How to Raise Godly Teenagers
The ship is about to leave harbor. Preparations need to be made.
Yet all too often, preparations are being made with tsunami-sized waves beating against the side of the ship, threatening to rip it apart at the seams. Even worse, the ship may sail early, in an effort to get away at any cost. Often with dire results.
So how do you weather the coming of age of your teenagers while accomplishing these preparations that allow the ship to sail on time – not too early or too late?
Whole books have been written on this touchy subject. I don’t want to over-simplify the issue here.
There’s no way to cover the multitude of issues that are part of this stage of life and parenting – academics, career options, how to choose good friends and a spouse, housekeeping (will your sons know how to do their own laundry and basic cooking when they’re on their own at college?), personal finance, basic car/home repair and maintenance, and more.
Since each of these issues ultimately depends on one foundational “biggie,” we’ll focus on that one here: relationships.
[Note to parents of young children: Read this NOW… it could save you a lot of grief later. It’s far better to be proactive and know what’s ahead, than it is to be reactive because you’ve been taken by surprise.]
Not a Time for Parents to Shrink Back or Act Immature
Your parenting skills will probably never be tested like they are during the teen years. But despite the challenges, you’re still the best person to actively parent your teens. This is definitely NOT the time to quit, give up, act based on your own insecurities, etc.
No doubt you’re familiar with Proverbs 22:6, which tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This suggests that you’ve been an avid student of your child throughout his life, and are adjusting your parenting methods based on his particular bent. It also suggests that you’ve “broken his will” by the time he’s five, as Dr. James Dobson has discussed many times,. Note: his will, not his spirit.
Ask yourself, “Does my 5-year-old obey what I ask him to do?” If the answer is “No,” expect the problems to magnify during the teen years.
As your teens pursue their personal independence, in anticipation of setting sail on their own, it will likely demand more maturity and godliness from you than ever before.
This is no place for wimps… that’s for sure.
Being a Mature Parent is Harder than You Ever Imagined
Adolescents have an incredible ability to stir up strong emotions in their parents… and those emotions can make truly loving your children the most serious challenge you’ll ever face.
I’ve seen five children through this stage, and I’m pretty sure I got it wrong most of the time. They just seem to push your buttons so often, which tends to open up your own old wounds from the past.
To make matters worse, both parents and teens create their own plans for how they want their life to unfold.
Parents often create plans that they think will protect their own self-image or cover past hurts. Too often, we’ve buried our pain, and we don’t realize the amount of contempt that’s hiding just under the surface, waiting to explode. Contempt we don’t want anyone to know about, because it hurts too much to expose it.
Meanwhile, teens are usually busy creating plans that can’t work without buy-in from their parents. But what happens when your plans are diametrically opposed to your teenager’s plans?
Nothing causes parents to question the direction and purpose of their own lives like the presence of a teen in the family. And the true test of a parent’s love is how they relate to their teens.
The Universal Core Desire
“What a person desires is unfailing love,” says Proverbs 19:22. Truer words were never spoken. That is the yearning hidden in the heart of every man, woman, and child. So we can safely say it’s true of both parents and adolescents.
Yet often, by the time a child hits adolescence, he’s already learned to deal with his unmet desires by numbing them. Burying them.
Then, when those desires are awakened during adolescence, parents misinterpret them and respond in ways that encourage their child to bury or deny them again.
This creates a roadblock to one of the most important things an adolescent needs to discover – that his deepest desires can never be met anywhere except in a relationship with Christ.
No amount of good parenting, in and of itself, can fulfill those unsatisfied desires. Yet one of your most important functions during this tumultuous time is to help your child cope with the disappointments and confusion of adolescence… Which you can do by directing him towards God and helping him avoid worldly traps and temptations.
Regardless of a teen’s speech or behavior, a loving parent’s goal is to provide a home environment that can guide him toward finding biblical answers.
