Feeding the Mouth that Bites You – Post 1 (by Kim Jansen)

“There are times when parenting seems nothing more than feeding the mouth that bites you.” ~ Peter De Vries

When I read this quote for the first time, I couldn’t help but nod my head repeatedly, thinking to myself, “YESSSSS.”

“If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already been bitten,” writes author Kenneth Wilgus. “But once you understand what adolescents really need to be fed when it comes to parenting, the biting will stop. Or at least it won’t happen with such regularity and ferocity.”

Wilgus proposes a plan to help parents begin to satisfy a teenager’s hunger. And the primary item on the menu? AUTONOMY.

“There are times when parenting seems nothing more than feeding the mouth that bites you.” ~ Peter De Vries

When I read this quote for the first time, I couldn’t help but nod my head repeatedly, thinking to myself, “YESSSSS.”

“If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already been bitten,” writes author Kenneth Wilgus. “But once you understand what adolescents really need to be fed when it comes to parenting, the biting will stop. Or at least it won’t happen with such regularity and ferocity.”

Wilgus proposes a plan to help parents begin to satisfy a teenager’s hunger. And the primary item on the menu? AUTONOMY.

“There are times when parenting seems nothing more than feeding the mouth that bites you.” ~ Peter De Vries

Wilgus calls the process “Planned Emancipation.” The goal is for parents to systematically withdraw their authority from various areas of their teen’s life as he/she gets older and to do it in such a way that the teen recognizes the growing amount of freedom.

“Planned Emancipation allows you as the parent to take control of your adolescent’s inevitable drive toward adulthood and provides a reasonable progression of autonomy,” Wilgus says. “[It] allows the teenager in your house to know he or she has really ‘grown up’ and not just ‘gotten away.’”

Wilgus compares a teenager to a nation/country working toward sovereignty of its own government. Each freedom is like a territory in which parents can gradually but clearly “withdraw troops.”

Wilgus offers a list of suggested freedoms, which include:

  • How clean to keep personal bedroom
  • What music to listen to
  • How to handle schoolwork
  • Who to hang out with/choice of friends
  • Style of personal dress
  • When to go to bed
  • Where/When to attend church
  • When to come home at night (curfew)

Wilgus suggests granting the first few freedoms in early adolescence, adding one or two every 6-12 months, with the intention of removing the teen’s curfew the day after high school graduation.

I’ve had some fun in recent days trying this approach out on my teens.

I’ll admit I’ve historically been very controlling over the amount of sugar and caffeine my kids consume. And while it’s true that an abundance of either one is objectively unhealthy, at some point, my teens need to be able to make their own decisions regarding what they will eat.

So, when my 15-year-old daughter asked if she could have some iced tea with supper, instead of launching into my typical lecture about the horrors of caffeine-induced sleep disruption, I simply said:

“I think you’re old enough to decide how much caffeine your body can handle.” (Insert pause and look of confusion on her face.)

However, what came next is the kicker: Instead of fighting back with an argument about how caffeine doesn’t keep her awake, she simply said, “Hmm…maybe I’ll just have half a glass.”

Planned Emancipation for the win!

Just a day or two later, I tried it again. This time my 8-year-old started whining, “Mom, Josh (age 13) is eating cookies right before dinner.” Again, typically I would have said, “Josh, you’re going to spoil your appetite. Put the cookies away.”

Instead, I said, “I think Josh is old enough to decide for himself when to eat sweets.”

Again, the child in question looked taken aback, and the 8-year old said that wasn’t fair. After the shock wore off, however, Josh smiled and stood a little taller.

I appreciated showing Josh that I acknowledge and accept that he’s growing up and is ready to assume the freedom and responsibility of nourishing his body. It was also good for the younger brother to see that he can earn similar freedoms when he gets older.

In choosing which areas of autonomy to give your child, Wilgus recommends parents ask themselves this question: “Can I give this over to my teenager without the likelihood of devastating consequences?’”

“If the answer is yes,” he writes, “give it to them.”

Wilgus then adds an important caveat:

“I am not talking about letting your teenager “do whatever they want,” he says. “Effectively parenting adolescents means setting a middle course between holding on until your teenager wrestles control out of your ‘cold dead hands’ or handing over your car, house and credit cards to let them ‘go wild.’”

Wilgus says the keys to finding this balance are boundaries and limits. Stay tuned to the next post for more “real life” anecdotes in this regard!

Wilgus calls the process “Planned Emancipation.” The goal is for parents to systematically withdraw their authority from various areas of their teen’s life as he/she gets older and to do it in such a way that the teen recognizes the growing amount of freedom.

“Planned Emancipation allows you as the parent to take control of your adolescent’s inevitable drive toward adulthood and provides a reasonable progression of autonomy,” Wilgus says. “[It] allows the teenager in your house to know he or she has really ‘grown up’ and not just ‘gotten away.’”

Wilgus compares a teenager to a nation/country working toward sovereignty of its own government. Each freedom is like a territory in which parents can gradually but clearly “withdraw troops.”

Wilgus offers a list of suggested freedoms, which include:

  • How clean to keep personal bedroom
  • What music to listen to
  • How to handle schoolwork
  • Who to hang out with/choice of friends
  • Style of personal dress
  • When to go to bed
  • Where/When to attend church
  • When to come home at night (curfew)

Wilgus suggests granting the first few freedoms in early adolescence, adding one or two every 6-12 months, with the intention of removing the teen’s curfew the day after high school graduation.

I’ve had some fun in recent days trying this approach out on my teens.

