The teenage phase is the most challenging stage of parenting. I speak from experience. My wife and I have raised four teenagers. We’ve also led a parent of teens small group for many years.
If you have young children and think that you’ll be spared the challenges of raising teens because you’re doing things right now, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointments.
But ignorance is bliss, so enjoy it while it lasts! I am not predicting gloom and doom or suggesting that fate controls everything, but there are no secret formulas for avoiding the challenging terrain of parenting teens.
When we had babies and toddlers, older parents would tell us to “Enjoy them while they’re young.” But they always said this with a facial expression and tone that made us feel the worst was yet to come. We had no clue! It was hard for me to imagine anything more challenging than dealing with a baby and a two year old at the same time. By the time we had three, carting the kids and baby paraphernalia from place to place made going out as a family a major operation. It often amazed me how life could be controlled by a special “pluggy” or “blankey.” More than once, we turned back for home because we forgot one of those essential items.
Enjoy them while they’re young? I thought these parents had their wires crossed. Thankfully, my wife was great with the young stage of family life. But there were many times I wondered how it could get more challenging than raising babies and toddlers. Then we had teenagers. Don’t misunderstand, I love our kids, and they’ve turned out to be great young adults. But this stage of parenting was very challenging and stressful. The variety of issues parents encounter can be exhausting.
In her book, “And Then I Had Teenagers,” Susan Yates focuses on many of these issues. “Sex, dating, curfews, drugs, grades, driving, money, TV, movies, the Internet, music. Help! Won’t somebody please tell me how to handle all these ‘Hot Topics’?”
Looking at this phase, Yates confessed, “In a way I pictured our family like a giant jigsaw puzzle. After an overwhelming start on those two thousand puzzle pieces, I had finally managed to put the border together. And I had a pile of green puzzle pieces that looked like they would fit together to complete one section of the puzzle. My puzzle seemed to be falling nicely into place. And then I had teenagers. And I felt like someone had picked up my carefully laid out puzzle and dumped it out all over the floor again.”
When the children were younger, it was much easier to define and enforce our standards. A favorite expression for parents of teens is “Choose your battles carefully.” If you don’t, the home can feel more like a battlefield than a haven. Keeping rooms clean, music volume down (Someone said that a sign of maturity comes when they learn that the volume button turns to the left), monitoring friendships and choosing effective forms of punishment, —these are a few of the issues faced by parents of teens. Add to this, school grades, employment, use of time, money and the family car; choice of clothing, sharing household responsibilities—it’s exhausting thinking about it!
Then there are mood swings. “What is going on?” Yates asked herself. “My family is being held hostage by the roller-coaster moods of a self-centered teenager. It is not a fun place to be. How should we handle this? Do we ride it out or confront it head on? Who is controlling the atmosphere in our home? Is it our moody teen or her parents? How can we provide an encouraging atmosphere in our home during the turbulent teen years?”
When our children were young, we asked them about their day, and got the details. When they became teens, sometimes they’d tell us; other times they would grunt and wonder why we needed to know so much and ask so many questions. As parents of teens, we worry about whether we are adequately preparing our children for life in the real world. We begin to see our time of influence slipping away. How can we maximize our opportunities when they are pushing away to establish their independence?
Many parents feel overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of raising teenagers. I highly recommend being part of a group of parents who are going through the same phase. In our Church, the youth pastor and his team minister to the youth while the parents meet to support each other. They provide other adult mentors for our teens; we help each other stay on course, and share the challenges and blessings of parenting teens.Sometimes, as a group, we purposefully focus on signs of encouragement to help us keep things in perspective.
We fully agree with Yates that, “Your children’s teen years can be the best of your life. It is important in the midst of the difficulties to look for the blessings. It’s all too easy to focus on the problems and overlook the good things that are happening. If we take time to thank God for specific blessing, he lifts the anxiety and restores our perspective.”
As you parent your teens, look to “the God who gives endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:5), and make the most of the opportunities in this adventuresome and brief season of life.
Regulating Behavior or winning hearts
“I am afraid that most parents of teenagers have the regulation of their teenagers’ behavior as their most basic goal. They fear the big three vices of the teen years: drugs and alcohol, sex, and dropping out of school. They want to do anything they can to keep these from happening. So they look for ways to control their teenagers’ behavior.”
“They do whatever is necessary to maintain control of their choices and activities. They spend much of their time doing detective work. They are more like police than parents. They seek to motivate by guilt, by fear, or by manipulation. As parents we need to confess to the fear that causes us to try to do God’s job.”
“It is a short-term victory at best to control the behavior of a teen whose heart is not submissive to God. Surely, the moment that he is out from under our system of control, he will begin to act in ways that are more consistent with the true thoughts and motives of his heart. …He will no longer do what is right, because the right that he did was forced on him by the external parental control. His heart had never changed.” (From: Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Second Edition, by Paul David Tripp)