Setting a Parental Agenda
Let's face it -- parenting teenagers is a difficult responsibility. We don't have to deny the reality that as a person passes from childhood into adulthood, the transition can be tumultuous. However, we should be shocked and saddened by the cultural cynicism toward our teens; they're portrayed as hormonal creatures that need to be controlled and restrained. This view is wholly unbiblical.
So what is a biblical view? In this article, I want to suggest four verbs that can set the agenda for parents who want to model Christ with their teenagers.
The first verb is accept. We must greet the sin of our teenagers with the accepting grace of Christ. Not acceptance that compromises God’s high standard or his call for confession and repentance, but acceptance that leads to change. This acceptance holds God’s standard high, but in the context of the hope found in the cross of Christ.
Our jobs as parents isn't to condemn, judge, reject, or break relationship. Our job is to function as God’s instruments of change, and the most powerful tool we have is our relationship with our teenagers. We want to conduct this relationship in such a way that his work will thrive in the midst of it.
The next verb is incarnate. As Christ was called to reveal God in the flesh, we're called to reveal Christ. As parents, we're called to incarnate the love of Christ in all of our interactions with our teenagers. We reveal his love, patience, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness as we respond with the same toward our children (see Colossians 3:12-14). This must be one of our highest goals – that Christ, his character, and his Gospel work would be depicted in the way we relate to our teenagers.
The third verb is identify. Hebrew 2:11 says that Christ isn't “ashamed to call us brothers” because he suffered the same things that we suffer. He's able to identify fully with the harsh realities and temptations of life in this fallen world. He went through the process that we're now enduring. If Christ can identify with us, how much more should we be able to identify with our teenagers!
Often parents of teens communicate that they're not at all like their teenagers and, in fact, have real difficulty relating to them and their struggles. However, we're the same. There's no struggle that our teenager might have that we haven’t had or aren’t still having.
Like our teens, there are times when we want to shuck our responsibility and forget the things that we don’t like to do. There are times when we are willful, wanting our own way. There are times when we are defensive and unapproachable. There are times when we think we know more than we do. Parents, you're more like your teenagers than you are unlike them!
We share a fallen nature with our teenagers, and we share progressive growth unto holiness with them. We must not act as if we're people of a different sort or stand self-righteously above them. We must stand alongside them as the older brother and sister and point them to the only place of hope – Christ. We must communicate that there's no answer we give them that we ourselves don’t need.
The final verb is enter. As Christ entered our world and spent 33 years getting to know our experiences, we must take the time to enter the world of our teenager (see Hebrews 4:14-16). That means spending as much time asking good questions and listening as it does speaking. In fact, our speaking to our teenagers would be much more loving and insightful if we took the time to get to know the people, the pressures, the responsibilities, the opportunities, and the temptations they face every day.
One of the tragic things that happens to parents and teens is that they quit talking meaningfully, honestly, and personally. All of the correction, instruction, discussion, debate, and discipline is done on a platform of ignorance.
Take time to enter the world of your teenager. Know what they face every day, know how they're emotionally and spiritually gripped by those experiences, know where they're being tempted and where they're succumbing. Understand what the worlds of home, school, work, and leisure look like for them.
Let them know that their world and the way they experience things is important to you. Find ways to let them know that you're on board, that you understand, and that you care. When they say that you don’t understand, ask them to explain what needs to be explained so that you will understand. Ask them not to be frustrated when they think that you don’t understand, but to give you help so that you would.
Teenagers whose parents have accepted them with the grace of Christ, who have incarnated the love of Christ, who have identified like Christ, and have entered their teenager’s world following Christ’s example won't have teenagers who are trying to get out of home as soon as they can.
Rather, they'll be drawn by the powerful love and grace that has been their daily experience. They'll tend to treasure the one human relationship in which they've been consistently loved when they deserved it least. This will give their parents the freedom and the time to prepare them just a little more for their important entry into the world where they will stand with God on their own.