We all deal with authority. Whether it’s our students dealing with parents, teachers and coaches or us as adults in our work relationships, marriages and finances—authority is everywhere. As teenagers, most of us believe that if we can just grow up and get out—out of high school and out of our parent’s house—we will be free from authority. But the truth is, authority is always an issue. No matter how grown up we are we never out grow authority. When we look at what the Bible has to say about it, we realize that authority isn’t a bad thing. If we can learn how to respond to authority now—both the good and the bad—we will reap the benefits for the rest of our lives.
2. Be a Student of Your Student
Can you remember the worst argument you ever had with your parents? Not just some little tiff over a bad attitude or a snarky comeback, but the kind of moment where you felt like your rights as an individual were on the line; that felt like a personal declaration of independence?
I remember one such occasion. I desperately wanted to go with a group of friends to see a rock concert. I was a junior in high school. I could drive. I had a part-time job. I had no major infractions on my teenage record. For all intents and purposes, I believed I was an adult. Except that I was only 17 and my parents still had the final say on how I spent my time once the clock ticked past 8 pm, especially on a weeknight. I was asking them if I could go with a group of friends—predominantly guys—to downtown Los Angeles to see a rock band play a huge concert. Obviously, I was stepping way outside my bounds. But when my mom told me no—when she explained that it would be absolutely unwise of her to let me go—I still had a meltdown that resembled a three-year-old temper tantrum. I was absolutely mortified. I went back and forth every way I could with my mom. Negotiation became the name of the game. What if I drive myself with another girlfriend and promise to be home by midnight? What if I only go for the first half of the concert? What if I actually let YOU drive me down? No matter how hard I tried, the answer was still “no.”
Needless to say, I was not very happy with my mom for quite awhile. But, ultimately, I complied. And two days after the concert, I was glad I did. When the reports came in from friends about what was going on both before and after the show, I knew that I wasn’t ready to handle what would’ve been right in front of me that night. But something more than my safety was gained in the moment my mom said no and I pushed back. There was dialogue. I was able to present my case and actually talk with my mom, as an almost-adult, about why I wanted to go. And here’s the thing: As I made my case to my mom, with tears in my eyes, about why I simply HAD to go, I felt my own case unraveling. As my mom and I went back and forth about who was going to be there, what was happening before and after the show and how late I would really be out, I started to get the sense that I was making a pretty poor case. Suddenly, even though my mom was the true authority and would have the final say, something inside of me said that this really wasn’t a good idea after all. Ultimately, the ability to push back allowed me to figure out on my own what my mom was trying to tell me all along.
This wrestling, this pushing back, may have been frustrating for my mom in the moment, but in the long run, it was a really good thing! Not that disobedience is okay. It’s not and that is a separate issue. But the ability to talk something out, to push back, to wrestle and negotiate creates something that is way more valuable than a simple “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am”; it creates movement towards independence, autonomy and a transfer of authority from you, as the parent, to your student, themself.
An article published in Psychology Today in May of 2011 speaks to this idea of transferring an adolescent’s authority from their parent to themselves—something all of us need to be able to do to become healthy, whole adults. Here is an excerpt from the article: (You can read the full article at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201105/adolescence-and-parental-authority.)
Come adolescence, parents often won't get exactly what they want, exactly how they want it done, exactly when they want it done, and that's okay. The older the adolescent grows the more she pushes back against parental authority. And this opposition is functional.
After all, if the young person ended up adolescence in the early to mid twenties content to live life entirely on parental terms, then independence would never be taken. That's the downside of excessive parental authority …
Although adolescents still need the preparation and protection of parental authority, they also need more experience of becoming their own authority if they are ever to become functionally independent. Turning over increased amounts of responsibility to the teenager is how this education in becoming one's own authority is done.
That's right. The final battle for independence at the end of adolescence is not against parental authority, but against one's own …
And yet, at last relieved of their role as authority and of all the responsibility that went with it, parents have actually won in their own way. They have finally worked themselves out of a job. Now for good and ill, their son or daughter is finally in charge.
So the next time you ask your son or daughter to do something—or not to—and they ask “why?” take a moment, breath and be thankful, because their willingness to ask that question is a good step in the direction of adulthood. And after they have asked the question and you have answered it, kindly remind them that you, as the parent, still expect them to listen and, ultimately, honor your authority through obeying.
3. Action Point
Choose your battle.
Every student/parent relationship has its hot button topics. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a certain friendship, an issue with a grade or a teacher … there are always issues that students and parents struggle to see eye-to-eye on. What are those particular struggles between you and your student? Where does your student feel like he or she wants to have more say? Where are the areas that you feel like your student needs to be under your authority and more compliant?
Choose a time to go out with your student—whether to coffee, dinner, a walk, a drive—somewhere you can talk—preferably in a different place than where your most heated arguments take place—and work through, in a civil way, one of these hot-button issues.
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