How do I parent my teenager?!?

Parenting is a lot easier when your children are still in your bubble.  Sure, each stage has its scary parts.  I remember when my sons were babies and I would watch them sleep just to make sure they were still breathing.  The first time they slept through the night, I woke up repeatedly just to check on them.  When they were toddlers, I child-proofed my house to keep them safe from sharp objects, choking hazards, poison, and the list goes on.  When they got a little older and they were walking home from school on their own, I would remind them over and over again not to accept a ride from anyone except a very short list of loved ones. When they entered the teen years the stakes got a lot bigger! I actually had to start trusting them to make good choices on their own when I wasn’t there to oversee them.  I had to warn them about the dangers of sex and drugs and driving and a whole bunch of really scary stuff with far-reaching consequences. Allowing them to learn from their mistakes developed a whole new meaning that is quite frankly terrifying!

I’m still in the trenches looking back on the things I wish I’d have done better over the years and pleading with God to help me parent these teenagers so that they grow into godly young men.  How do I prepare them to be ready to soar when it’s time to leave the nest?  How do I prepare myself to be ready to let them go?  Five words come to mind – intercede, instruct, interfere, influence and inspire.

INTERCEDE – By far the most important thing we can do for our children at any and every stage is to pray for them!  I have prayed specific prayers for my kids throughout their lives and I have seen God answer my prayers!  I have prayer cards that have evolved over time but that I have continually blanketed my children with through the years.  I have prayed God’s own words back to him as I asked him to surround my children with his angels (Psalm 91:11) and reminded him that he promised that no one could snatch them from his hands. (John 10:28) I have prayed for their teachers, coaches, friends, etc. and asked God to surround them with Godly people that would help them grow in godly living. I have prayed for them to develop discernment and to have a Holy Spirit convicted conscience in order to see things as he sees them. I’ve prayed for them to get caught if they wander into trouble. (Numbers 32:23) (I like to remind my children that I pray this one because we’ve all seen it answered more than once!) I’ve prayed for them to find their purpose according to God’s will.  I’ve prayed for their future spouses.  For their worldview.  Their health.  Lately I’ve been praying one powerful prayer that covers it all – Lord, intervene!

INSTRUCT – Our children never stop needing our guidance and instruction.  No matter what age they are, they’re wading into territory that we’ve already muddled through and we have a much better idea than they do of how to tackle the terrain.  When our children reach the teenage years, the things we must instruct them about can sometimes be uncomfortable.  I’m so thankful that I was able to lay a foundation of communication with my kids that makes it a little easier to discuss the very real dangers they will be confronted with as they get older.  They are going to hear all about these things from school, the media, their friends, etc.  As they begin to form their own opinions about all these areas they need to know what God’s Word says about them.  They need to hear the truth about drugs and alcohol or they’ll just think it’s a way to have fun.  They need to hear the truth about pre-marital sex or they’ll just thing that it’s something everyone’s doing.  They need to hear about hard work.  About putting other people first.  About living a life that glorifies their Savior.  Teenagers are developing a worldview that they will take into adulthood with them.  They are forming opinions based on the information that surrounds them. How will they form a Biblical worldview if God’s Word isn’t regularly injected into the equation?  We need to watch for every opportunity God gives us to share what the Bible says about a situation.  We need to speak the Word of God into their lives. We need to bring them to a Bible believing church and help them get involved.  This is when the cement is getting poured into the foundation, and if it’s not done correctly there will be catastrophic cracks somewhere down the line.

INTERFERE – Interfering in your child’s life when they’re young is easy.  You just re-direct a toddler when they’re having a tantrum, or you pick them up and move them when they’re closing in on danger.  Interfering in the life of your teenager is a lot harder.  You need to find the balance between allowing them to learn from their own mistakes and protecting them from the big ones while you still can.  As parents, sometimes it is our job to get in their way.  We need to set appropriate boundaries and we need to expect them to follow them.  We need to determine where there is no compromise and draw lines in the sand that when crossed will lead to consequences.  We need to remember that we are still their parents (not their friends, yet) and that we know better.  If our teenager is careening down a path that could lead to trouble we must step in and stop them.  The term “tough love” comes to mind here.  And it is a lot harder to accomplish with a child that’s likely bigger than you.  I remember when I finally decided to let my oldest son “cry it out” as an older baby.  He had figured out how to manipulate his mama and I was not getting any sleep as I jumped up at his every whimper.  The first night I decided to let him cry, I sat outside the bedroom door and cried myself.  That was tough love!  (It worked, though, and we were both better off.)  As our kids get older, tough love could be a lot more painful but if we let them live in their mistakes and protect them from the consequences, we are potentially setting us both up for much more pain in the future.

INFLUENCE – Our kids have always watched what we do and no matter how much we try to tell them to “do as I say, not as I do” they will learn much of their behavior from watching us.  It’s crazy to see how much they act like us.  Teenagers start to see themselves as “little adults” and suddenly the choices we make become a guidepost for our kids.  They will talk like we talk.  Respond to situations like we do.  Drive like we do.  Work like we do.  They are watching us, and they do not appreciate the hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do”.  It’s also a lot harder to look your teenager in the eye and try to tell them that just because mom or dad yells when they’re mad, they shouldn’t. Or just because mom or dad texts when they’re driving, they shouldn’t. Or just because mom or dad drinks too much sometimes, they shouldn’t.  Just think of the difference it would make if we expected our children to act in a way that we ourselves act. We are a living, breathing example for our kids of what an adult should look like.  Are we providing the right example?

INSPIRE – As we stumble through the parenting minefield, we must also remember to encourage and inspire our children.  God created them to be uniquely who they are.  He gives them passions, talents and opportunities to accomplish things for his Kingdom.  We need to help them to understand that none of it is random. That if they live in line with God’s will he can use them mightily.  Understanding this will go a long way towards helping them to be who God created them to be.  We need to pay attention to what makes our children tick and then help them to hone their God-given gifts and abilities.  We need to help them learn to see and to take advantage of the opportunities God gives them.  We need to edify them not in a way that makes them boastful, but in a way that reminds them that they can do anything by the power of Christ in them. (Philippians 4:13)

As we set out to parent our children the best we can, we need to remember that we’re not in it alone.  God loves our kids more than we do and he will help us if we lean on him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. – Isaiah 40:11

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