“Just you wait,” I remember those words being said repeatedly when we had a handful of only little ones.
“Just you wait until they are teenagers.” I found this to be both irritating and disturbing.
It was hard to imagine our sweet little children ever really challenging us to the degree we had heard that teens can, but we also knew better than to be fully convinced that they wouldn’t.
We hoped that we were investing well when they were little to help ensure that we had their hearts as they moved into the teen years.
As hopeful and positive as I wanted to be, in my gut, I knew the truth: parenting teens was uncharted territory and I really did not have a full understanding of what that season of life would be like. It was only a matter of time and I really had no idea how to prepare for it.
So I prayed...a lot. We have now finished raising 6 teens and have 2 left at home.
I can tell you the reality is that every family is different and what works for one may not work for another. However, there are a few things I have learned:
Pray a lot before they are teens, pray a lot while they are teens. Be specific. Learn to hear from the Lord. So much of what we have dealt with throughout these years are things God brought to our hearts and attention along the way. Pray that your child will “own” his walk with God. We can teach our children to pray. We can read the Bible to them, We can encourage them to read the Bible, but we cannot force them to have an active relationship with Him. It’s a work that God has to do. When we really understand this, we are more likely to get out of the way and let Him do the work. We actually look for the ways God is working in that child’s life and try to work with Him. That can look like encouragement, direction, or correction depending on how God is leading. We must be listening and paying attention.
Don’t be afraid to let your teens FEEL the full weight of the consequences of their decisions. This starts when they are young. An example would be, when one of our kids cannot get along with his siblings, he has to be alone…alone to the point of really wanting to make the effort to get along. In real life, if we can’t get along with others, we end up alone. No one wants to be with us and, if someone REALLY can’t get along, they end up in a prison cell…alone. The important thing is to come up with natural consequences that “fit the crime”. Proverbs is a great resource for clarifying what actions are “childish” (require grace) and which are “foolish” (require discipline/consequences).
Be willing to admit when you are wrong.
Teens see right through us. In fact, they often know us better than we know ourselves and they are not afraid to hold up the mirror when we have our worst face on. There is a fine line here, though. Parents need to remain humble and ready to apologize and make things right, but we should also teach our teens to communicate with honor and respect. Respect needs to go both ways. I speak from experience. I messed this one up many times. I remember after some of those times, I would cry and tell my husband, “If these kids turn out okay, it will be by the grace of God…and that’s all!” God was gracious and they turned out more than okay!
Remember where they are right now.
A lot is going on hormonally and developmentally right now and although we must hold them accountable for their actions, we need to be aware and try to remember how challenging these years can be for our kids. They are trying to process and figure out so many things. When they are younger, they are content to be an “extension” of their parents. Much of their identity comes from their parents and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It sets the stage that lays a solid foundation and opportunity for good training in many areas.
But as they move into the teen years, there becomes an awareness that they are separate from us, that they are their own person and they can make their own decisions. This is where things get dicey because they will push those limits regularly. This is natural and the way that God intended it, but it’s like being out on the dance floor and trading off who is leading and who is following. We need to let them start slowly making their own decisions(leading for longer and longer periods of time). In which areas those happen and in what order is best is something only God knows, so we have to press in and get wisdom from Him. It also often requires long talks with our teens where we ask good questions but mostly simply listen. It's typical for teens to want to do this late at night and it can be really hard, especially if you have little ones at home. Let’s face it, we are pooped! I wasn’t always very good at hiding my feelings, but what kept me from sending the teens away was the fact that they were actually talking to me. Stewarding our energy throughout the day in a way that leaves margin in case our teens need to talk, can be really helpful.
You are still the parent
If you make a decision and then realize it was not a good one, guess what? You can change your mind. I will warn you, it may not sit well with your teen, but it’s a great test of your relationship and your teen’s willingness to honor you as their parent and to do what is right. Be prepared to explain your reasons. In other words, make sure your reasons are valid.
Being “real” with your kids along the way is so important. We would sometimes share our own struggles and where we saw God working. The older our kids got, the more we explained to them our reasoning behind many of our life decisions. By including them, we made them feel more like adults. This encouraged them to think and relate more like an adult and helped instill wisdom in making adult decisions. Because God's word was foundational to all of our decisions, it was an opportunity to disciple our teens.
Lastly, be watchful without being paranoid. It is easy to assume the worst as fear can often grip us during the teen years. Parenting out of fear is never a good idea and yields very poor results that can be damaging.
We also need to be watchful because it can be easy to miss things. Be a student of your children through all the seasons of childhood so you will know when something is amiss. Ask God to help you not to miss anything important.
Enjoy your kids
As much as there is potential for conflict during the teen years, there is potential for a wonderful, growing friendship. We love the adults that our kids have become. We enjoy them as friends, confidants, and encouragers. Kids, including teens, respond to parents who not only love them but also like them.
When you do go through difficult seasons with your teens, remember that their story isn't over yet no matter how hard it feels. God has good plans, that give our teens and us hope and a future!