The parental goal for the teenage years is to get them through it. Every now and then, we hear some amazing story of a teenager who’s public about their faith, helping others, and walking with God in an amazing way. More often, we hear about kids who are confused, conflicted, angry and withdrawn. In a matter of months, we watch them go from happy, innocent, "full of themselves" children to sullen, quiet, burdened, beat-up adolescents.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from my own experience and from friends:
- Teenagers are Influenced Almost Exclusively by their Friends – If you want to have influence, you’d better make friends with them. And you’d better do it before they hit puberty. I’m not talking about being their “buddy.” Buddies won’t tell each other the truth. I mean friends. Someone who’s safe, someone you can tell anything.
- Authentic Friendship is a Two-Way Street – Parents want their kids to be totally transparent and vulnerable with them but they aren’t that way to their kids . . . at all. Think about someone you want to be friends with. Would you trust someone who wants to know all your stuff, but never shares any of theirs? I’m not talking about the big, dark, adult things your teenagers don’t need to know right now. Or things they aren’t ready to handle. I’m talking about being real with your kids about what’s going on in your life as you try to come along side them with what’s going on in theirs.
- Transparency Gives Permission to a Teenager – Tell your kids about your experimentation with drugs or your pre-marital sex, you give them permission. Even if you tell them how much you regret what you did, they’ll leave the conversation thinking, “Hey, my dad did it, so I can, too.”
- Truth and Grace – “A clear set of inviolable, non-negotiable rules (that consistently connect with real consequences) coupled with buckets full of acceptance.” This is my friend John’s formula for teenage parenting. It’s truth and grace. Wash, rinse and repeat.
- Use Power Wisely – Parents can create environments where teenagers gather. It might be loud, messy and inconvenient, but hanging around with your kids and their friends gives visibility into the character of the teenagers who are influencing your teenagers. Wise parents subtly and cleverly steer their teens toward friends with positive character and away from those with negative or dangerous influence. Sounds cold and maybe even a little manipulative, but it’s a war out there and I’m going to fight for my kids, whether it’s overt or covert. Doesn’t matter. They’re that important.
- Walk the Talk – As children move into adolescence, they shift from listening to watching parents. They’re looking for the inconsistencies between what we say and what we do. When they hear us preach but then see our behavior not match our words, they’re out. Hypocrisy has no weight . . . they’ll discard your words and to a degree, you. They may or may not internalize what you said, and even if they do, they won’t give you the pleasure of letting you know they have! Words backed up by actions have weight.
- Team Up – First with your wife. Talk through your observations and options. Teenagers will look for any cracks between the two of you. Get on the same page about truth and grace and stay there. It’s best to be right, but even if you’re wrong, be wrong together. But also team up with dads of your kid’s friends. Talk to them. Get to know them. Do “guy things” with the kids and their dads. You’ll get windows into the souls that are influencing the souls of your precious kids.
- Pray with Them and for Them – They probably won’t say a word and that’s OK. But invite them to listen in as you tell the Father what’s on your heart. Let them hear the emotion in your heart and voice, being careful to pray to Him and not to your teenager. Pray out loud. On your face or your knees. Pray when they’re with you. Pray when it’s just you and your wife or when it’s just you. Ask God, “Lord, what would you have me know about (your teen’s name)?” Listen and write down what you hear. Then ask “Jesus, what would you have me do with what you’ve shown me?” Listen and obey Him. He knows and loves your kid. Enough to die for him. He won’t steer you wrong.
Getting your progeny through the teenage years is a “day at a time,” “situation at a time,” “decision at a time” thing. Do the next right thing . . . take the next step and don’t be in a hurry. You’ll look back someday and realize how precious and short this season really was.