The most misunderstood segment of our population is teenagers. They are becoming. They are awkward. They are rebellious. They are full of potential. I have spent the majority of my life and career learning to relate to them. When I first started my career I was closer in age to them than I was far. I served teenagers and their parents professionally for two decades. So I know what I’m talking about, right? Sure. And, not really.
I believe it was Dr. James Dobson who jokingly suggested locking adolescents in a box and letting them out after their teen years. Though there are deep and obvious problems with this as a reality, most honest parents of teens have considered it. These years are undoubtedly the most difficult years for parents and their blossoming children to navigate. All three of our kids bear the technical title of teenager, though our oldest has been living on her own for the last two years. These simple words that I share are reminders that I return to often to keep me on course as I am living with teenagers. I share as a fellow-traveller, not an expert.
Remember What You’ve Already Done
For good or ill, most of your work is already done. The first eleven years are much more formative than any that follow. Particularly if you have invested well in the early season, take heart. Your work in these years will not have been in vain… even when it seems so. The Scriptures say so. All of the “stuff” you have worked so hard to instill in your kids will never go away no matter how hard they may try to suppress it. Even what you perceive to be rebellion is often their attempt to see if the “stuff” you gave them really holds water.
Among a teenager’s most valuable assets, is their BS-meter. Teens can spot a phony a mile away. Even if you are trying to “pull yourself together” or “put your best foot forward”, do so in a way that is honest and genuine. Certainly every parent will wrestle with how much to tell a kid and when, but wrestle with it and be real in the process. Here are some of the checklist-type things that I am constantly working on myself:
- admitting when I’m wrong
- apologizing when I sin
I said earlier that most of your work is already done, but not all of it. Your kids will never admit this, but they want you to still set boundaries in their lives. Of course they will kick and scream almost every step of the way, but you must do the hard work. Here is the main thing that we have stuck to that has been helpful. Whenever possible (especially as they are maturing), set boundaries together. Don’t just dictate. Tell them why you think a bedtime (or whatever) is important and talk it through together. If you’ve set it together, it will be much easier to enforce because they were in on its establishment. Even as you set these things, discuss appropriate consequences for their failure. If you don’t do this, the boundaries won’t matter. And trust me, once that boundary slips (whatever it is), it’s tough to go back and regain it. You’re just too tired to fight the battle at that point.
Remember the Goal
Remember why you became a parent in the first place. In some cases (many, actually), this is a HUGE part of the problem. All too often, parents decide to become parents for selfish reasons and when their kids hit the teen years, and give ideological resistance, the onslaught becomes all-consuming. We are supposed to parent as stewards. Our kids should belong to God before and after they ever belong to us. When we understand it in this way, the goal should be to help them become all that God has pre-ordained. Obviously this creates a bit of pressure, but it ultimately calls us to remember that they are in His hands.