A hundred years ago, the term teenager wasn’t used—at least not in everyday circles. Instead, people were either children or adults, usually distinguished by marriage and/or “leaving the farm”. With the Industrial Revolution and mandatory high-school attendance, the gap years between 12 and 20 became something more significant. Now, teens could choose to go work in a factory or find employment outside of his father’s trade. Or, they would go to school their teen years and interact with peers and learn to drive a car.
“Until the early 1940s, independence was unthinkable until the adolescent was married, and at that juncture real independence was only possible if the parents were benevolent enough to help out financially” (Gary Chapman, Five Love Languages of Teenagers). The predominant purpose the teenager focuses on involves independence and identity, and neither one must be seen as negative traits. In fact, done in a healthy way, we want our kids to think, learn, and grow as God intended them to—not just duplicate a little me. The goal is to raise well-rounded, balanced kids who know how to stand on their own two feet.
To do this, we have to establish healthy boundaries, consistent consequences, gracious acceptance, and a safe place for kids to ask questions, including the really hard ones.
- Keep Communication Going
For example, around the table, we would encourage dialogue with open-ended questions (not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers) and help the kids to know that whatever is shared is trustworthy and kept in our hearts and not mocked or ridiculed.
Gary Chapman shares these two basic rules at the dinner table: Rule #1, “When one family member is talking, the others are listening sympathetically. Rule #2: The others may ask questions to clarify what they are hearing, but they don’t give advice unless the person who is sharing solicits it” (33).
I don’t know about you, but my kids are all too-ready to jump in with parental advice and training “reminders” that—ironically—they often ignore for themselves. It’s a frustrating interaction in which their dad or I am reminding them to “parent yourself.”
2. Understand They Have Limitations Too
Few things bother me more than an over-extended schedule. Now, for every family (and various personalities of said parents and children) expectations and needs vary, but all teens need down time, regardless of their personality. They also need a lot of sleep (John Hopkins Medical says 9-9.5 hours a night) and compassion for topsy-turvy hormones. If a teen is raised by strong introverts, but that child needs a lot of social interaction to feel energized and motivated, that parent should do what he can to help her get there and participate. And visa versa: if your child needs alone time to recharge, don’t expect him to go to school all day and then 5 extra-curricular activities in a week and still have energy to interact in the evening. Not only will their tank run perpetually empty but they will grow resentful of you as well and their relationships will suffer. Did you know that the person with nothing left to give struggles to empathize and listen? You may have “learned” how to push through and run on fumes, but is that really your best life and do you want that mode of operation for your children?
3. Remember to Always Accept Your Teen
Some parents struggle to distinguish between “what you did” and “who you are” with people, and they aren’t quick to forgive or show acceptance. Trust me, I’ve had plenty of encounters with my kids where I didn’t like them very much; their rebellious words and actions frustrated and fatigued me, but kids need to know (like we all do) that those who love us best will love us no matter what. Now, in our highly-offended culture, we still maintain our boundaries, expectations, and standards for right and wrong. But it’s the choice that is rejected, not the child. Redirect conversation instead of shutting them down. In Christ, we are fully accepted by our Father, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t disciplined with grace, but even in that, we are fully embraced and received by Him.
So, we endeavor to imitate the unconditional love of the Father to our children, albeit imperfectly. We correct choices, but we don’t call names, saying, “You are a jerk,” but rather, “Those words you said to your brother hurt. How would you feel if they were said to you? Did your speech reflect truth, kindness, gentleness, and grace?” Yes, this technique takes more time, but it helps your child know they aren’t the sum total of their mistakes. Don’t give your child a cold shoulder or reject spending time with them or label them with derogatory terms because of their behavior.
Dr. John Townsend in his book Boundaries with Teens gives a list of what a healthy teen looks like:
- Make connections. They are not detached or withdrawn; instead, they are bonded and connected to others.
- Are responsible. They are reliable and dependable and don’t require much supervision.
- Accept reality. Healthy adolescents can come down to earth and accept reality. They understand that they and others make mistakes and that no one is perfect.
- Mess up, but not severely. They may make a lot of mistakes, but they don’t have many crises.
(As a parent, learn to distinguish between major and minor issues, and don’t make a big deal out of every hiccup).
- Are oriented to the outside. They are connected to both their families and their friends, but are investing more in others outside their home and that’s good.
- Make friends with other good kids. They interact with kids who are kind, non-judgmental and oriented towards others.
- Develop good values. They are establishing their own sound system of morals, ethics, and spiritual beliefs.
- Challenge their parents. They raise questions and share their opinions and want to think for themselves. (Don’t see this aspect as threatening; it’s a necessary component to growing up, and if they don’t do it under your roof, they will do it in a less supervised environment, like college or beyond).
“Get over any need you have for an ideal and perfect kid and accept the reality of the teen years. They will make mistakes and have issues. Don’t go crazy over it “(Townsend, 72-73).
Your teen desperately craves love and acceptance, and if they don’t get it from you, they will look wherever they can to find it. So, choose the path of affirmation.
“Nurturing parents have a positive attitude. I do not mean that they deny the realities of life, but they choose to see the hand of God behind the scenes of human events. They look for the sun behind the clouds and they communicate this spirit to their teenagers. Nurturing parents are encouraging, looking for the positive things their teenagers do and say, and commending them” (Chapman, 36).