At age 5 your kid has a cell phone. She also had her own bedroom complete with a TV and a computer with high-speed Internet access. By the time she is a young teen, she makes regular salon visits and has a hair do that makes her look much older than she is. By 15, she pretty much has it all. A few years after school, she droppes a bombshell asking for permission to get married.
We want our kids to have good things in life. Just as we limit sweets in our children’s diets, we also need to set healthy limits in other areas. We can do this by creating appropriate stages and boundaries.
Creating appropriate stages means putting age limitations on behaviors that rush our kids out of childhood — such as wearing makeup, enjoying Internet use, having a cell phone and getting a job. By delaying these activities until an appropriate age, we use them as rites of passage that mark a healthy progress toward adulthood.
As we set up stages and boundaries, we give our children something to look forward to. We also help them see that maturity is a process, not something that automatically happens when they turn 18.
There are no set rules for determining the ages when kids should be allowed to have or do certain things. Each family and each child is different. But as you think about stages for your kids, ask yourself some questions:
What is the reason for letting my child have or do this? For instance, why would a six year old need a phone? For basic communication or to impress her peers?
Is my child ready for this responsibility? If my son isn’t mature enough to avoid using a cell phone during class, then I’m doing him a disservice by giving him one. Sometimes we even put our kids at risk by letting them have privileges too early. One mom was horrified to learn that her daughter had been giving out too much personal information on social media which led to her kidnapping.
Am I ready for this responsibility? Parenting is tough enough without giving yourself extra work. When we let our children enter a new stage, we have the added job of helping them handle the new privilege responsibly. Letting a child have a phone in his room, for instance, may mean monitoring to make sure he’s not chatting with friends when he should be doing homework.
Will jumping too soon to a particular life stage send unintended messages to my child about self-image or materialism? Will letting a daughter get too many beauty treatments too young make her think her appearance is the most important thing in life? Will letting a boy have too many electronic toys too young set him up for always having to buy the latest gadget?
When your child reaches a new stage, enthusiastically help him or her enter it. When he’s old enough for a mountain bike, help him select one. When she’s old enough to shave her legs, pick out gel and razors together and show her how to do it. When your son is ready for a job, help him research the market. Use life stages not only as signposts of growing up but also as avenues to teach them how to take responsibility of their life.