Parenting 101: I Need a Reason

5 TeensMy nine year old gave me a little attitude. She was my oldest and, while she wasn’t one to keep her opinions to herself, this was a little unusual. I looked at her and wondered.

But as the attitude continued over the next weeks, I realized that we were starting our journey into the wonderful world of adolescence. I wish somebody would have warned me that it starts so early. Oh, it’s not full blown at nine. Thankfully, I had a nice long transition into this strange world. The next seven years were a bit of a rocky ride for our family as she figured out who she was as a person and we figured out who we were as parents of a teenager! I felt exactly like I had felt when I first held her in my arms as a newborn. Who was this child and what did we do with her?

But we muddled through and she had the wonderful opportunity of being our family “guinea pig”. Now, on our fourth teenager (our youngest is fifteen), we have fallen into sort of a pattern.

You will notice that I said seven years above. That is because, without exception (so far, anyway– one more to go!), age sixteen became the turning point for all of our children. It is when things started to improve– attitudes, motivation, disrespect. Oh, they didn’t disappear overnight (wouldn’t that be nice??) but they started to get so much better.

Now, before I go any further, I think it is important for you to know that our family had some difficult times during these years. It was not all happiness and roses. We had moments when we feared that we were going to lose a couple of our children to the world. Moments where we were weighted down with heavy, heavy hearts by those mistakes we have made and realized we were going to probably pay a very high price for making them. God, in His great mercy and kindness, reached down and touched hearts and wrought change. Only He could do that and we give Him all of the glory.

I am not here to give you some perfect formula. I don’t have one and I doubt there is one. But, by the grace of God, each of my kids has committed their lives to the Lord and we see fruit in their lives that gives evidence of that commitment. I do not tell you that to boast, but to give validation to what I write here.

And, while this time in the life of a family is a little scary, it can also be very rewarding, especially if you did all of that hard work when they were toddlers and elementary-aged children.  And while some of what we did when they were younger still held true as they turned into young adults–things such as loving them unconditionally, making time for fun, and having lots of discussion time– there were a few other things that we learned were also really important during this time.

First, pray for your children to love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds, and strength (Mark 12:30) before they give evidence of needing that prayer. Don’t wait until they are in some kind of trouble and then pray for God to extricate them. Pray often and hard for them to hunger for God and to hate sin. We know this is God’s will for them and we can pray with confidence!

Second, this is the time that we have to provide reasons for our rules. These kids beg for and need a reason for the rules you set in your home. And rightly so. As an adult, don’t you like to have a reason for requests made of you? Oh, you may get them to obey you on the outside during their teen years but when they get to college– look out! They are just itching inside to do and watch and listen to all of that “fun” stuff that wasn’t allowed and when they finally escape the watchful eyes, they take in the world with giant gulps. These kids have never understood that they are accountable to God, not to Mom and Dad.

In our family, we tried to help our teens understand that we were accountable to God for what we did and did not allow in this home. We tried to give reasons. We did not ask them to agree, only to respect our decision. Gradually, as they matured, they started to understand that they are accountable to God, as well, for their own choices and we had the pleasure of seeing them start to make their own wise decisions. Notice the word “gradually”. It is a long process.

Giving rules that make sense was a challenge for me, at first. I remember times that one of the kids would come to us and ask to do something and I would give an automatic NO without thinking and my husband would look at me and say two words: Why not?  Why not, indeed? I realized I actually didn’t really have a reason and would humbly change my mind. And so, you can see, this was something I needed to learn.

Third, ‘tweens and teens do need some rules. Oftentimes, children of legalistic parents often end up parents of children with no rules. These parents know how harmful legalism was to their souls and so they decide they are just going to let their kids do what they want and hope and pray they come around. While rules without reasons should cease, rules themselves should not. We need to set standards in our homes that please the Lord. It is our job as parents. And it is important to remember that as our kids get older, we need to back away and gradually let them make some of their own decisions. It’s a slow, gradual process, but it does need to take place.

Fourth, the Bible needs to be established as your family’s solid foundation. I cannot even begin to tell you the value this has in the life of a family with teenagers. Especially in this crazy world. The other day my 15 year old and I happened to watch a clip of a news show that had six different women giving “their views” on marriage. We both had to shake our heads as we realized that these women were basing all of their views on their own personal opinions. Nothing else. What a precarious place to put your trust.

Here in this home, we knew we had to teach our kids that God’s Word is where we find the way we should live and so this is where we turned, not only for big questions, but for reasons for the standards we set.

You want to go to that movie? Please tell me if Jesus could come along and watch with you.

You want to buy that group’s album on iTunes? Print out the lyrics and show them to me so we can compare them to what God’s Word says.

Your friend did what to you? Let’s see what God’s Word says about responding to that hurt.

A girl at church started living with her boyfriend? Let’s find out why that isn’t right from God’s perspective.

The Bible provides truth, answers, comfort, strength, and guidance. It has proved itself over and over to us. It is far more valuable than what any magazine or talk show host or psychologist has to say about anything. We tried to make that clear in our home.

Fifth, we need to set a good example ourselves. We can hardly expect our kids not to cheat and lie, if we do so. We can’t expect them to practice discernment in their TV watching, if we don’t. If we want them to make church a priority, we need to make church a priority. If we explode in anger, are we surprised when they explode in anger? We need to try to be what we want our kids to be as adults.

Sixth, we need to keep our loving authority in place. In this weird, wishy-washy world we somehow have found ourselves in, your teens will try to convince you that you have no right to judge or critique anything they do. After all, you have plenty of your own sinful habits and areas to grow. Who are you to tell me? This is a constant theme in much of the Christian world and I have a sneaking suspicion it is working its way into our homes.

It is a hard day when we realize our kids see our flaws and foibles. It’s an even harder day when we have to discipline them for something we struggle with so much ourselves. It does feel a little hypocritical, quite honestly. But, as parents, this is our job. We want them to go into the world more prepared than we were to handle the struggle we still battle. And, by the way, tell your kids that. Don’t ignore their concerns. Talk to them and let them know how inadequate you feel and the struggles you still face. Be humble. This goes a long way in building your relationship.

Seventh, keep the future in mind. Instant gratification in raising teenagers may exist, but it comes with an extremely high price. Now is not the time to be your teen’s friend. It’s going to come but it isn’t now. There will most likely be some very difficult moments. Moments when you want to give up. Moments when failure looms in front of you. Try to keep the goal in mind. Ignore the embarrassment you feel from the comments of others. Ignore the few minutes of hatred spewing from your teen’s mouth. Don’t be too proud to listen to advice, but run it all through a biblical grid. And, most importantly, this is not the time to worry too much about your reputation. Your child is more important than any reputation. This one I learned first-hand.

Don’t let each battle with your teen weaken your relationship, instead face it head-on with loving leadership and open communication and let it strengthen and deepen your relationship, until eventually, the battles become less and less fierce until one day they disappear completely and you are left with the beautiful promise of a lifetime friendship.

There is so much more to say. A short blog post cannot even begin to encompass my heart on this issue of teens. My heart aches for so many kids who do not feel they can talk to mom and dad and feel so lost. For the parents who feel almost as lost as the kids. It was not meant to be this way.

And, while this is a challenging stage, it can also be very rewarding. I cannot begin to tell you the joy that comes from watching your children grow to love and serve the Lord. It is truly the only thing that matters. It is the legacy we carry with us into eternity. May we remember this during each and every moment of this challenging time in our lives.