One of my kids toddled out of our backyard at the tender age of two. I was in the bathroom. When ya’ gotta go, ya’ gotta go. I called the police, and they searched all over the woods and cow pasture behind our house. No toddler.
Then we got a call from the neighbors. They asked if we were missing our son! He had walked two blocks to their house, where the neighbors just happened to see him on the front porch. He was too short to ring the doorbell. Several years later our other son wondered off while we were at the San Antonio River Walk. Fortunately, his brother figured out where he was and brought him back.
I can relate to how Jesus’ mother and father must have felt when they realized their twelve year old son was missing, after they had walked two days from Jerusalem on the return to Nazareth. No wonder Mary scolded him saying, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Luke 2:48
Was Jesus being a bad kid? Did he commit a sin, breaking the commandment to honor his parents? I would humbly suggest that he was taking a natural step toward separating from his parents, something all kids have to do or they will never grow up. Indeed, Jesus’ reply to his parents was a classic restatement of the whole meaning of the bar mitzvah. “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Luke 2:49
“According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica Vol. 4, pp. 243-245, bar/bat mitzvah is “a term denoting both the attainment of religious and legal maturity as well as the occasion at which status is formally assumed for boys at the age of 13 plus one day, for girls at 12 plus one day. Only Luke records the events following the bar mitzvah of Jesus. This is recorded in Luke 2:41-52. It is important to know that a Jewish child in Bible times had three teachers. The mother was the child’s teacher until weaned. The father was the child’s second teacher until he/she reached puberty. The Torah, with all its Mitzvot, was the third and final teacher for each child. Therefore this celebration noted the change from the teachings of one’s earthly father to his/her Heavenly Father.”
So how do kids separate from their parents and grow up? Some follow their friends and break the rules: sex, drugs, drinking, stealing, fighting, bullying—you name it. How does a parent deal with this?
I taught middle school for several years by choice. Many teachers would rather teach any other age. Not me. That is the window of time when kids make major choices that affect them forever—both wrong and right choices. How can we help kids grow up and separate from us during this difficult and confusing time?
First–and you already know this–have boundaries or rules.
Second, remove some boundaries, as you see your preteens making wise choices. But how do you know what choices they are making? Kids can be sneaky at this age. Here are some things to look for:
Are they doing their homework without you checking on them every day?
Are they involved in some activity such as music, a sport, art even if they are not the best at it? [My favorite example of this was a good friend who was pigeon-toed but played a great game of football. We used to smile as he ran toddling down the field to make a touchdown.]
Are they working to earn spending money?
Do they stand up for kids being bullied?
Do they stand up to you in a good way, when they disagree with you? [My all time favorite example of this was a 14 year old white girl who wanted to be bussed across town when the schools were integrated in the late sixties. Her parents were afraid, but she insisted she wanted to be part of integration in the South.]
Now I can hear you parents ranting, “We don’t know what our kids are thinking, and we don’t know what they are up to.” Here is a game you can play as a family that may give you some insight into their heads. Take the following list of questions and go through them together with everyone sharing what they are willing to share. Yes, this means you will have to expose yourself, but you may be surprised at what you learn. Your kids will also learn from your wise choices and your mistakes. Have fun!
What was the craziest thing you ever did?
What was the best thing?
What was your greatest disappointment?
Describe a time when you stood up for something you believed in?
Have you ever felt embarrassed or ashamed of who you are?
Have you ever felt embarrassed or ashamed of who your parents are?
If you could fix your parents, how would you change them?
If you could fix yourself, how would you change?
When you get finished with this activity, parents, keep your mouth shut. Remember Mary. She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, while her son only got smarter and wiser. “…but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Luke 2:51,52
“Teach Your Children Well” Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young