Somewhere in my house was a contract my oldest daughter signed when she was 11 or 12, promising her mother and me that she would not drive us crazy when she became a teenager. The month she turned 17, I tried desperately to find that contract. “Where is that contract?” I said. “I want it—now!”
Bill Cosby was right when he said that babies are guilty of false advertising. You bring home this tiny bundle of baby-powdered wonder and marvel over every gurgle, coo, and burp—only to have that same child grumble, sass, and dump all over you fourteen or so years later. The sweet little hair bows parents glue onto the hairless domes of their baby girls? False advertising! The ridiculously small shoelets that cover those adorable tiny feet? False advertising! The way babies squeal, kick, and rotate their arms like windmills in a hurricane when they see you? False advertising! The little crumb snatchers who steal your heart when they’re small enough to fit in the bend of your elbow grow up, sometimes breaking your heart in the process.
But teenagers can be a lot of fun too. With a little laughter, grace, and a lot of prayer, you can survive and even thrive during the teen years. Here are a few suggestions.
1 Lighten up.
You needn’t consider every conflict with your teenagers a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil upon which the destiny of the universe depends. Give your teens room to make some of their own choices—and mistakes. Also, choose your battles wisely. As long as no one is bleeding, I’m usually satisfied.
And keep a good sense of humor. I remember teaching Candice how to drive a car with a manual transmission. Now that was funny! Believe me, there are plenty of times when things get “heavy,” so seize the moments to laugh together. Remember, when it comes to teens, “a cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
2 Admit mistakes.
Saying “I’m sorry” when we blow it is never easy. Saying it to your teen is even harder. Why? Pride. As parents, we want to be “right.” To always be in control and never surrender the reins of authority. Consequently, often when we have a conniption fit, we force our children to live with the consequences even when we know we’re in the wrong.
So if you’re wrong, admit it to your teen and ask forgiveness. And be specific. Don’t just say “I’m sorry.” Tell your teen what you’re sorry for. Say “It was wrong for me to scream at the top of my lungs like a maniac. I was out of control, and I apologize.” Such apologies fulfill the Bible admonition to “confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16). This will go a long way toward establishing your teenager’s trust in you. It will teach both of you that adults need grace as much as children do.
3 Be consistent, firm, and fair.
Set fair boundaries, and be consistent in how you enforce them. Once a rule is established, get your teen to “sign on” and agree to it. My wife, Suzette, and I occasionally call a family council to discuss a rule we’re wanting to implement. After spelling out the whys and wherefores, we open the floor for discussion. Once we’re satisfied that the rule is reasonable and understandable, we move forward with everyone’s agreement. This makes enforcement easier, and no one can say, “You never said that before!”
Sometimes, it’s hard to be consistent. My resolve tends to weaken in the face of tears and pouting. But Suzette—a.k.a. “The Terminator”— keeps me from caving in and reminds me that we need to present a united front. This is very important. Children do try to play one parent against the other. Don’t fall for it! Agree ahead of time with your spouse that you will back each other up. And follow through on what you say. This helps children learn that Mom and Dad say what they mean and mean what they say.
4 Keep talking.
Hang on, scream, and be prepared to stare death in the face! But whatever you do, keep talking. Even if you have trouble understanding each other, keep the lines of communication open. Ask about the algebra test coming up. Keep up with the latest gossip within your child’s circle of friends. And be sure you make time for them to talk to you.
Family worship is a great time for catching up on the day. Sometimes we’d linger long past the usual fifteen minutes for worship, totally caught up in sharing the day’s news, events, and surprises.
If your teen gets moody and doesn’t want to talk, give him or her some room to be alone—for a while. But don’t let silence go unchallenged for long periods. Get them talking. Make sure they know that no subject is off limits. This will make it easier for your teen to open up about serious subjects such as sex and drugs. And don’t fail to talk up what your teen does right. Compliment their choice in clothes (if you can), and praise their accomplishments.
5 Pray, PRAY, PRAY!
Did I mention prayer? Teens have a way of bringing you to your knees. That’s OK! We’re never stronger than when we’re on our knees, helpless before God. You will often find your authority challenged, your judgment questioned, and your instructions ignored. You need to pray. Pray for wisdom to know how to parent the child you’ve been given (see James 1:5).
And here’s a shocker: keep praying with your teenager.
I know what you’re saying: “My teenager? Pray? With me?” Yes. I haven’t lost my mind. Pray with your teenager. When the kids are small, prayers and worship time come easily. Something changes, though, as they grow. When they start driving, earning their own money, going out with their friends, etc., they start to establish their own identity and seem to be less interested in spiritual things. But this is precisely why and when you need to keep their spiritual connection to God strong by continuing to pray with them.
For a while, Suzette and I stopped “tucking Candice in” with prayers at bedtime. She was hitting that teenage coolness, and we didn’t press the issue. However, we began feeling that we were abdicating our responsibility of keeping spiritual things in front of our daughter, so we began inviting her into our room for prayers at night. Candice was reluctant at first, coming more out of a sense of duty than delight. But then something wonderful happened. The first night we missed inviting her in for prayers, she came in on her own and asked, “Aren’t we going to have prayer?” Suzette and I smiled at each other and breathed a prayer of thanks for what God was doing through this simple act of devotion.
These five suggestions may not smooth your way with your teenager. Some children have deep-seated psychological problems. Divorce, abuse, neglect, and violence leave deep emotional scars. A child with a substance-abuse or anger problem or with ADD may be turning your home into a war zone. In cases of serious rebellion, you may need to seek professional help from Christian counselors, gather some trusted friends to pray for your family, and even take the serious step of temporarily removing the child from the home. Whatever you do, give the outcome to God, asking Him to hold your family in His arms as you ride through the storm.
I’m very proud of our daughter. She used to drive me crazy, yet she still thought her parents were kinda cool and worth listening to. And we think she was pretty cool too—most of the time. However, I never did find that contract!
Here are some tips on how to
listen to your teenager better.
- Really listen when they talk to
you. Stop what you’re doing, look
them in the eye, and don’t
- Avoid angry or impatient body
language. Don’t roll your eyes or
- Appreciate that your adolescents
have a different worldview. Treat
them as you would a friend, and
respect their opinions. They may
have very well-thought-through
opinions that are just different
- Avoid sarcasm, criticism, and
- Use “I” statements rather than
“you” statements. For example,
don’t say, “You’re so inconsiderate.
You never tell me where you’re
going.” Instead, say: “If I don’t know
where you are, I worry about you.”
- Don’t assume or try to mind read.
Instead, listen. Adolescents will
stop talking if you don’t listen