When Linda and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary years ago, four of our five children were in the category of “teenagers.” When the kids are small parents think, “if only we get past this diapers stage,” or “the terrible two’s stage,” or “the shuttling kids to sports and clubs stage”… Although not inevitable, most parents of teens are challenged by the physical, social, and psychological transition their children go through during the infamous teen years. When we try to console ourselves that we were teens once and lived through it, the awareness of the society’s worsening condition gives many of us a feeling of apprehension at best or desperation at worst. The question that keeps rising to our collective consciousness is, How can I make the best of these years with my teenage children?
While I’m the first to admit of shortcomings in this area, allow me to share a few principles that have been helpful to us as a Christian parents. I’ll use the symbolism of an outstretched hand to represent some of our responsibilities and opportunities to raise our children through adolescence in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Your outstretched hand to God is “PALM UP”–indicating several faith principles.
A. You realize that you do not have the resources in and of yourself to be the all-wise, successful parent. This leads us to the Cross where we surrender ourselves to our Redeemer (Rom. 12:1,2). Because of our union with Christ (as true believers in Him) we have the resources of the indwelling Christ to deal with all of life’s&challenges–including parenting. Because we’ve been crucified with Christ, we live (as a parent) by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).
B. You give up ownership of “your” child (children) to God. Like Hannah of old, we lend them back to the Lord who gave them to us in the first place (1 Sam. 1:9-28). Our resolve should emulate Abraham, who was willing to lay his Isaac on the altar (Gen. 22). God will provide and console us as He did the great patriarch.
C. The outreached hand also symbolizes our desperation for God’s enablement for this role of Christian parent. We need His almighty hand clasping our weak, empty ones. He reminds us, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
D. Your outreached hand also should express a commitment to praise the Lord when the teens are respecting and cooperating and also when they’re not. As the Psalmist declared, “All who worship the LORD, now praise him! You belong to Jacob’s family and to the people of Israel, so fear and honor the LORD! The LORD doesn’t hate or despise the helpless in all of their troubles. When I cried out, he listened and did not turn away. When your people meet, you will fill my heart with your praises, LORD, and everyone will see me keep my promises to you” (Psalm 22:23-25 CEV).
E. Finally, your open hand should be raised as a gesture of intercessory prayer. If the tough times of parenting teens won’t teach us to pray, what will? How encouraging to know that our prayers reach the ears of the One who has access to our family 24/7. The Holy Spirit changes people from the inside out; that’s a miracle that no earthly parent can accomplish. Paul wrote Timothy of the necessity of intercession: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior … I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:1-3,8).
May we draw upon God’s grace and welcome the support of fellow parents and mentors as we navigate this stage of family life.
A Helping Hand for Parents of Teens (part 2 of 2)
In part one of this article we used the PALM-UP hand to symbolize our primary attitude in Christian parenting–surrender and trust in the Lord. Now we will consider five basic responsibilities we have in making the best of parenting teens. The five fingers will help us remember these five facets of mentoring adolescents.
1. Parent with unconditional love.
Since the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbors, it seems prudent to relate this to parenting teens (Matt. 22:39). Our natural tendency is to express love them and if/when they have attitudes and actions that please us. However “agape” love (1 Corinthians 13) is a matter of choice, not merit. It takes wisdom and grace to accept the young person even when you cannot approve of his/her behavior. But that is probably when love is needed most.
2. Parent with constructive communication.
As our children transition from young child to teen they begin to relate more readily to their peer group than their parents. Probably their need for acceptance and belonging draws them to low-risk relationships that are easier than dealing with parental tensions.
When they are navigating these paths toward independence, communication becomes strained. It takes more initiative and patience for parents to be good listeners and not to react in anger. We do well to heed the counsel of James 1:19: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
We can express different perspectives without resorting to harsh put-downs and angry rebuttals. God can give parents grace to practice the constructive communication described in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Knowing when to reflect back their statements, to show a listening ear–including when we’re anxious to set them straight–builds bridges that are vital to carry positive parental influence.
3. Parent with personal discipleship. Sometimes parents fixate on the discipline issues with their teens and overlook the priority of teaching and mentoring them. If the Great Commission instructs is to make disciples of all nations, surely this should begin at home.
Christian education and nurture should be assisted by the local church, but the negative influences of the world require a family-oriented discipleship strategy more than ever.
One aspect of family discipleship is to have devotions–what traditionally was called the “family altar.” Most families find this a difficult practice to establish when teens seems to be on the move with their own active schedules. However, we can snatch opportunities by being prayerfully proactive. Many helpful resources are available. For example, Walk Thru the Bible has the Family Walk devotional which gives a theme for each week that is explored with relevant daily readings. Whether it’s this, RBC’s Our Daily Bread, or another method, if we fail to plan we plan to fail. [walkthru.org, odb.org]
It is ideal for parents to disciple their sons and daughters one-to-one. An excellent resource for this is the concise, grace-oriented, Dynamic Life Handbook (free PDF files from DynamicChurches.org).
One of the biggest challenges facing us is to creatively encourage good alternatives to the constant barrage of corrupt movies, music, and video games. Be informed by Ministries that can help parents stay informed and equipped in the ever-changing realm of youth culture. [axis.org/culture-translator]
4. Parent with loving governance.
Ah yes, You knew we’d have to get to this sooner or later. When they get too old for what Proverbs calls the use of the “rod,” what then? In a seminar I presented on Discipling Your Family, a parent recommended Cloud and Townsend’s book, Boundaries for Teens. Having read one of their books on boundaries, it seems logical that parents need to wisely decide on limits that are age-appropriate and in harmony with Christian family values. The corollary to this is determining and enforcing natural consequences when these limits are violated. These consequences must be enforceable by the parents. As teens move toward adulthood, it seems better to orient consequences as learning activities rather than “punishments.” (It won’t be long until the role of enforcement will be handled more completely by society and God’s providential dealings with them.) Galatians 6:7 needs to grip the hearts of parents and teens alike: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
Let’s not miss the benefit of offering positive incentives as well. Rewards for good behavior are appreciated by money-hungry teens. Some may ask, But isn’t there a problem with such incentives? Admittedly, if given before the desired activity it is really a bribe and weakens the parents’s influence. (What if they don’t follow through?) On the other hand, when positive attitudes, actions, and achievements are forthcoming, some positive reinforcement is likely to make everyone happier.
5. Parent with practical networking.
Parenting need not be the exclusive job of the nuclear family! Christian grandparents are a great help through their prayers, positive example, values reinforcement, and welcoming love. Blessed are the homes with multi-generational mentoring!
The local church has an important role as a faith community too. It should be a source of Christian education and hopefully a sphere of wholesome recreational activities. If other parents are mentoring their teens, the families can provide mutual support and encouragement. Christian schools, summer camps, and other related ministries can be a vital contribution to guiding teens as they look for validation outside their families.
These basic principles can be a helping hand to parents–especially parents of teenagers. What a consolation that the strength to offer this comes from our faithful, all-sufficient God: “The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms…”(Deut. 33:27).