Sleepless nights with babies are challenging and raising toddlers can be frustrating. However, parenting teens will bring you to your knees and make you cry out to God. I wish I was joking. Yes, there are a few parents who breeze through the teen years with no problem. They’ve either hit some kind of nature/nurture lottery, or they are just great at hiding what’s really going on. Parenting teens is something you survive. Yet, these years are the most fundamental years of a child’s life, and it’s vitally important you DO NOT check out!
CHALLENGES OF PARENTING TEENAGERS
Here’s what you need to know: How you parent your pre-teen child and how you parent your teenager have virtually no similarities. In the pre-teen years, they don’t really have a knowledge of “good and evil.” Yes, kids are capable of disobedience and general savagery, but that is wholly different from what happens in the teen years. All at once, they are going to develop:
- A sexual drive that blinds their logic and leaves them feeling confused and guilty most of the time.
- Self-awareness that results in arrogance and insecurity.
- Independence that causes them to question everything they have been taught and everything you believe.
All of this happens while their brains are still significantly under-developed. You will be shocked at the evil your little angel is capable of committing.
Now, you might think I am being hard on teenagers, but simply recall your teen years. You…were…awful. You didn’t really think so at the time, but as you parent your teenagers, you’re about to realize, for the first time, how truly terrible you were. You will say things like “I never did that when I was a teen” but just make sure you fact check that with your parents before getting too confident.
From God’s perspective, this is perfectly natural. Here is what is happening for the first time: You and your child are becoming aware of just how lost they are. Scripture teaches us that…
All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. | Romans 3:12
In Isaiah, we are reminded, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way,” (Isaiah 53:6). Your children are wandering from goodness, from God, from all that you have taught them. They are feeling the weight of their own sin and over the next several years (sorry–it’s a long process), they will come to understand what it means that they need a Savior. They need someone to rescue them from their sin and redeem them. This is a necessary and excruciating process for a parent. DON’T CHECK OUT.
What they need during this time is what we all need. They need Jesus. You’re going to want to modify their behavior, but what they need is a completely transformed life in Christ. This needs to be your first priority.
Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. | Ephesians 6:4
Yes–grades, activities, scholarships, relationships, cleaning their rooms, curfews, part-time jobs, etc–it all matters, but you can easily lose them if the main thing is not the main thing. Heart transformation has to come before behavior modification.
CREATE A FAIL-FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT
When they are young, kids can be led with some very simple methods. You make rules and consistently discipline them when they are not obedient to the rules. That works when they are kids, but now you must move into a coaching role. You need to allow them to make some adult decisions.
In a coaching role, you will need to let your kids make a mature decision…KNOWING they will, at some point, fail. That’s a key point. As a coach, you should expect your kids to mess up. If they don’t mess up at some point, then your coaching really isn’t that necessary, now is it?
It’s essential that you create a “fail-friendly environment.” That does not mean you just let them off the hook. If they lie to you, there should be a consequence. If they miss curfew, there should be a consequence. However, you need to have a lot of grace. Remember–they are just feeling the weight of their own sin. Allow grace to calmly coach them through the mistake they made and help them see the consequences of it, but make sure they understand this is natural. Reaffirm to them that you love them and are proud of them regardless of this mistake. Colossians 3:21 warns that if we come down too hard on our children, they might actually give up all together.
“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” | Colossians 3:21
Have you ever met a teenager, or maybe it was you, who just did not give a crap about anything? A parent who is too overbearing results in a child who doesn’t think they can do anything right so…they just give up.
So, give them grace, give them consequences, then give them another chance. Rinse and repeat.
NEVER FULLY TRUST YOUR CHILD
I need you to truly pause and listen to this next line…
“You absolutely, under no circumstances, should trust your teen during the teen years”
We hear all the time that we should trust our kids, but many parents don’t really think about what that means. Can I give you some promises?
- If you give your teen unfiltered internet access, they will look at perverse sexual content. This will have long lasting effects and, if left unchecked, it will lead to a lifetime of struggles.
- If you allow your 16-year old daughter to have a boyfriend alone in her room, they will 100% eventually take things too far physically.
- If your child is close friends with someone who smokes weed, your child will eventually partake.
- If you give your kid a phone with no rules or oversight, they will eventually send inappropriate pictures or say things they regret.
Remember–they are sinners experiencing the full weight of their sin, and their brains are underdeveloped. Complete freedom is a recipe for disaster. What’s my point? Give your child trust in small doses with consistent coaching, but don’t let that lead to ignorance.
Here is a general rule in our home. By the time my child is in their senior year of high school, I want to have coached them and trusted them enough that they basically have no rules. We still expect mistakes, but hopefully there won’t be a need for too many rules. However, we don’t start there. We get there incrementally over the course of about five years.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Some parents like to blame their teens for everything, but the truth is you’re also going to make a lot of mistakes. Ultimately, you’re going to find out that most of your motivation for raising your child is selfish.
- You want them to behave so you don’t look bad.
- You want them to achieve so you look good.
- You’re going to impose on them some of your worst insecurities by pushing them in things that don’t really matter.
- In a desperate attempt to feel fulfilled, you’re going to get bitter at them for not giving you the honor you feel like you are due.
Turns out you’re going to feel the weight of your own sin as well. During these years, your teens will give you the worst of themselves, and they are going to need you to respond with the best of yourself. There is one characteristic all parents who have raised teens can develop: humility.
This is an opportunity for growth! You’re going to learn and grow during this time more than ever before. I believe the only way to parent teens without losing your mind is to find strength in Jesus. He modeled for us perfect love in this way: He died for you right in the middle of your worst behavior.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. | Romans 5:8
Just like Jesus did for you, love your teen regardless of how you feel.
- Take them to football games, concerts, and fishing trips, even when you don’t feel like being around them.
- Engage in conversations when you feel like they are hard to talk to.
- Be proud of them, even when grandma is not.
- Never stop communicating to them how much you love them.
- After you fight with them, go get ice cream.
Just keep loving them and, I promise, they will remember it for the rest of their lives.
P.S. Adult children are amazing. Somewhere around age 18 -20, your kids’ hearts turn back toward you. They do mature and the relationships are so rewarding!
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