Marriage and the Family - 19 - Teenage Years

Chapter 19

Teenage Years

Few things cause as much anxiety and concern as the approach of teenage years. Horror stories, kindly shared by others, warn parents of the dangers and the turmoil of what they are about to face. Dooms-day prophets promise grief and heart break Little wonder that most parents approach these years with trepidation and angst.

These years are filled with tremendous potential. Consider that it is in these years that God speaks to many and that they are saved. It is amazing that God would, by His Spirit, graciously speak to many during these turbulent and formative years.

No book or child psychologist can hope to give the assurance and skills needed for the task of teenage years. Yet, in truth, if you have been parenting in a Scriptural manner during the early years, you have built up a reserve, an emotional bank, as well as trust and relationship for the years ahead. The ancient law of “sowing and reaping” remains operative during this period of time. You have invested in an age-appropriate relationship with your children ast hey were growing up. Now, as they begin to cross that bridge into adulthood, you will begin to reap what you have sown.

There are some changes, however, in the road ahead. Awareness of these road bumps may prepare you to act wisely when they appear. These problems may surface with both unsaved children and with those who have professed to be saved.

Awareness of The Tasks of Teenage Years

Teenage years are marked by certain “tasks” which teens must accomplish as they mature. We take these tasks for granted, but an awareness of them is helpful for us as parents. While there may be some struggle associated with the performing of these tasks, they are necessary and we would not want our children to avoid them. One of the “tasks” is the result of our sinful nature - the “task of idolatry.”

Identity

Who am I? For years, that child has always been identified as your son or your daughter. Now, suddenly, they are becoming their own persons. This is normal and important. You and I may not always be thrilled with the “person” they decide they are, but they must find this for themselves. If we have taught virtues and values, shown compassion for weakness and grace amidst legitimate differences, then we have invested well. How tragic to be like King Saul and try to insist that our children be exactly as we with every taste and every goal identical to ours.

Ideology

What do I believe? It is the rare child who does not question what he has been taught. His knowledge and beliefs will be challenged at some stage by an anti-God world. We all recognize, in fact crave, that convictions become personal. We cannot expect another generation to live on our convictions. Paul reminded Timothy of the need to pass down the truth to coming generations (2 Tim 2:2). Truth must be bought (Prov 23:23).

Independent and critical thinking is not wrong, as long as it does not begin with wrong presuppositions. A wise parent, recognizing the differences in certain children, may need to prepare a more introspective or analytical child for the future by grounding her in the “whys” of Scripture and not just the “what” of Scripture.


It is this need for a personalizing of truth that may cause some of the greatest “shocks” to parents as children may come home questioning everything from the existence of God to the reliability of the Bible. If parents overreact with shock and outrage, anger and denunciations, an important bridge of communication has been burned which may take long months to repair. Be thankful they have vocalized their concerns and listen to them. Provide balance to their thinking and questions for them to answer.

Independence

Can I make it in life? All through the previous twelve or thirteen years, this child has been dependent upon you. He has assumed this role out of necessity and willingly. Now, as he begins to recognize the demands of the future, he begins to question if he can be independent. This will involve not only his thinking (ideology) but his decision making. Have you prepared him for decision making or have you made all his decisions for her? Yes, a parent is responsible for a child. Parents should not abdicate control at five or six in an effort to prepare a child for teen years. Yet, a parent must begin the process of giving their child the tools for proper decision making at an early age. Parents have to evaluate each child as to when they are ready to be taught some of the skills. Some of it is by example. Bringing children into family decision making is not a bad idea. It will teach principles of selflessness, concern for others, and above all, the priority of pleasing God.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this struggle for independence for parents, is that they made need to allow a child to make mistakes. You and I made a few and those mistakes taught us valuable lessons.

Idolatry

The concept of idolatry may sound harsh to some but it is real! There are things which teenagers allow to control their lives. These become the issues to which everything else must bow and subserve. These include: appearance, acceptance (by other teens), and accomplishments.

To the extent that something controls my life other than Lordship claims, it has become an idol to which I bow and which I serve. Like all idols, it never satisfies and never fulfills its promise. But such is human nature that we must have something or someone to serve. If God is not enthroned, then “things” become dominant (1 John 5:21).

