Four Essentials for Parenting Teens

I can still see it so clearly in my mind—the first time my teenager zoned out on me. I was speaking words—important words—and, while my son seemed to be looking at me, it was as though shutters had come down over his mind and heart. In his eyes I saw that glazed, faraway look that told me he may have been physically present, but his thoughts were miles and miles away.

I finished the conversation and left the room, firing a prayer heavenward. God, help! What do I do now? Within a few days, He provided an answer, bringing instant perspective and direction. Over the many years since, I’ve experienced the same dynamic over and over: I hit a difficult patch in my parenting, I turn to God and, graciously, He shows me the way forward. He really is my number one counsellor.

There are countless things I could tell you of all God has shown me through the years. Today, I’ll focus on four principles that have proven crucial with all our children. Before I share them with you, I need to clarify one detail:

God is perfect, I am not.

Mulling over these concepts has confronted me once again with how much I need to grow. My children—mostly adults now—are constantly changing. I need to adapt with them. So, as I write, I’m praying you find encouragement for your situation and we each allow God to keep moulding us into the parents He wants us to be—for every stage and season.     

  1. BE SLOW TO SPEAK

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” James 1:19

In response to the scenario I described above, God gave me this advice:

Be slow to speak and quick to listen to Me. I know what your son needs and when he needs to hear it. As you wait on Me, I’ll open up opportunities and give you the words and the ways to encourage and challenge him. Wait, watch and you will see.

As parents, we sometimes notice areas in our teenager’s life or character that concern us. It’s natural to want to address them right away, just as we did when they were young. If we sense resistance, we might even be tempted to talk longer to make sure they understand our point.

The difficulty comes because our teens are moving on from childhood. They’re starting to look more to their peers and less to us for advice—which is why it’s so important for us to wait for God’s timing. When He gives us a clear opening, we can speak the words He’s put in our mouths with confidence. Once those thoughts have been shared, we need to stop speaking and walk away, trusting the Holy Spirit to apply the truth to the listener’s heart.

“(There is) a time to be silent and a time to speak . . .” Ecclesiastes 3: 7b

2. WALK HUMBLY

“He has shown you . . . what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

God wants us to trust in His authority to work on our behalf, rather than trying to assert our own. Instead of coming on strong, attempting to dominate and control our teens, we are to walk humbly with them, showing understanding, compassion and love—even while we set firm boundaries. Likewise, when we fail we need to quickly ask their forgiveness, acknowledging our weaknesses, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.

When we seek to honour God in the way we lead our children, He will affirm us before them and bring down barriers between us. I’ve seen this happen in surprising ways in my own family.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10

3. BE PATIENT

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

We need to keep a long-term view. This can be difficult when we’re immersed in a seemingly endless struggle with our teenager. It’s important to remember—despite how intense and impossible it feels, this season will pass. What kind of relationship do we want with our young adult at the end of it? Pausing to think about this can renew our sense of purpose.

It’s also enlightening to reflect on how long we take to learn important life lessons—even as adults. Seeing clearly our own frailty can inspire us afresh to provide encouragement and support for our adolescent through their ups and downs. God is so patient and gracious with us; He wants us to show the same kindness and generosity to our children. When they fall, we need to offer forgiveness and lift them up, just as God does with us.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

4. KNOW WHERE YOUR HELP COMES FROM

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

This principle is the foundation of all the others. Parenting, especially parenting teens, confronts us daily with how much we need God. It brings us right back to the basics, reminding us He is the Creator, we the created. He sees and knows all. We don’t.

God made our teenagers. He knows them—intimately. He sees right through the image they project and their emotional fluctuations to their unique and tender hearts. And He has a clear understanding of His plans for their future.

If we lift these ones before God and choose to rely on Him, He’ll provide all the wisdom, love and courage we need to help them weather their storms and move beyond to His sunshine. At the same time, His Spirit will reach the places in them we can’t, bringing healing and comfort and giving them the strength they need to move forward.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

I hope you found these principles as helpful as I have. When God gives us directions like this, He doesn’t expect us to fulfil them through our own scheming and striving. Instead, He calls us to trust Him and rely on His strength and guidance. He knows the best way forward for each of us, in our unique family situations.

Will you join me in this prayer?  

“God, thank you that you see me and you know my family.

 You understand all that’s going on in each of our hearts and our circumstances.

