The teenage years represent the height of confusion for many parents. Memo to parents: teenagers feel just as confused about you.
The same years when young people are figuring out their identity, their career trajectory, and their interest in romance, the parent-child relationship often becomes befuddled.
Teenagers know that they still need their parents; parents know their teens need them too. But teenagers also know that it is time for them to figure some things out for themselves. Parents often take longer to realize this.
You can help your teens learn to seek out the wisdom and truth God offers in the Bible for themselves if you tread gently and pray a whole lot.
Understand the function of this time in their lives
As described in this helpful article, teen’s brains are “under construction.” Their ability to make wise choices for themselves is in the process of being formed, and they are driven to try out their new decision-making abilities. (This development process is designed by God, by the way.)
These independent decisions will range from fashion choices to political ideologies to their ideas about God.
Parents often freak out about the choices their kids are making, fearing they will ruin their lives. It is helpful, however, to realize that this is a necessary part of their development, not an evil to be avoided.
As a campus pastor, I saw a remarkable transformation take place over and over. Students came to college intending to throw off the religious constraints their parents put on them. This often involved some lifestyle decisions, like drinking and promiscuity, as well as thinking through truth-related issues. They worked through newfound criticisms of their parents from the safe distance of new relationships. I have listened to many, many freshmen complain about their parents.
But in time, those same freshmen usually would grow into seniors who loved and respected their parents, even if they came to some different conclusions about their faith or other values. And often, though sadly not always, a semester or two of “wild living” led to a re-commitment to Christ.
Understand what they need from you
Patience with grumpiness
Emotional ups and downs are part of teens’ development, and they need lots of grace from their parents, friends, and teachers.
Consider the grace that is shown to women in labor. No one expects them to be nice. Teenagers are going through a lot, and while they need some measure of accountability, they also need those who love them to see that this behavior is not their entire person.
You can encourage your teens to stay connected to God during this time by gently sharing comforting scriptures. My mom knew I struggled with my body image, and she repeatedly shared verses from Psalm 139 with me. She looked past my unkind behavior and saw that I was hurting. She used scripture to minister to that need.
A thousand second chances
Scripture is chock full of God giving people second chances. As one of God’s representatives in your child’s life, you can demonstrate this character by believing the best for your kid.
Most teenagers begin to recognize discrepancies in what is taught and what is truly believed. The more you can show integrity in your behavior, making sure that your actions match your words, the better.
When your child has messed up big time, show them sincere grace. If they’re angry with themselves, show them in the scriptures how God is patient with those who have fallen. Encourage them in his ability to help them start again.
Guidance mixed with lots of listening and fun
Teens will not want to listen to you if you are always the Answer Person and lecture them a lot with a critical tone. It’s said that for every criticism, the average person needs 7 positive interactions to feel like the relationship is balanced.
Many families spend less time together when their teenagers start driving and working. Also, teenager’s interests might change a lot, and parents can find it hard to know how to relate. This relationship will take a new level of work. And it is worth it.
Make scripture reading relevant and fun
If every time you whip out your Bible, it’s to give a corrective lecture, your teenager is not going to have good feelings about the Good Book. As mentioned before, use scripture to offer sincere comfort and encouragement to your teens.
Also, share stories they may not have heard before. Some Bible stories are just not appropriate for the fourth-grade Sunday school class! Try these:
- Spies from Judah hide out with a prostitute (nothing PG-13 happens, but still)
- Song of Solomon is a very racy poem. Teenagers need to know that God is not anti-sex.
- Eglon, a “very fat man,” was slayed by a leftie
- Paul preached so long a boy fell out of a window and died (he got better!)
Don’t be too preachy
Become a Bible coach for your kids, rather than a Bible answer man/woman. Teach your kids to seek out what they want to know in the Bible on their own.
It makes the most sense to respond to what’s happening in their lives. If they’re worried about what someone thinks of them, challenge them to find out what God thinks of them. If they’re struggling with a difficult person at school, teach them how to look for wisdom on responding to one’s enemies in the Bible.
Respect their developing opinions
My dad and I would have long, complex discussions about God in the car. Sometimes we’d arrive back home and sit in the driveway and keep talking. I had the impression that my dad was really thinking through the issues, and that I raised valid and interesting points. He didn’t require me to come to the same conclusions as him, but he did challenge my thinking if I wasn’t making logical sense. It was as if he believed I was also guided by God.
As you’re discussing scripture, your teens must be allowed to form new opinions. If they are not, whatever opinions they do hold will be yours, not theirs. So if you want your teens to honestly seek after God, you have to let them develop their own thinking. They will probably test this out by deliberately choosing some different opinions from yours.
Your teens will also seek out and experiment with influences that bring in new types of input. Rejoice if these influences are in any way God-honoring. Resist the urge to nitpick about the areas where you differ. Of course, you still need to protect your kids. But seek to protect them by training them to think well and to develop their own relationship with the living God.
Pray for your teens as much as you worry about them
Ultimately, the goal is not to get people to read the Bible, it’s to get people to know God. And God has a big role to play in that happening!
When you find yourself worrying about your teenager, make it a practice to pivot your worries into prayers. This has at least 4 benefits:
- Your worries can become useful!
- You grow in humility—acknowledging your own weaknesses before God.
- Your perspective shifts to include God’s plan and abilities.
- God hears and responds to the prayers of his people.
God is as concerned for your teen as you are
There was a time when you arranged every detail of your child’s life. You knew how many teeth he had; you picked out all her clothes. You delighted in the smallest milestones.
Much has changed in your relationship with your child. But God still sees your child, knows how many teeth he has, knows how many hairs she has, and he delights in the unseen milestones that are occurring in the heart.
As you strive to point your child to God through the teenage years, may you also be drawn to him, in his infinite ability to comfort, guide, and strengthen.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White
Allie Boman is a wife, mom, follower of Jesus and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She served for fifteen years with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and studied classical piano in college. She loves to cook ethnic food and explore new places with her family. Her personal blog is QuickReads.blog. She’d love to connect with you!