How many times have you heard “Oh, you have teenagers! I’m so sorry” or “The teenage years are so hard—I’ll be praying!” I’m sure you could give many examples of comments and advice you’ve received from those who have gone before.
We currently have two teenagers in our home and two kids fast approaching the teen years. In looking back and remembering some of the things I read and heard about teenagers, I guess I always expected my kids to go to bed on their twelfth birthdays the sweet, loving, carefree children I had known to that point and wake up on their thirteenth birthdays acne-filled, moody, rebellious semi-adults I didn’t know anymore.
So for all of you naysayers and fearful parents of preteens, let me lay down some truth: I love the teenage years! In fact, I think this is my favorite stage of raising kids so far. Yes, my teenagers can be a little unpredictable, moody, spacey, and a little sassy at times, but I love it all.
What I am witnessing before me is God growing my boys into the men He has called them to be. The mood swings, unpredictability, and sass does not compare to the fun, laughs, deep life conversations, and growth that are taking place in our family. It also doesn’t hurt to have big muscles developing and practical help around the house!
People often ask me our secret to raising well-mannered, sweet teens who love God. My first answer is, “We are very blessed!” We gave our children to the Lord when they were born, and we understand that they do not belong to us but are gifts given to us for a time. What a huge responsibility God has entrusted us with. Because of that, my husband and I pray individually with our children every night. There are two things we want our kids fall asleep with: first, the knowledge that God hears their requests, and second, that their parents love them and are concerned with their thoughts and needs. I believe God is blessing our investment. He promised He would.
But on a practical note, there are some things we have learned along the way to help us and our kids navigate the teen years. Here are my top ten!
1. Never forget, you are the parent, they are the child! We need to behave like parents, not children! The teen years come with a number of frustrations. As parents, we are pushed and challenged on a regular basis. Oftentimes we are met with grumpiness, sour moods, and silence. It is easy to take these things personally and react rather than respond. Reacting is quick, sharp, and defensive. Reacting typically results in a negative exchange, which in turn causes a teen to shut down and walk away angry. Instead, respond. Take a second, pray, then speak. Now, we cannot give our teens a pass for a bad attitude or a disrespectful tone. Teens have to learn to control their emotions, even when it’s difficult. That’s life. Our job is to teach them how. The most effective way is through our example. The old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” is not and should never be a part of the conversation, ever! If we don’t respond in a godly, respectful, and reasonable way, how can we expect the same of our kids?
2. Don’t nag! This is a lot easier said than done. However, if we can back off on the little things that really don’t matter and pick our battles, so to speak, our teens will learn to relax, let down their guards, and be more willing to open up. If they know they won’t get barraged with advice every time they speak to us, they will be a lot more willing to not just listen but actually hear what we say when it really matters. Let your teens know what your expectations are, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
3. Never stop telling them you love them! Even on the bad days. Even when it seems awkward. The last thing all my kids hear before they close their eyes at the end of the day is “I love you.” Our love is not conditional. It does not depend on performance or behavior. Our children should know without a shadow of a doubt that they may not always have our approval, but they will always have our love.
4. Never give them space and hug them often! This is so important in the teen years and something I think we get so wrong most of the time. Yes, our teens need to accept responsibility. Yes, they need to learn independence. Yes, they need room to grow into adults. However, our job is to help them, shape them, support them, and keep them accountable—not move away from them so they can figure it out alone. I make it a point to ask my boys what’s going on in their hearts and minds. I monitor what they watch and look at online. I want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want to be able to pray for them where they are and help them make wise and godly decisions. My goal is to point them to Jesus in all things.
5. Be their parent, not their friend! Sometimes our teens aren’t going to like this. Sometimes they will see us as the enemy. That’s okay. Scripture calls parents to provide, to discipline, to teach their children. Proverbs 22:15 tells us that foolishness is bound up in the hearts of children. We have a great responsibility before God to shepherd our children, to teach them by using our wisdom and God’s Word. As parents, we will stand before God one day to give an account for how we stewarded that which He gave us. May He say, “Well done.”
6. Teach them to work hard, and teach them to serve. “When we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, NIV). Our children’s generation is quickly becoming the laziest and most entitled generation of our time. Hard work has been replaced by device time. Learning practical life skills in school has been replaced by meaningless busy work. If our children do not grab the concept of work for reward, the future of our society will not look good. Work together as a family. A family is a team. Accomplishment is a great reward for teens, and our appreciation and recognition of them shows that we value their time and efforts. In our selfish world it is so hard to teach “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, NIV). Our teens can be pretty self-focused, and at times it seems that they believe the whole world revolves around them. However, if they are taught to give, to serve with their time, to help at home, then that will naturally translate to the outside world. Once they understand that the family doesn’t work as well without their participation, they will be able to understand it in the bigger picture of their community, church, school, and world.
7. Talk to them. Put down the device, and make them do the same. Gather around the table for dinner—no phones allowed. Contrary to popular belief, teens really do like to
talk, and they want to know that we are interested in what they have to say. Give them an opportunity to have a voice, to offer their thoughts and opinions about various subjects. You will be surprised at their insight and blessed by the time spent with your teens.
8. Give them responsibilities, and allow them to follow through. Do not come behind to fix what they’ve done. Accept the imperfect. What we are building in our teens is so much more valuable than the results we may prefer. Give them a chance to get things done. Trust them to follow through with what you’ve asked of them.
9. Let them be kids! For the most part, teens like to be considered adults. I find that my oldest would often rather sit and chat with the adults than be outside playing. Unless it playing involves basketball! However, there will be times when our teens will be silly, goofy, playful, and extremely immature. I am delighted when I see this side of my teens. It’s fun to watch them throw caution to the wind and not be bothered by the opinions of others or feel the need to be cool. They are still kids. We would do well to join them in their silliness on occasion. Too much adulting is unhealthy for anybody!
10. Never be too proud to say you are sorry! I know it’s not fun to admit, but as parents we often blow it. Apologizing and asking forgiveness does not just apply to the adults in our lives. Apologizing to our children does not mean we lose our parental position. It shows them that we are human, sinners, in need of grace, just like they are. Humbling ourselves is part of life, and admitting we’re wrong is part of life. Get over yourself, and do it!
My husband and I are not done raising our teens yet. We have a ways to go. However, I am thankful that God has given us everything we need in His Word to raise them well. He is willing and able to pour out wisdom and grace when we need it if we take the time to ask Him. On the days when I feel inadequate, I ask God for strength. And the times when I am out of patience, I ask for an increased measure of grace. For those occasions when I mess up and fail, I humble myself, ask forgiveness, and move on.
I leave you with this: “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20–21, NASB).