What is the right way to parent teens? You might as well ask me what the “right” way is to get from point A to Point B. I’d have to respond to your question with several more questions, “Do you prefer highway travel or enjoy the back roads? Do you prefer to drive slower speeds through neighborhoods or to drive main thoroughfares and their stop lights? Do you need to make any stops? Prefer a specific gas station? Need to pick up dinner on the way?” The answers to these questions comes together to give you a road map that depicts the right way right now to get from Point A to Point B. Parenting teens is similar. When faced with a situation, with one teen, the answer is an enthusiastic, “Yes”. With another, even though the situation and question are the same, the answer is unequivocally, “No”.
In spite of this, here are a few key points that I have learned over the years:
First, connect with your teen on their on their level. I was blessed to get to spend a whole day with my 16-year-old son, Patrick, and a couple of his toddler siblings yesterday. We spent at least 4 hours in the van together, checking errands off our to-do list. That made for lots of conversation time. A couple of years ago, I would have been consumed with thinking through the 47 issues that I had been storing away in my head, jumping on the opportunity to reason with Patrick, hoping to convince him to see my side and why these issues were really issues.
Instead, yesterday, I chit-chatted with him. We talked about his friends. I asked him what he has been doing with his down time since he hasn’t had access to his laptop or phone recently. Patrick told me about a Swedish band he had stumbled across on YouTube and how they made their own instruments. On our way home, he played several of their songs for me, explaining at different points what the instrument playing was and how it made a particular sound.
Second, give them the space to succeed and fail without fear of judgment from you. I was reminded of that lesson again yesterday during my time with Patrick. We were running errands together because he needed to drop a dual credit class that he was taking at our local community college. He had passed all of his assignments with a B or higher, but had failed all of his tests. We were both disappointed that he was having to drop the class. Ironically, I also had to go to the community college and drop a class myself, not because of grades, but because I had no idea that I had been actually enrolled.
I had visited the college previously and begun the enrollment process. After visiting with the college’s financial aid department and an adviser, I decided not to return to school that semester because my financial aid package wasn’t going to process in time. What I didn’t realize (or misunderstood) was that if my financial aid package happened to come through (and it did), the college classes that I had signed up for would be automatically paid for and I would be registered. Because I didn’t check my college email address, I had no idea that the unlikely had occurred. Now, at the end of the semester, I had to go officially drop the classes and apply for a refund.
While I was a little irritated that I hadn’t followed through and made sure my classes dropped off the schedule (or, heck, why didn’t I just go remove them when I decided that I wasn’t going to go? SMH), I was glad that Patrick got to witness how I handled my mistake with grace, an apologetic spirit, and a smile on my face. In other words, we shared in the disappointment of each other’s mistakes, then shared in redeeming the situation as best we could.
Third, you gave up your right to choose the people closest to you when you chose to have kids. What do I mean? With kids, you get what you get (and you don’t throw a fit…) You need to accept that, in spite of loving them on first sight, you may not naturally “like” all of your kids. I know, that stings the perpetual romantics out there, but I also know that a lot of you are nodding your heads at your computer screen, too. Here’s the thing: if you can acknowledge that your kids are going to have the personality their Creator blessed them with, then you can acknowledge that sometimes, it is the very personality that grates on your last nerve.
Where do we go from here? It’s pretty simple, actually. You love them. How? Be patient with them, even if they took an hour to unload the dishwasher that morning and made you late for church. Be kind to them, even though they deliberately ate the last Pop Tart while their toddler brother watched and cried. Put pride away, resisting the urge to say, “I raised you better than that,” and, “Why do you act that way?! You embarrassed your whole family!” Don’t keep a record of wrongs, in spite of the fact that, sometimes, they deserve it. Don’t embarrass them in public. Put away your anger. Instead, pay attention to them when they explain why they did that colossally stupid thing, listening for the actual issue, instead of focusing on the behavior. Protect them, trust in God for their future, remain hopeful that they turn toward their almighty Father when looking for answers in life, and always persevere in pointing them toward Him, instead of reacting in your own frustration and embarrassment.
See? Pretty simple, right? I’m kidding. It’s not simple. My heart aches when I see my kids struggle. I hate when I see one of my kids be cruel to the other. I get angry when chores aren’t done right and I have to cook in a dirty kitchen. I WANT to keep a list of the crap my kids have done that made my life more difficult. But, I don’t. My God sustains me. Although I do have to discipline them when the situation warrants it, I don’t have to give them the punishment that they deserve. I don’t have to give in to disgust, self-righteousness, self-indignation, weariness, and embarrassment. Friends, love your teens.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Love never fails.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-9 NIV)