A teenager’s appearance can be a matter of tremendous anxiety to the teenager. It is linked with all the other gods of acceptance and approval. The media-image of the thin, attractive girl with the perfect smile and perfect hair; then there is the tabloids’ depiction of the muscular, acne-free, well dressed young man. All these control the clothing, hair styles, cosmetics, and jewelry of young people. Yet to meet a teenager who is satisfied with his appearance is a rare thing.

Acceptance is vital. We need to teach our young believers that the acceptance they enjoy in Christ is far more important than any acceptance by a peer group. It is a difficult lesson - most of us struggled with it and still struggle even in later years. Yet how true and how vital.  Only the Word of God and the grace of God can break the grip of idolatry in teenage years.

Alert to the Tendencies of Teenage Years

A little reflection on the above tasks will enable you to appreciate how those tasks may lead to some behavior which is stressful, and at times grieving, for parents. A word of caution: because these are “normal” does not mean they are right. They are normal in the sense that they are common and the way that a sinful heart may express some of the struggles of teenage years. They are not necessary, but may occur in some teens.

Experimentation


As part of the task of independence and ideology, a teenage may experiment with things never permitted in a believer’s home: alcohol, tobacco, drugs. I would not for a moment minimize the dangers here. But I would also underline the danger of overreacting to experimentation. It is really a teachable moment.

Challenge

Part of the issue of ideology may display itself in challenging your beliefs, as mentioned earlier. Provide truth, not temper tantrums for them. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know or have never thought of that issue or question. But don’t leave it there. Either search it out for yourself and get back to your teen, or ask for help. There are others who may know a bit more than you and can be of help in a given area. None of us is abreast of all the issues which are hurled at believers by an unbelieving world. Honesty will go a long way toward defusing confrontation and challenge.

Shock Value Statements

Closely allied to challenges are statements which are made for the sole purpose of seeing what reaction they elicit in you. Much of this can be translated as, “I want you to know that I am beginning to think for myself.” Once again, your reaction is as important as anything else.

Testing Boundaries

If your teenager never tested boundaries, please do two things: first, thank God, and then tell us the secret! Teenagers are risk-takers by nature. They will test every limit and boundary to see how far they can push the line. Curfews, limits, house rules, wherever you say, “Thus far,” becomes a boundary which they feel impelled to test. It is the Adam in all of us (Genesis 3).

Peer Pressure

There is perhaps no area where they will be as severely tested, and no area as well, where you may have unconsciously prepared them for, as the issue of peer pressure. In today’s 21st century society, it means, for a teen, being “cool.” To adults, it means keeping up with the neighbors, having what they have, traveling to the exotic places they have traveled. Hopefully, you have modeled for your children the ability and basis for resisting peer pressure. Living by the standard of Romans 12:1, 2 and not allowing the world to “squeeze you into its mold,” will help to teach your children the importance of standing against the tide.

How I respond to all of these challenges is vital. How I respond will probably be a reflection of how secure I am in what I believe. It will reflect how secure I am in God’s approval of my child-rearing techniques, not how much I covet the approval of other believers for raising a “perfect family.” The reaction of a secure person is usually calm and balanced, as well as firm and gracious.

Able for the Trials of Teenage Years

So a major questions surfaces: How competent am I for these years of growth and maturity in my children?

Your Spiritual Condition is Critical

I must be in the good of my salvation, enjoying what God has given me, to be able to parent as I should. The fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, faith - all these will be required and will be honed to further sharpness, by the trials of these years. Spirituality, Spirit-directed and filled living, was not meant for a Gospel Hall alone, but for a home, an office, a school.


Your Marriage Must Be Good

If there is stress in a marriage, there are two dangers. The first danger is that children are tremendously skillful at manipulation. Divide and conquer is inbred in their DNA and as natural for them as eating and sleeping. They will exploit any weakness between a husband and wife for their advantage. But a second, perhaps less well recognized danger, is that a parent can begin to use the children, to manipulate them, to be “on my side” against a spouse. Or I may seek to fill my emotional tank, drained dry by a spouse who is not filling it, by allowing my children to fill that tank. This means that if I need them, I cannot set limits or enforce discipline which may alienate them from me.

Your Convictions Must Be Grounded in Scripture

If I am challenged, I will not react appropriately if my convictions are not grounded in Scripture. If all I can say is, “That is the way we always did it,” or, “That’s the way we were taught,” then a disagreement will soon degenerate into a bullying match. Again, if not sure as to a path, admit it and make an appointment to return to the issue after you have had a chance to search the Scriptures or to get help.

