It happened several years ago. One of my teens disappointed me deeply. I was so shocked that I wept for days, mourning for what I thought was my child’s future. Surely God was punishing my husband and me for some glaring parental error, I thought.
Multiple knee-jerk reactions ensued that were neither pretty nor full of faith. You might say I overreacted just a little bit (cough). I didn’t realize it at the time, but this trial with my teen was a great learning opportunity for my husband and I as parents. I can now thank God for this little storm, which at the time felt like a hurricane.
Two Views on Raising Teens
I’ve noticed there are two camps of thought on parenting teenagers. Modern psychology describes the teen years as a period when disrespect, testing of boundaries, or rebellion to parents and other authorities should be expected. We may be told to hold our breath until the stormy teen years pass and that the goal is simply survival. If we make it out of these years in one piece, we’ve succeeded. We can breathe a deep sigh of relief once they hit age twenty.
On the other hand, some Christian parents assert that raising teens is the best and easiest season of parenting. Perhaps in an effort to dispel the modern psychologist’s view of the teen years, Christian parents may imply that the long-awaited transformation of our children into friends and allies who no longer need any real correction, oversight, or discipline has arrived in the teen years. Yes, the ease of parenting is finally here, they say. Smooth sailing now!
A Need for Balance
With the teen years recently in our rearview mirror, I can say that neither assessment held true. A secular view of teens isn’t biblical. It attempts to normalize the sin of rebellion and disregard for authority. And it makes us fearful, cynical, and even bitter toward our teenage children.
Yet if we are not honest about the daily ministry that the teen years require of parents, we may be easily discouraged when our kids don’t meet our unrealistic expectations. We may be blindsided if our teens do begin to struggle with authority and even the faith in God their parents have labored hard to pass on to them for so long. If we’re not honest about the specific challenges of raising teens, then we lose our climbing partners.
Paul told Timothy to flee youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22). There are strongholds of sin that youth are particularly vulnerable to, just as there are particular temptations for middle adulthood and all other seasons of life. Pretending it isn’t so doesn’t make it true.
Discontent, fear of the future, comparing oneself to others, becoming a slave to fluctuating hormones, honoring parents when their imperfections are evident like never before are just a few of the unique struggles for a teenager. In fact, there can be moments of raising teens (yes, even in a Christian home) that make the physical labors of early childhood pale in comparison.
Thus, I think a balanced view of the teenage years is in order. With the Lord’s help, these years are full of opportunity for growth for people age thirteen to nineteen. They are not years to dread, but neither are they years to expect ease. The Lord still has daily work for us to do in this season. And in His mercy, He is still working on the parents, too, through the teens.
There Is Hope
My husband and I hold to some truths about raising teens that we like to remind one another of when weariness or discouragement threatens to settle in or when we have no idea how to handle a certain circumstance in our teen’s life. It’s vital to have biblical strategies of parenting that offer hope when we’re tempted to buy into a cultural view of teens or when we’re shocked at sin that we never thought would touch our Christian home. Here are five truths that offer gospel hope to parents of teenagers:
Sadly, I have sinned in all of these ways at one time or another. Thankfully, the Lord forgives and so do our children. Thus, a final way we can embitter our children is by neglecting to humble ourselves by asking their forgiveness when we know we have sinned against them.
- At the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts our teens of sin and brings about repentance. The heart of another person cannot be changed by us. God has to do it. We cannot save ourselves, so we certainly cannot save our children.
- Children must have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. There are no substitutes. Educational choices, sheltering, character training, and family emphasis are all vanities without Christ (Ps. 127:1).
- We can’t stop praying. Success today doesn’t guarantee success tomorrow. Every day is a new day with teenagers. We must constantly depend upon the Lord. And being repeatedly reminded of our dependence on God is always good.
- As parents, we can’t move the Holy Spirit to regenerate our children, but we can hinder them. There are many ways parents can do this, but a few are:
- Being angry with them without cause.
- Embarrassing them.
- Showing favoritism.
- Falsely accusing them.
- Talking “at” them instead of communicating “with” them. (Communicating with them takes so much more time, but it is essential.)
- Failing to listen to their concerns.
- Failing to explain the biblical reasons behind our convictions, hence the rules of our home.
- Living inconsistent lives before them.
- Having higher expectations of them than I do of myself.
- We should diligently and consistently attend to the “means of grace”: prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, family worship, and/or a historical catechism. These are the tools the Holy Spirit uses.
We praise God for the salvation He’s brought to our teens’ lives. We also praise Him for the fruit we’ve seen in the lives of each of our other children. We know that what we’re seeing is the supernatural work of God, not the work of our own hands.
Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord, to thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest,
And set my spirit free.
(“Not What These Hands Have Done” by Horatius Bonar)
If we’re not careful, we can be encumbered with all kinds of externals, as though the success or failure of our kids depend wholly on us. The Lord has given us tools to use, and He has given us warnings not to hinder our kids. But His transforming work is His alone.
God’s Working in Us All
Our parenting has changed some since the first time one of our teens disappointed us. We try to listen more to our kids. We try to give them more freedom to share their struggles and give them room to fail and room to disappoint us. Each time they do and are met with unconditional love and forgiveness, it makes it easier for them to share their hearts the next time (even if hefty consequences are in order).
We still make mistakes. But thankfully, God does not. He is working on both our kids and us, conforming us into His image by His grace and power.
What’s surprised you most about parenting teenagers? What wisdom did you gain from this season?