Tips for Parenting Teens
I once went on a training programme about drugs and young people. At the back of the handbook there was a long list of symptoms that might indicate drug use: mood swings, excessive tiredness, staying out late, losing interest in previous hobbies, bad skin, irritability, avoiding spending time with the family, clumsiness, poor communication – and then the caution: ‘Any one of these could be normal teenage behaviour!’
If you’ve already got a teen, you may be nodding wisely at this point. Parenting teens feels like a whole new ball game and there are no guarantees. Add to this the challenge of faith and church and you might feel like diving back under the duvet until it’s all over and they emerge, hopefully balanced young adults in ten years’ time.
But don’t despair! It may be uncharted waters and choppy at times, but this is your child emerging into the amazing adult they are designed to be. It takes time and it’s a journey, so hang on in there!
Here’s some of the wisdom I gleaned from others who were just a little bit further along the parenting journey.
- Don’t forget to enjoy your teen! It may be uncharted waters and choppy at times, but this is your child emerging into the amazing adult they are designed to be. It takes time and it’s a journey, so hang on in there!
- It may feel as if you have lost all influence over your teen, but statistics show that parents are still the strongest influence on teenagers – and actually, they will watch you like a hawk, even if they don’t tell you! So if you can be and do what you want your teen to be and do, it will make a difference.
- Wear your faith on the outside – help them see what a grown up faith looks like, in the good times and the difficult times. Talk about the difference it makes, about how you and God relate, how you see God working.
- Boundaries – they love ‘em! Even though a 10pm curfew may be greeted with a roll of the eyes and a groan, boundaries don’t just let your teen know what you think is best, but it proves that you care. Even better, if you are known as a parent who sets boundaries, it’s easier for your teen to say, ‘I can’t – my parents wouldn’t let me.’ So set the boundaries you need to, and if you can, involve your teen in agreeing what they are. It’s also useful to remind them that if they keep to the boundaries, they will prove themselves trustworthy and you will feel confident about giving them more freedom in the future.
- Seize the opportunity to talk when they need to – and be prepared for this to be at the most inconvenient time, often very late at night. You can sometimes create opportunities for chatting by suggesting a walk together or when driving somewhere. Watching TV or a film or looking at social media may also be a time when you could wonder together about how the characters behave or respond, or open the door to conversations about big topics – sex, friendship, drugs etc. Start those big conversations way before you need to so that you’re not suddenly trying to introduce the rather tricky topic of sex and boundaries because they’ve just started going out with their first girlfriend or boyfriend. That way they’ll have had time to evaluate and process your views so that they are making informed choices about their behaviour and responses.
- Make your home an open home – welcome their friends, provide endless piles of food, drinks, allow them to take over the lounge. You’ll be modelling hospitality and you’ll get to know who they are hanging around with. And very often, you’ll be able to be a friend to their friends too and sometimes provide a bit of stability or wisdom that they need.
- At church, do all you can to help them build relationships with wise adults. The Sticky Faith people cite some research which suggests that five adults speaking into a teen’s life makes a huge difference to their understanding of faith. So come along to those church socials, invite people round for lunch, take your teen to that inconvenient Sunday evening group, get to know others, prioritise attending church.
- Look for opportunities for your teen to do real mission – that way they get the excitement of serving God and seeing lives changed, not just hearing about him and singing songs. Real mission could mean going to Africa – or it could mean joining in with your church’s community service weekend, serving on team at a summer camp, being on a rota at church or working out how your family could put others first at Christmas. In fact, it’s the low key week in, week out serving that impacts the most, rather than the big trips or high profile events. Look out for your teen’s passion and help them find ways to act on that.
- Pray for them! Now, for the next stage, for their relationships, for their future spouses. Even if all you can see is a moody, grunting, man-child who seems not to care about anything or an anxious appearance-obsessed teen driven by their peers, have faith that their Father God loves them even more than you do, wants the best for them and has a most wonderful and magnificent plan for their lives.