When people hear that three of our four kids are currently teenagers, they often gasp. Or groan. Or stare back at me, blinking, trying to absorb what they’ve just learned.
I get it. Every parent of teenagers feels at a loss once in a while (or once in an hour!). A quick perusal on Amazon nets hundreds of books on adolescent psychology, talking to teens, decoding the teen mind, and navigating teen emotions. Not a few of us are trying to figure this out.
My husband and I are still in the thick of parenting and discipling our kids who range in age from 15 to 25. The finish line is yet in the distance. So as a fellow sojourner and not a seasoned expert, I humbly offer some truths we’re clinging to and practices we’re applying as we go.
1. The societal attitude about teens doesn’t have to be ours.
The reflexive groan that comes when adults talk about teens reveals our culture-wide cynicism. But this grumbling doesn’t reflect God’s love for adolescent image-bearers. Children are a gift from the Lord, whether they’re newborns or 16 years old (Ps. 127:3). Speak well of your teens to others, demonstrate how much you value them by praising their gifts and achievements, and pursue chances to laugh with your teens and delight in who God made them to be. May our thoughts and words as Christian parents reflect our heavenly Father and not the world around us.
2. We’re called to be faithful, but only God can produce fruit.
Every earnest parent asks, How can I make sure my kids turn out right (or happy, or Christian)? But none of us is called to or capable of this. The prophet Ezekiel says only God can change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezek. 11:19). You and I are called to shepherd and love our kids, and to give them the tools they need for spiritual growth, but only God can produce spiritual fruit in them. May we entrust our teens to our Lord’s goodness and sovereignty again and again.
3. We can’t offer our kids what we don’t possess ourselves.
The apostle Paul wrote of being poured out as a drink offering (2 Tim. 4:6), and his imagery is helpful here. We cannot pour out to our kids what hasn’t first been poured into us. When we pursue Jesus through his Word, his people, and his Spirit, he transforms us by these means of grace. Only then can we offer that grace to our children.
We cannot pour out to our kids what hasn’t first been poured into us.
Don’t get me wrong—you and I need not be spiritual giants to disciple our kids. We parents are in process too, growing a little more into Christ’s image each day by his grace and power alone (2 Cor. 3:19). But as the adage says, “More is caught than taught,” so even as I wrestle with my own shortcomings and depend on the Lord to grow and change me, I want my children to catch the aroma of Christ from me because I’ve been with him (2 Cor. 2:15).
These practices are by no means a formula for successful parenting, as only God can transform our teens’ hearts. They’re ordinary habits, which in my two decades of parenting I’ve observed God use to strengthen both parents and children.
Our family keeps them imperfectly and sometimes terribly. But we return to them again and again by faith. We look for progress over perfection.
1. Spend time together.
Discipleship takes time. Both Jesus and Paul devoted tons of time to their disciples—they spent years traveling and serving together. There’s no substitute for both quality and quantity of time, which can be tough because our careers or other commitments are often particularly demanding when our kids enter the teen years.
Consider fiercely guarding a few dinners a week, slow Saturday mornings, and some yearly travel time together. Find regular times to unplug, slow down, and be together. The time we have with our teens is fleeting; may we steward it well.
2. Read Scripture.
Neither parents nor teens can hope to grow in the Lord without time in his Word. The Bible sanctifies us (John 17:17) and accomplishes what God intends (Isa. 55:11). Reading the Bible with your teens can feel awkward and daunting, but nothing can replace it.
Our family doesn’t do anything fancy. We get Scripture journals for each person, place them near the table, and read a chapter when we have a meal together. It’s simple, fosters conversation, and, we trust, produces fruit in all of us.
3. Ask questions.
Asking my teens good questions has required faith, as I don’t always know what they’re thinking or if I’ll have a good response to what they share. But their answers tell me what’s weighing them down or causing them to celebrate. Frequently asking them “How can I pray for you?” is a window to their hearts.
We place a box of conversation starters at the dinner table to keep things interesting and use them in conjunction with our Scripture journals. Nothing is off-limits, and I’m regularly surprised by how much they want to chat once we get started.
4. Attend church.
Research confirms kids who are immersed in church life during their childhood are more likely to remain committed to church life as adults. This point could be a whole article (or book) in itself, as church attendance seems increasingly rare. We must ask ourselves, Are we modeling a priority for sports, or style preferences, or friends’ invitations above church every Sunday? Our churches are meant to be our families and they require commitment.
Frequently asking them ‘How can I pray for you?’ is a window to their hearts.
If you insist your teen attends church and youth group every week, you’ll likely be in the minority, and your teen will complain at times. But you’ll teach her that church family is essential, and, Lord willing, you’ll set her up for a lifetime of church engagement.
I don’t know the ins and outs of your relationship with your teen. I do know you want the best for your child and you’d do anything for him. Parenting teens is hard. Trusting the Lord is hard. But take heart. God knows our teens deeply and treasures them immeasurably. He desires that all our teens would come to him.
Moms and dads, let’s go to Jesus. Let’s entrust ourselves—and our teens—to the One who loves them even more than we do.