I’ll admit I’ve historically been very controlling over the amount of sugar and caffeine my kids consume. And while it’s true that an abundance of either one is objectively unhealthy, at some point, my teens need to be able to make their own decisions regarding what they will eat.

So, when my 15-year-old daughter asked if she could have some iced tea with supper, instead of launching into my typical lecture about the horrors of caffeine-induced sleep disruption, I simply said:

“I think you’re old enough to decide how much caffeine your body can handle.” (Insert pause and look of confusion on her face.)

However, what came next is the kicker: Instead of fighting back with an argument about how caffeine doesn’t keep her awake, she simply said, “Hmm…maybe I’ll just have half a glass.”

Planned Emancipation for the win!

Just a day or two later, I tried it again. This time my 8-year-old started whining, “Mom, Josh (age 13) is eating cookies right before dinner.” Again, typically I would have said, “Josh, you’re going to spoil your appetite. Put the cookies away.”

Instead, I said, “I think Josh is old enough to decide for himself when to eat sweets.”

Again, the child in question looked taken aback, and the 8-year old said that wasn’t fair. After the shock wore off, however, Josh smiled and stood a little taller.

I appreciated showing Josh that I acknowledge and accept that he’s growing up and is ready to assume the freedom and responsibility of nourishing his body. It was also good for the younger brother to see that he can earn similar freedoms when he gets older.

In choosing which areas of autonomy to give your child, Wilgus recommends parents ask themselves this question: “Can I give this over to my teenager without the likelihood of devastating consequences?’”

“If the answer is yes,” he writes, “give it to them.”

Wilgus then adds an important caveat:

“I am not talking about letting your teenager “do whatever they want,” he says. “Effectively parenting adolescents means setting a middle course between holding on until your teenager wrestles control out of your ‘cold dead hands’ or handing over your car, house and credit cards to let them ‘go wild.’”

Wilgus says the keys to finding this balance are boundaries and limits. Stay tuned to the next post for more “real life” anecdotes in this regard!

When I read this quote for the first time, I couldn’t help but nod my head repeatedly, thinking to myself, “YESSSSS.”

“If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already been bitten,” writes author Kenneth Wilgus. “But once you understand what adolescents really need to be fed when it comes to parenting, the biting will stop. Or at least it won’t happen with such regularity and ferocity.”

Wilgus proposes a plan to help parents begin to satisfy a teenager’s hunger. And the primary item on the menu? AUTONOMY.

Wilgus calls the process “Planned Emancipation.” The goal is for parents to systematically withdraw their authority from various areas of their teen’s life as he/she gets older and to do it in such a way that the teen recognizes the growing amount of freedom.

“Planned Emancipation allows you as the parent to take control of your adolescent’s inevitable drive toward adulthood and provides a reasonable progression of autonomy,” Wilgus says. “[It] allows the teenager in your house to know he or she has really ‘grown up’ and not just ‘gotten away.’”

Wilgus compares a teenager to a nation/country working toward sovereignty of its own government. Each freedom is like a territory in which parents can gradually but clearly “withdraw troops.”

Wilgus offers a list of suggested freedoms, which include:

  • How clean to keep personal bedroom
  • What music to listen to
  • How to handle schoolwork
  • Who to hang out with/choice of friends
  • Style of personal dress
  • When to go to bed
  • Where/When to attend church
  • When to come home at night (curfew)

Wilgus suggests granting the first few freedoms in early adolescence, adding one or two every 6-12 months, with the intention of removing the teen’s curfew the day after high school graduation.

I’ve had some fun in recent days trying this approach out on my teens.

I’ll admit I’ve historically been very controlling over the amount of sugar and caffeine my kids consume. And while it’s true that an abundance of either one is objectively unhealthy, at some point, my teens need to be able to make their own decisions regarding what they will eat.

So, when my 15-year-old daughter asked if she could have some iced tea with supper, instead of launching into my typical lecture about the horrors of caffeine-induced sleep disruption, I simply said:

“I think you’re old enough to decide how much caffeine your body can handle.” (Insert pause and look of confusion on her face.)

However, what came next is the kicker: Instead of fighting back with an argument about how caffeine doesn’t keep her awake, she simply said, “Hmm…maybe I’ll just have half a glass.”

Planned Emancipation for the win!

Just a day or two later, I tried it again. This time my 8-year-old started whining, “Mom, Josh (age 13) is eating cookies right before dinner.” Again, typically I would have said, “Josh, you’re going to spoil your appetite. Put the cookies away.”

Instead, I said, “I think Josh is old enough to decide for himself when to eat sweets.”

Again, the child in question looked taken aback, and the 8-year old said that wasn’t fair. After the shock wore off, however, Josh smiled and stood a little taller.

I appreciated showing Josh that I acknowledge and accept that he’s growing up and is ready to assume the freedom and responsibility of nourishing his body. It was also good for the younger brother to see that he can earn similar freedoms when he gets older.

In choosing which areas of autonomy to give your child, Wilgus recommends parents ask themselves this question: “Can I give this over to my teenager without the likelihood of devastating consequences?’”

“If the answer is yes,” he writes, “give it to them.”

Wilgus then adds an important caveat:

“I am not talking about letting your teenager “do whatever they want,” he says. “Effectively parenting adolescents means setting a middle course between holding on until your teenager wrestles control out of your ‘cold dead hands’ or handing over your car, house and credit cards to let them ‘go wild.’”

Wilgus says the keys to finding this balance are boundaries and limits. Stay tuned to the next post for more “real life” anecdotes in this regard!

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