Today’s guest post is written by Pamela Fahs. Pamela lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband of 22 years, Thomas, and their four children. “In another lifetime,” Pamela trained and worked as a child clinical psychotherapist specializing in sexual abuse of very young children, but since 2001 she has enjoyed being a homeschooling mom to Cameron (who is now in college), Riley, Ava, and Quinn. She enjoys serving the Lord with Thomas by directing a local homeschooling tutorial, a homeschooling theatre ministry, and Vacation Bible School at Columbia Presbyterian Church. But her favorite things include hanging out with her teenage daughter and watching her man and boys play and coach basketball and baseball.
I have three teenagers — aged 19, 16, and 14 — and I adore them. They are each uniquely gifted, bright, and fun. Yes, sometimes, my teens drive me batty. As of late, one of my sons has been going through a moody, whiny phase that makes him a bit of an unbearable Eeyore. Another one has been treating our 10-year-old son like the household pet. So, yes, sometimes things feel pretty crazy with my teenagers. But . . .
- They still hold my hand in public.
- We are extremely close, and talk about everything — even the hard stuff.
- At home, while they really like their own space much of the time, often they want to be in the two square feet immediately surrounding me.
- And I consider them among my most favorite people to be with.
So many people diss teenagers. Many assume that teenagers are horrible balls of hormones and angst, and that once kids hit the teen years, they no longer want a relationship with their parents. But these things just aren’t necessarily true. No, teens aren’t terrible! And there are several things parents can do to nurture relationships with their teens.
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
Strong parent-teenager relationships don’t occur overnight. To enjoy a strong relationship with your kids when they’re teenagers, begin building those relationships with them when they’re younger — and then don’t stop when they reach the teen years. It is crucial to establish a relationship with children based on God’s truth and grace when they are young, but perhaps it is even more critical to continue parenting in that same truth and grace as your children enter the teen years. The verses “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1) and “Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) are applicable from the time our children are infants through their teen years and beyond. If we expect obedience of our little ones, we shouldn’t alter that just because they reach the teen years. Likewise, just as we work, with God’s grace, not to provoke our children to anger and frustration when they are young, we should continue so when they are teenagers. Here are some ideas for fostering relationships with young children and continuing with them into their teens:
- Find activities you enjoy with your young children and adapt and continue those activities as they grow. My daughter and I have avidly watched black and white TV shows since she was a little girl. Now that she is a teenager, we still love watching I Love Lucy, but in recent years, we’ve added The Dick Van Dyke Show. I began taking my first-born son on mommy-son dinner dates when he was as young as three, and now that he is a 19-year-old adult, we still look forward to sushi dates and trying new restaurants.
- Moms of little ones often plan playdates for their young children. Don’t stop helping them plan playdates when they are older; just call them something different, like “hangouts.” If your home is the place your children want to be with their friends when they are younger, keep fostering that as they grow so that your home will still be the place they want to bring their friends when they are teens. Our home is often the gathering place for our sons’ buddies, and my husband and I are thrilled when the boys opt to sit and chat for a while with us about their lives before heading down to the basement for their hangout time.
- Most importantly, foster a practice of really talking to your kids when they’re young. Talking to your young children about everyday things and hard things with no off-limit subjects will make it much easier for you to continue talking to them about the everyday things and hard things when they are teenagers.
Tell your teen “NO” and SET loving boundaries
“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.” Proverbs 29:17
Boundaries are loving. Our Heavenly Father has set loving boundaries for us, and we should do the same for our teens. Boundaries about what they should watch, with whom they should hang out, how they should spend their time, and what is acceptable as far as their schoolwork is concerned — these are all loving boundaries when enforced with grace. In his excellent book Grace-Based Parenting, Tim Kimmel explains that giving our kids everything they want is permissiveness, and if we are too permissive with our children, they grow up to be selfish, resentful teenagers. But when we give our teens boundaries that address their hearts (rather than just their behaviors), we teach them to honor the Lord’s authority. Some questions to use when helping your teen to understand boundaries you’ve set include,
Would this please God? This question helps teens understand that certain choices are in line with what God wants for their lives, while other choices are sinful and ultimately harm their relationship with Jesus.
Is this good for your heart? This question helps teens understand that their choices affect and reflect their feelings, their beliefs, their understandings, their motivations, and their Christian character.
Does this glorify God? Related to the first question, this question challenges teens to consider if Jesus is getting the glory in their decision or if they are.
What would this tell people about someone who believes in Jesus? This question points teens to the realization that all their behaviors, if they profess Jesus as Lord, speak to the world about who Jesus is — or Who He isn’t depending on their behaviors.
RESPECT YOUR TEEN
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
The best way to get your teens to respect you is for you to respect them. As kids grow into their teen years and are trying to figure out who they are, parents help them by respecting and gracefully guiding them. This means a few things:
- Seek first to understand them. Listen to your teens. Seek to understand their thoughts before seeking to have them understand yours.
- Give them opportunity to save face. Our teens are sinners just as we are. They will sin. But just as Jesus has extended us His loving grace, we should give our teens the opportunity to come to us, repent, and talk about it. One of my mothering mentors promises her teens that they will not be punished for telling the truth about their sin. Yes, there are natural consequences for sinful behavior, but this mother has fostered an environment where her children can talk with her as they repent and seek forgiveness.
- Call out your kids about the hard things, but always with a focus on helping them, and always following up with assurances that you love them. As loving parents, we must exhort and correct our children, but we must be careful not to focus on our anger, disappointment, or embarrassment. Rather, we should guide our teens in honestly considering the sins and character flaws they need to deal with. This is how we help shape their character.
- Make it your goal to let your teens know that you trust them. As parents, we want to trust our teens and feel confident about the decisions they make. Let them know when you trust them. Let them know when you’re proud of the choices they’re making. I never would have imagined that I would allow my teenage son to stay home alone while the rest of our family went out of town, but one New Year’s Eve when he very much wanted to stay back from a family trip so that he could celebrate with his friend group, we allowed it, knowing that we could trust him to make wise decisions while we were away. We even allowed him to have a couple of his buddies stay at the house with him. It was wonderful to know that he had chosen godly young men as his closest friends, and it was equally wonderful to communicate to him — and his friends — that we trusted them.
Yes, parenting teens comes with great challenges. Nonetheless, our teenagers can be some of God’s greatest gifts to us. They certainly are for me.