Your child’s teen years should be some of the most enjoyable of your parenting years! I know, that’s a bold statement, but hang with me!
Practically speaking, there are a million reasons to enjoy the teen years. Your kids can finally feed themselves (unless you have boys.) They can finally clean their own room (of course, it sometimes takes death threats.) They can finally drive themselves some place (though teaching them to do so will put you into cardiac care for a few days.) They can converse about serious things with adult perspective (again, unless you have boys—they mostly just grunt.) And, their fresh and youthful sense of humor can provide some welcomed comic relief from the all-too-serious aspects of adult life (unless, like me, you are usually the butt of the jokes.)
All kidding aside—having teens is an awesome, wonderful, challenging, enjoyable, incredible privilege and delight! But there are some critical principles to surviving these years. Here are some quick ideas for breaking the mold and actually enjoying being the parent of teenagers:
1. Choose Your Battle Grounds Carefully—God’s Word says, Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Col. 3:21) One of the ways we can provoke our kids to anger is by arguing with them over things that are simply unimportant. All too often, parents are selfish and strong-willed, which leads to arguments over pettiness. Save your strong stands for principles and values, and give in graciously on matters of preference—like whether or not broccoli was ever meant to be eaten. (The answer to that one is “no.”) (And by the way, a bad spirit is always wrong and should always be dealt with, regardless of why it’s being expressed.)
2. Be Willing to Say “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”—Let’s face it, sometimes we parents are wrong. We can jump to conclusions. We can misunderstand and over-react. We can panic and be easily frustrated. It’s in us. We care, and whether out of fear or flesh, we don’t always express that care rationally when under stress. The good news is, our kids don’t expect us to be perfect—just real. When you blow it, own it. Go back, say “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. Think of it this way—What right do I have to be respected when I’m right, if I can’t admit when I’m wrong? There will be frequent issues between you and your teen—but those issues are neutralized if they are resolved. Constantly pursue resolution. The goal isn’t a conflict free relationship. That doesn’t exist on planet Earth. The goal is to resolve the conflict so that love and closeness can be retained!
3. Plan Family Fun—Every teenager likes to have fun, and every parent needs to get back in touch with their inner teenager. Be honest parent—you’re not all that different now than when you were a teenager. You just grew up (although in my case, my wife would argue that point.) Sure, life is serious and there are plenty of things for you to worry about, but on a regular basis, you and your teenager need to set that all aside and just have fun together. Sit down, look at your calendar regularly, and ask yourself this question: “When is this family going to have fun together?” If there aren’t recent memories of fun, and soon plans for more—fix it immediately.
4. Schedule Your Life to Deal with the Challenges—Have you ever noticed that teens years and adult-mid-life crisis often hit at the same time in a family. Marriage struggles and high-school graduation coincide too often for it to be mere “coincidence.” If you have teens, your family and your marriage is probably enduring more stress than ever—financially, relationally, spiritually. Just the seeing the schedule of a family with teenagers and working parents could give a hummingbird a heart-attack. With all of this, we tend to reserve very little energy for family relationships. Yet, to enjoy the teen years you must deliberately schedule your life so that your kids and your marriage gets some of your best time. And you must expect the unique challenges of this season of life, and ask God daily for wisdom in navigating them successfully.
5. Deliberately Cultivate Common Interests—What common ground are you cultivating with your teenager? What unites your hearts? Do you pray together? Do you serve the Lord together in ministry or go soul winning together? Do you enjoy watching the same sports teams, learning the same hobbies, reading the same books, or sharing the same adventures? Teens and their parents should deliberately share common interests and experiences that bond their hearts and create life-long memories. Find out what your teen enjoys, and pour yourself into that interest together. That heart will connect with you on a new level!
6. Exercise Controlled, Consistent, and Biblical Discipline When Needed—Outbursts, loss of control, temper flares, and anger all kill your ability to discipline correctly. Flying off the handle greatly diminishes your authority in your teens eyes. Teens expect discipline, but they also have a keen sense of what’s right and honorable—and what isn’t (even if they are hypocritical about their own inconsistencies.) Our kids use our inconsistencies to rationalize their own. Poor discipline wounds the heart and distances the relationship. Biblical discipline instructs the heart and strengthens the relationship. Be reasonable. Be a good listener. Seek to understand. And hand out discipline with a firm but compassionate posture.
7. Display Affection and Compassion to Your Teenager—If you didn’t grow up in a loving, expressive, affectionate family, I’m very sorry. Your parents should have told you they loved you and shown affection to you. But PLEASE—don’t use that as a lame excuse not to be what you should be. Every parent has the capacity to be loving and expressive. The only reason not to be is pride. So, swallow hard, and start hugging. Say “I love you” frequently and generously. Wrap your arms around your teenager and say, “I wish I could find the words to tell you how much I love you!” If that’s awkward—just do it. After about fifty times, it won’t be any more.
8. Stay On Your Knees—The battles of the teen years are primarily won through prayer together. (There’s another article on this coming soon.) Prayer brings all the powers of Heaven to bear in your relationship, and in the life of your teenager. Nothing could be more powerful or more life-changing.
9. Seek to Understand Your Teen—”You don’t understand! You just don’t get it!” That’s their line. That’s what they really think. And we all know they are wrong. We do get it, but apparently we haven’t convinced them. Hearing that line should simply be a warning light on their dashboard that flashes, “Listen longer!” Sit down, open your heart, and let them speak. Ask lots of questions. Create comfortable environments—non-threatening, safe zones where anything can be shared and discussed. Ask God for wisdom. You can’t go wrong listening!
10. Stay in the Battle—Staying in the battle for the heart of your teen says, “I care about you.” Giving up, walking away, or just sending them to their room says, “I don’t care—I’m too tired, I don’t have time for you.” Stay up late. Take long walks. Sit in a restaurant booth all night if you have to. Let your teenager know that you aren’t giving up the fight for their heart. Tough love refuses to give up.
Hey parent—don’t just “hang in there” during the teen years. Enjoy them! Savor them! They truly are some of the best years of the parenting journey. And during those frustrating moments, just remember, this is all going somewhere. One day, that kid is going to give you grandkids—which will be fun for you on a number of levels—especially when they become teens and start giving their parents a taste of their own medicine! (Which probably means, we’re just getting a taste of our own right now!)
(And all of our parents are saying, “Amen!”)