But here’s the rub…
Parents also have to deal with their own unmet desires. They often bring painful memories from their own teen years to the table. And that’s where things can really get messy.
What every parent and teen has in common, besides the universal desire for unfailing love, is that all have experienced the pain of failed relationships, because we live in a fallen world.
If parents want to raise godly teens, they must first deal with their own broken relationships and hurts. Only when parents deal with their own desires by acknowledging and directing them in healthy ways can they rightly deal with their kids’ desires.
What Happens When Parents Bury Their Past Hurts?
Most parents are still trapped in highly self-protective styles of parenting, which are generally a reaction to how their own parents disappointed them. And they’re usually unaware of how this distorts their own parenting. And how they continue to function in a way that they believe will protect them from further hurt.
But continue this denial, and you’ll create a domino effect on future generations.
I grew up as a P.K. (preacher’s kid), and my father’s church conference moved us around – a lot! By the time I graduated from high school, I’d attended 8 schools in 12 years. I learned early on that life would only work if I “made friends” without getting close to anyone, to make moving less painful.
Unfortunately, as an adult, that manifested as: “Life will work, as long as I don’t allow myself to need others.” People often still view me as someone who can take or leave ”having friends.” Aloof. Private.
As a homeschool mom heavily invested in my children, their inevitable “pulling away” was torturous for me. It freaked me out, in fact.
As a result, many of my actions were unwitting attempts to use my children to numb my own pain. Instead of turning to the Lord and asking Him to satisfy my deepest desire for unfailing love.
Parents and teens have a huge impact on each other – for good or for bad.
If we, as parents, ignore the deep parts of our personalities and our past hurts, we end up demanding that our children fulfill desires that only God can truly meet.
And that makes the parent-teen relationship rocky at best. Not to mention that everyone then stays stuck in hurt and mediocrity.
Your Teens Want to Talk – And Be Respected!
Kevin Huggins, author of Parenting Adolescents, speaks of a doctor who works with chemically dependent teens. As they’re discharged, the doctor asks, “What do you think your parents could have done to prevent you from becoming chemically dependent?”
One girl said, “There ought to be a law that makes parents and their kids sit down and talk together for an hour every evening.”
Shocking as it might sometimes seem, her comment aligns with other studies that show that teens desperately want to hang out with their parents. They even how often name their parents as their personal heroes.
But they also long for meaningful dialogue, not just superficial conversations.
They’re coming into their own, and want to have an impact on the world. This is a tremendous opportunity for you to engage them and challenge them to grow and develop in ways they may not even think possible right now.
To that end, learn to ask questions that will cause them to reflect (and answer in complete sentences). Here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:
What do you hope to accomplish by that course of action / by responding that way?
Can you tell me what your train of thought was when you made that decision?
What would prevent you from responding this way?
What do we do well as parents, and what can we do differently?
How do you think we should respond when you make choices that may not be in your best interest?
What can we do to help you be successful in high school?
What can we do to help you prepare for life after high school?
If you could change one rule or guideline in our home, what would you change and why?
If you could fast-forward to your college graduation and choose any job, what would you choose and why? What do you think you could do today to get that job in the future?
What’s the last thing you cried about? What made it better?
What’s the best news you could hear right now? The worst?
What are the qualities of a great friend? Or spouse?
If you’re not already talking with your teen on an ongoing basis, set up a regular hangout date – be it for coffee, shopping, at home, or whatever. It doesn’t matter where, as long as you talk.
Be proactive here. Take yourself off the pedestal and admit that you have faults and struggles of your own (past and present). If you can do that, you enable your teenager to tone down his efforts at finding the chinks in your armor.
The years from 12 to 21 are full of life-molding and life-changing choices. These choices are made in a world of nearly infinite possibilities and influences.
The single most important key to parenting a godly teenager is to be a godly parent. Only then can you help equip your teen to set sail at the right time, with the right equipment, headed in the right direction.
And only then can you help create a multi-generational family heritage.