Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Teenagers, ughhh! It’s a cry of frustration that most parents have had escape their lips at one time or another. They push and push the boundaries until you cry out in frustration. They rebel and dig their heels in, defying the rules and their parents, until you cry out in frustration. They whine and complain about going to church until you, say it with me now, cry out in frustration. What’s a parent to do?
Rebellion. Teenagers and rebellion – they go hand in hand. In fact you can rarely have the noun without the verb. Teenagers rebel; it’s what they do. (Sounds like a Geico Ad). The rebellion is a side effect of their growing. They aren’t kids anymore but at the same time they aren’t adults. They’re not sure what they are or even who. The rebellion is their way of testing the boundaries. How close to adult and how far from child. Where do they fit?
As parents, it is our job to enforce the boundaries without stifling them. We need to guide them without pushing them away. We need to allow them to find themselves without letting them get into trouble. How do we do that?
Dunsail: (noun) A useless part on a vessel. Popularized in the Star Trek episode “The Ultimate Computer” when Captain Kirk is referred to as “Captain Dunsail.”
Acceptance. First accept that they are growing up, and while they will always be your baby they are also their own person. They are NOT a mini version of you. Accept that they will make mistakes and make bad decisions. Basically, accept that your role has changed and that from now on you will be considered, at best, an advisor or, at worst, a last resort. You are, for all intents and purposes, surplus to requirements. You are a dunsail, embrace it.
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Love. Teenagers may act, or even say, that they neither want or need your love, but the truth is that they do. More than ever. They need you to love them enough to let them make their own mistakes. They need you to love them enough to help them cope with the consequences of those mistakes without judgment. But most importantly, they need you love them enough to NOT shield them from the fallout of their mistakes.
Three of my step-sons, and one of their friends, vandalized a ball field when we lived in Union City. There was security footage, but because it was winter and they were all bundled up, no one could identify them. No one, except my wife. She knew it was her kids as soon as she saw it. She sat them down, showed them the video, and told them that she knew it was them. She told them that she loved them and that because she loved them she was taking them to the State Police Barracks to turn themselves in. All three ended up on probation, and all three know that she loved them enough to NOT let them get away with breaking the law.
Choice. One of the easiest ways for teenagers to rebel in a Christian home is to rebel against church. They whine about going or they cause disruptions while there. It can sometimes make a parent feel as if they have failed. Take heart. Scripture says that if you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it when he is older. You’ve had them in church since they were babies. You’ve taught them the way. Now it is time to let them choose. Don’t make church attendance mandatory. Give your teen the option. Ask them, “will you be going to church with us?” If they say no, let them stay home.
I hated going to church when I was a teen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the place, especially because we were required to wear the dreaded “church clothes”. Then one day my dad said that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to, and that if I did go I could wear whatever I wanted. Now, I didn’t choose to go every week but when I did go, I got far more out of it. Plus, no more “church clothes”; it was a win-win.
A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.
Encourage. Encourage your teens to get involved in a Youth Ministry. It doesn’t have to be the one at your church. In fact you should encourage them to choose one that they feel is a good fit. One where they can learn and feel comfortable. One that you didn’t pick for them. This gives them some of the independence that they want and gives you a little piece of mind. It also allows them to develop the ability to make wise decisions.
Scripture says that a wise son brings his father joy, but how can a son prove his wisdom if not given a choice? My father gave me a choice when I was a teen and I hope that now, thirty years later, that I bring him joy.