parenting teenagers

When our children were very small, they would sometimes fall asleep in the car on the way home from visiting friends or some other outing.

At other times they would pretend to be asleep. I don’t know for certain why they would do this, but I suspect they enjoyed being gathered in our arms, carried inside, and tucked into their beds as a sort of prolonged bedtime hug.

Realizing that their snores and exaggerated breathing were only a pretense, Helen and I would also pretend to be fooled into thinking they were sound asleep and deaf to our voices.

Then we would take the opportunity to bless our babies.

“Did you see what a gentleman Jesse was tonight?”

“I sure did. He was so attentive and kind. And Blake really had self-control. He had big ‘inside muscles’ when he didn’t get angry when that boy took the toy away from him!”

“Wasn’t Megan cute when she played with the baby? She is going to be a wonderful mommy some day.”

“She sure will and did you see how Allison helped pick up all the toys without being asked? She hadn’t even been playing with them! I am so proud of our children!”

“I am too. They are so grown-up. We can count on them to do what is right. I love taking them places.”

As Helen and I would talk, the snores and exaggerated breathing would slow down until it became so quiet in the car we wondered if they were now holding their breath.

We could almost hear them straining to listen. They didn’t want to miss a single word. It was a fun and life-giving game.

Our praises were real; not empty flattery designed to “build self-esteem.” They were true heartfelt commendations. (Hopefully, we didn’t create four insatiable eavesdroppers!) This was just a creative way to encourage and love our little ones.

Teenagers also need to hear parents express genuine appreciation for the people they are now and optimistic expectations of the people they are becoming.

Too often parents forget the need teenagers have for affirmation and concentrate on the negative areas.

Teens look like grown-ups, but they aren’t. They aren’t as cuddly and simple as they once were, but they still need to hear encouraging words.

In fact, they are straining to listen.

Often parents expect the fruit in their teen’s lives to be more mature when it is still green, bitter, and hard.

It is difficult for us to keep in mind that green fruit is still fruit. It will ripen, become sweet and provide nourishment if it isn’t picked prematurely.

While the fruit is green it still needs care and protection if it is to reach its potential.

Most of us would find it ludicrous to go into an orchard in July and curse the trees for having green apples. Yet parents often inadvertently condemn their teens with what I call the “casual curse.”

We observe an action or behavior and throw up our hands in despair. We make “greenness” a character trait by which we define our child and casually curse our teenager in the “you always…”, “you never…”, or “I can’t believe you are turning out this way!” kind of declarations that wound them and give them yet another challenge to overcome.

We bruise the fruit while it is still on the tree, or we pluck it off when it is still green, removing it from its source of sustenance when we should be the life-giving soil, light and water the tree needs to produce mature fruit.

Sometimes we don’t even take the time to identify the fruit and thereby fail to know what kind of tree we are dealing with after all.

  • A teenager’s ambivalence toward a family pet does not translate into his someday becoming a negligent parent. It is a parental opportunity for further training and diligence to teach the vulnerability of creatures that depend upon us.
  • A teenager’s careless damage to property does not translate into a total disregard for the value of a dollar and the absence of appreciation for a parent’s hard work. But it is an opportunity to require restitution and to teach how many hours of work at so much an hour will replace or restore the damage.
  • A teenager’s cavalier wit and charm does not translate into a freeloading party spirit unless the parent forgoes the opportunity to teach responsibility by becoming beguiled by the charm along with everyone else. Take joy in the wit and charmingly require responsibility and follow-through.
  • A teenager’s moodiness doesn’t translate into a self-centered, introspective, malcontent unless the parent enters into the distorted perceptions rather than calling for and aiding the teen in seeing beyond himself and serving others. Teach him to focus on those who have overcome great obstacles rather than engaging in self absorption.

Teens are composed of an imbalance of innocence and knowledge. It is a unique blend that can seem guileless at times and arrogant at others.

Sometimes they are even all set to “turn over a new leaf” complete with plans, journal entries, and charts.

Parents must be alert to progress even in the early stages of change.

Teens can be a mystery. They declare that they want privacy and yet can become very discouraged when we fail to notice the tiny transformations made by newly conceived good intentions.

We must be alert and vigilant to speak edifying words as fit the occasion thereby giving grace to our children (Ephesians 4:29).

Wisdom and work are required of parents as we nurture our teens to adulthood. We must be wise and kind in our words and not box our children into spaces too small.

We must understand how powerful our words are in their lives.

Every parent would be well instructed to do word studies in scripture on the power of the tongue to destroy or give life.

Telling a young girl on the threshold of puberty how adorable and cute she is because she is so tiny does not prepare her for the widening of her hips, the added weight from the increased density of her bones, and other startling changes that puberty brings.

It boxes her into an idea of beauty that she can’t control rather than teaching her what true beauty and health require. It is a casual curse.

We must be fluid as we help our teenagers transition from childhood to adulthood. We must teach them how to overcome in Christ.

In Judges 6, we see Gideon. He is beating out the wheat in the winepress, hiding from the Midianites. He defines himself as the least in his father’s house from the weakest clan in Manasseh. But the angel of the Lord addresses him as a man with whom the Lord is, a mighty man of valor.

Why the discrepancy?

Because we are all the least of the weakest apart from Christ. But with the Lord, we can be mighty and brave.

The defining moment in every person’s life is the moment of salvation, not the latest mistake we’ve made, the foolish thing we’ve said, or even our own perception of ourselves. We are overcomers in Christ (I John 5:4-5).

If your teenager is a Christian, he has the potential to be an overcomer of the obstacles to maturity. He can overcome his foolishness, and you can help him to weather the elements that would hinder his growth.

Prune the tree, bathe it in true Sonlight, nourish it with the pure water of the Word, protect it from pests and the harsher elements of the environment until it is strong enough to withstand them on its own.

Don’t curse the fruit before its time.

Identify the tree. Be patient. Work hard. Speak life even when it seems that you teenager is sound asleep. He is straining to listen.