Your Walk and Talk Must Be Consistent

Children, teenagers, notice hypocrisy. It will undermine everything you say, teach, and stand for with them.

Apportioning Trust in Teenage Years

Apportioning trust in teen years is a critical matter and the “make-or-break” issue in many relationships. Trust is an earned commodity in contrast to love which is unconditional and spontaneous. You do not automatically trust your child in every set of circumstances, just as you do not trust yourself in every type of circumstance.

Apportion

Apportion small amounts of trust in relatively safe environments at first. Watch for corresponding trustworthy behavior. Note how the Lord dealt with His disciples. As John was able to handle the responsibility of the care of a widow (John 19), he was promoted to the care of a local assembly (Acts). From there he moved to minister to a number of Samaritan assemblies. Finally, his ministry reaches to the seven churches of Asia and down to us today.

Acknowledge

Acknowledge success. Give a child credit when they do well and encourage them with a sense of her ability to make right decisions. As important as praise for the right decision, review with her the principles she employed in making that decision, reinforcing whenever possible, what is scriptural and God-honoring.

Admonish

Admonish guardedly. Avoid as the plague, “I told you so!” as a tactic. Ask your teen what he can learn from his mistake. Ask him if he had to repeat the decision, the action, what would he do this time and why. Admitting to a teenager that you made mistakes when a teenager (and you did!), may help her to learn from the experience and to feel less threatened by your advice.


But trust is a tenuous commodity. You have few ways of disciplining your teenager. Spanking becomes humiliating and counterproductive. It embitters rather than educates. But revoking trust and privilege is one of the few avenues you have for communicating to your teenager the gravity of what has happened, when there is a breach of trust. But make your rules and consequences clear ahead of time so that there are no surprises or punishments given in anger.

Trust is a critical commodity and is what is going to enable your teenager to have self-respect, confidence, independence as a person, and decision making skills.

Available for the Times of Teenage Years

One day your teenager is the most independent person imaginable; she do not need your advice or help. The next day, she is asking you what blouse she should wear to school. One day, she is the most aloof and unloving child, hardly acknowledging you as a person, much less a parent; the next day, with righteous indignation she ask, “Aren’t you going to give me a kiss good-bye?” This vacillation between independence and the older relationship is normal. Don’t overreact to any one day’s behavior. It will change tomorrow

There will arise opportunities, either through the events of life, problems with friends, issues at school, or the consequences of poor choices made, which will lead your teenager to talk with you. At moments such as this they may be open to advice or counsel. Use the opportunity wisely. Do not preach, moralize, rebuke. Give your advice and leave it there. Do not keep revisiting the issue with them. Allow them to control the tempo of the conversation.

Avoiding the Traps of Adolescence

Avoid Ultimatums

“If you ever do that again I won’t speak to you for a year!” Do you really mean it? Will you really be able to live with it? Think well about what hills you want to die for. Ultimatums back an adolescent to the wall. Some will buckle and give in to your demands. But some will rebel and go further than they first intended to prove that you cannot control them.

Maintain your Relationship

Even if a child is unsaved and has little interest in the gospel; even if they have interests which you cannot condone or share, try to maintain your relationship if at all possible. Are there areas of mutual interest which do not compromise your testimony? Few girls can say no to shopping with mom. Most young men have some neutral interests such as cars, fishing, mechanics, or books, which a father can join with him in. Most married children will be happy to go out to dinner with you - especially if you pay the bill. Do all you can do to maintain your relationship with your children so that you are available to them in the crises of life when they might be open to your advice and help. Maintain family traditions as a means of establishing a family identity.

Dealing with what is Wrong

How do you handle what you find to be wrong? How do you tell your 18 year-old that you do not like his friends? How do you faithfully tell a 16 year-old who professes to be saved that getting involved in that activity is not consistent with his testimony? Choose the best time, think about the best manner of saying it, and state your disapproval in the most gracious but firm way you can. Then leave the problem there. He has gotten the message. You do not need to keep repeating your view. It will only polarize him and cause him to avoid telling you about it.

Maintain your standards but be flexible where it does not involve a compromise of convictions or truth.