Parenting Adolescents by Kevin Huggins (part 2): Encouraging Teens to Be Free Agents

Teens as Free Agents with Choices to Make

One of the challenges that I received from reading Parenting Adolescents was in chapter 10, “Responding to the Purposes in an Adolescent’s Heart.” In this chapter, he says that one of the tasks of parents is “strengthening a teen to be a free agent” (238-46). He begins by making the point that a teenager is most likely “operating with little awareness of his own free agency” (239). Instead, a teen commonly feels ruled by “whatever or whomever he has come to rely on” to fulfill his or her desires. In response, “parents must exert painstaking effort to cultivate a personal awareness in their teen of his ability to make choices as well as an awareness of the purposes behind the choices he makes” (239). I was surprised by this point. I have begun to test it out with my own teens to determine to what extent they believe themselves to be free agents with multiple choices to make each day.

How Do I Encourage My Teens to Grow as Free Agents?

Huggins suggests two ways that I can help my teens to grow as free agents. First, parents can help her to see when she is making her own choices by pointing out when she is doing so. They need to do this when they agree with her choices as well as when they do not agree (240). Second, parents need to “create as many opportunities as possible for their teen to exercise his volitionality within the moral boundaries established by God in the Bible” (240). I found this advice to be challenging, because this has not been a focus of my parenting up to this point.

What Are Benefits of Trying to Encourage Teens to Grow as Free Agents?

The first benefit is to help teens see that they are exercising their freedom to make choices (243). They are not merely robots who are doing the will of others. The second is that parents can begin to help teens to talk about their choices and the purposes behind them. As a result, opportunities will arise to point out that some of their choices are “self-serving” (243). Exposing the “self-centered nature of his own purposes” will help a teen to grow in “maturity and Christlikeness” (243). He goes on to encourage parents to discuss with their teens both the requests that they make (to their parents) and the purposes associated with those choices. In other words, what do they want and why do they want it? He cautions us that such an approach will seem strange to us and our teens at first. Over time, he thinks that parents will be able to help a teen “feel more ownership over her life and understand her actions as part of a self-chosen course toward what she thinks will bring her real satisfaction” (246). In addition, parents will be able to help their teen get “an honest look at the foolishness and selfishness in her own heart” so that “she will be in a position to consider the radical call Christ makes for her to serve God and others” (246). I am going to try out this approach and see what emerges from it.

Complete Book Information:

Kevin Huggins. Parenting Adolescents. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1989.

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