Thursday, September 26, 2013

How parenting your teenager is a lot like riding a horse

I think a lot about parenting when I'm riding my thoroughbred Aiden Magee.

Lately I've been finding myself getting aggravated with Aiden for making me work so hard at moving him forward.  I'm exhausted after our warm-up alone, having used all my strength just to get him going at an acceptable pace.  In reality, if I were more consistent, he would be too.

Sound familiar?!

A good analogy came to me this week as I was preparing to teach a parenting class for some moms in our morning women's ministry at church.  The youth team is leading this class on the book For Parents Only: Getting Inside The Head of Your Kid, and my first week to teach was on a chapter about how middle and high school students want freedom more than nearly anything else.   

I had a blast hanging out with a room full of very insightful moms, some with small children and others with kids in our ministry.  Here's what I shared with them:

If you're pulling back on the reins with everything you've got, you're already out of control.

When you ride a horse, you need to use your whole body to halt him.  Your legs around his girth keep his legs engaged as you prepare to stop.  Your gluts and abs contract to help you sit squarely in the saddle to signal the halt.  And your hands squeezing the reins ever so slightly reinforce your other aids.  Pulling back on the bit alone will only get you into a tug-of-war--one that a twelve-hundred pound animal will win every time!

Just the same, your teenager will most likely win a tug-of-war with you.  

It's not that he weighs more {well, maybe he does at this point...} or that she can actually outsmart you.  But kids in their middle and high school years want freedom so badly, they will do nearly anything to get it. "Freedom is like cocaine to a teenager," our authors from the parenting book have observed.  If you tug back, it starts a vicious cycle of desperation. 

When you want to put a horse "on the bit" as we say, coaxing him into a lovely frame, similar rules to the principles about halting apply.  You use your seat and your legs to keep the horse moving forward, pushing from his hind end to engage his entire body.  You keep a firm contact with his mouth via the outside rein, giving a half-halt, or a light tug, every now and then.  And with the inside rein, you give.  A death grip on his mouth has the opposite effect of what you're after, causing the horse to stretch out his neck in resistance rather than softening it in sunmission.

A trainer recently instructed me to stop everything I'm doing with my hands every so often for three short strides.  This seems counter-intuitive, but it's the only way Aiden will ever have a chance to put into effect what I'm trying to show him.  If my hands are always there applying pressure on his mouth, he never gets the opportunity to figure things out for himself.

Sometimes when I take the pressure away, he'll fall apart and we'll have to go back to square one.  Other times, he'll keep the bend we've been working to achieve, and it's magic.  Those are the moments you live for in riding.

{{So too, I have observed, in parenting.}}

How will your middle or high school student ever have a chance to put into practice all you've taught her if you never allow her the freedom to test her wings?  When you take away the pressure for a moment or two, she may very well fall apart.  But this is an opportunity for you to help her regroup, process what she could do differently, and for you to impart more valuable training that she'll need later on, once she's flown the coup. 

But those moments when you give a little and and she softens?  Those moments when she soars in the freedom you've allowed her?  Those will be the moments when you know she'll be okay someday, out there in the wide world,  

moments when you sit up, relax, and enjoy the ride.

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