the subtle lies of the media, so they have to watch certain TV shows with parents first, discussing the content and seeing if it’s appropriate. Parents don’t just label shows “good” or “bad,” but teach them to think Biblically about their entertainment choices.

As our kids get older, we will incrementally be able to trust them with more and more decision-making. When my daughter was 13, we looked at all music lyrics together and talked about them before she could download them. When she was 15, I wouldn’t check the lyrics, I just asked her, “Did you Google the lyrics?” She would tell me she had, and we’d talk for a few minutes about the song (it helps that I’m researching this stuff for my job, so I can tell that she wasn’t just making stuff up). By 16, I gave her permission to download without asking, but then we’d discuss it. (It helps that we “homeshare” with the same iTunes account. So anything she downloads, I get.)

In short, as my kids grew older, I expanded their freedom. I did this recently with my 17-year-old (she’s nearing 17½), talking with her about why she wanted to go to the homecoming dance, and eventually letting her make the choice. I think she chose wisely.

This segue from high guidance to low guidance is filled with opportunities for conversations. The more conversations, the better. Watch TV together and talk about it. Download music together and discuss it. Have weekly breakfasts or coffee together and talk about real life.

Then… when your kid turns 17½ let them free to make their own decisions… 6 months early!Think about it:
This is only 6-months before they can do it anyway.
This way, if they fail, they do it in the safety of your shadow, and you are there to pick them up.

Does this mean I’m going to let me daughter have a boyfriend over to spend the night? Nope. I still have rules of the house (and luckily she wouldn’t do that anyway). Just like my 19-year-old son who’s living at home this year while attending college—he can do whatever he wants, but while choosing to live at home, he has certain guidelines like telling us when he’ll be home. We’ve also given him incentives, like if he gets a 3.5 GPA, we pay for his gas.

My daughter Alyssa will have this kind of freedom in a few months when she’s 17½. At that point, she finally gets to download what she wants (but we’ll still have conversations about music), she finally gets to watch whatever she wants (and she probably won’t watch much different), she finally gets to stay up as late as she wants (she’s usually tired and goes to bed early right now)… but she is the one making the decisions.

Are you getting your teenager ready for that day?

In my next post I talk about what guardrails I’ve actually set to help my kids prevent veering off course.

Six Essentials for Making Discipline Work In Your Home

Consistency is the Key to Raising Responsible Kids
An article from Jim Burns at

When it comes to discipline, our kids probably don’t know that, in many ways, we parents are making it up as we go along.

Each child has a different personality, and along with it a unique twist on the discipline issue. But, here’s what I tell parents all the time: “Get on the same page.”

As a couple, you need to use the same philosophy of discipline and grace. Consistency is the key to raising responsible kids.

If you are married, work together with your spouse so that you do not get worn down. If you are single, first try to get on the same page with your ex, and if that doesn’t happen, then work overtime at having a plan and following the plan. Seek the support of others who understand what you are going through.

Because you want to be on the same page with your spouse and, to some extent, with your kids, you will want to create a common language with expressed expectations. When parents work together toward the same goal, it makes it much easier to raise responsible kids.

Here are six essentials for making discipline work in your home:

1. Rules without relationship equals rebellion. All families have rules and expectations, but what they also need is relationship. Just today, I blew this essential. I was taking my daughter out to lunch. The moment we got in the car, I started confronting her about some school issues and other problems I had with her at the time. I immediately put her on the defensive. The conversation went cold.

Fortunately, I remembered essential number one, dropped the school issues for the moment, and just started asking her about life, friends, and stuff that wasn’t so important to me but vital to her. Her spirit opened back up to me. We did what most teens and preteens do: we just hung out. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. As we were getting out of the car, she brought up her school issues and we had a good, non-defensive conversation. Timing when to lay down the rules and when to engage in relationship are big deals for practicing grace and discipline.

2. Choose Your Battles Wisely. Not every problem is worth fighting over. If you are finding yourself growing more and more agitated when your kids act up, chances are that you’re trying to fight too many battles on too many fronts. If you are going to battle an issue, then you’d better be right and you had better win. We have a “no argue” rule in our home. A very wise counselor once told Cathy and I, “When dealing with a strong-willed child, don’t argue. Period.”

Let me remind you that you are not running a democracy. I’ve often had to tell people, “You are the parent, so act like it!” Win the battle at all costs, or suffer the consequences. And don’t forget that you can win a battle and still lose the war. Parents who don’t choose their battles wisely can end up lacking the energy and resources to stay in engaged down the road.

3. Nagging doesn’t work. Nagging is a very poor way to parent. It shuts down intimacy and it sets your kids up for future failure. Are you planning to follow them to college and nag? Your children will get used to decision-making propelled by nagging, and then have an unhealthy relationship with their spouse. In my opinion, nagging is a lazy way to parent your children.

A home filled with negativity and criticism simply breeds rebellion and exponential amounts of negativity. In fact, here is the Biblical standard on this subject, “And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice.” (Ephesians 6:4 TLB)

4. Yelling crushes and shuts down your child’s spirit. The more you yell, the less they hear. The message your children will hear if you are yelling is that you are mad at them; they won’t hear the meaning of your words. All close relationships make us angry at times, and not all anger is bad. However, yelling is a signal that something else is going on inside us. Someone once said, “Parents need to out-mature, not out-power, their kids.” Parents who resort to yelling will find it not only upsetting, but also ineffective.

5. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. If you made a misjudgment or acted unwisely, jump at the chance to apologize to your child. Contrary to what many parents think, this won’t cause them to disrespect you; it actually will bring you closer in the long-run.

I remember a time when Christy was 12 and I totally lost it with her. I shouted at her and demeaned her as I sent her to her room. After I cooled down, and with the help of “the look” from Cathy, I walked into Christy’s room. I got down at eye level to her and I said, “Christy, that outburst was all about me and not about you. I made a mistake. Will you forgive me?” My little 12 year old, tears hovering in her eyes, stretched out her arms ,gave me a big hug, and said, “I forgive you Daddy, and I’m sorry too.” That day, I was shown grace by my daughter. You aren’t perfect, so when you blow it, be quick to admit it. That’s the kind of role model your kids need.

6. Clearly Express Your Expectations. Your children need you to set limits and boundaries. Children generally do have a desire to please their parents. When they do follow their parents’ expectations, they feel good about themselves and feel a greater sense of security. When your expectations were clearly expressed and your child still went against your desire, much of the emotion is taken out of the discipline process.

Excerpted and adapted from Confident Parenting by Jim Burns.