 Please teach me how to be a loving parent to my children, at every age.  

Guide my thoughts and let the words I speak come from your heart—in your timing.

When I feel like rising up in anger or forcefully taking control, help me to stop, humble myself and put my trust in you to make things right.

Give me the courage to ask forgiveness when I fail.

In those times I feel too hurt or too weary to go on, remind me of your kindness, help me to forgive and fill me with the patience I need to keep loving, keep giving.

Thank you, God, for your Holy Spirit, who walks with me every moment, guiding my steps and working in my children’s hearts for their good.

I’m so grateful for your love and constant presence.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”  

Finding Freedom

The cage sat alone on the floor of a dimly lit warehouse. Inside it was a prisoner, knees clasped tight against her chest, eyes downcast and face darkened by despair. A short distance from her feet lay an ornate, black key – large enough to fill her palm, perfectly sculpted to fit the lock.

Pick it up, my heart whispered. I sensed she knew it was there . . . yet she remained motionless.

Sorrow flooded through me, startling me from sleep. I dragged my eyes open, the vivid picture still suspended in my mind. That key was within reach of the captive but she didn’t pick it up. Why?

Many times I’ve been trapped in such a cage, imprisoned by my own dark patterns of thinking. Crippling fear, burning anger or deep discouragement have taken hold of my heart and built walls around my life. Sometimes the gloom around me has seemed so thick I’ve questioned whether the cage even had a door to escape through, let alone a key.

Yet it did – every single time.

ornate black key

(Key image taken from Etsy )

In the early years of my adult life I needed guidance from others to push that key into the lock and turn it. Now the way of escape is so familiar to me, using it has become a daily habit.

In my dream, the key had two projections on its end – two ‘bits’ that would engage with the lock.  Likewise, I’ve learned there are two steps in the escape process. Both are vital to finding freedom. Let me share them with you.

First we need to take an inside look, shifting our gaze from the oppressive strength of the cage walls to the struggle going on in our hearts. We become aware of the destructive mindsets and negative emotions we allow to traipse freely through our soul. Often, as we reflect, a specific memory comes to mind – a key event which first triggered the emotions.

Here’s an example from my life. Many years ago I realised I had an intense fear of being abandoned by my husband. His love for me was obvious so my emotions didn’t make sense. In time, we deduced the anxiety stemmed partly from a forced hospital stay when I was very young. The sorrow and fear I felt when my parents had to leave me and go home (as was done in those days) was a natural reaction for a little girl. However those feelings had remained with me through the years following, causing me to believe that people I loved may not always be there to support me when I needed them.

It was out of kindness that God brought this issue to the surface. His heart is for us to be free. From His lofty vantage point He sees our lives clearly and knows exactly what’s holding us captive. Oh-so-gently, He uncovers the triggers from our past and reveals the choices we made to let them control us. If we’re willing to stand in His light, admit our failings and turn away from those negative thoughts and emotions, He bathes us in grace, washing away the grime of our yesterdays and giving us a new perspective on our future.

That’s how the first bit engages with the lock. Now for the second.

To find complete release, we need to turn our gaze to the people who have caused us pain. Many times – most times – our triggers have come through others. Their words or actions have taken hold of us, distorting the way we see ourselves, the world around us and even God. Sometimes the littlest details can wound us deeply – a tiny phrase, a rejecting tone of voice, a nasty facial expression. The injury may have happened long ago but the emotion connected with it can still feel just as intense as when it first occurred, sometimes even stronger. Those emotions wrap themselves around us like a straitjacket, telling us there is no hope of escape.

But there is.

To engage the second bit on the key we need to confront the pain of the incident and forgive the person. Yes, forgive – no matter what they’ve done. It was easy to forgive my parents for leaving me in the hospital; they had no option. But sometimes the agony of an experience can feel so overwhelming that forgiving seems impossible. That’s when we need to remember the previous step – where we were forgiven our failings.

We choose to forgive others not because they deserve it but because we’ve been forgiven.

It’s confronting to pause and ponder how many times we’ve caused pain for another person, even unintentionally. How many times we’ve excused our own thoughtless words or harsh behaviour because we’re tired or busy or just plain unhappy.

The reality is we all inflict wounds on others – regularly. Think on this – if God, Who is perfect, gave up His precious Son so we could be forgiven, who are we to hold others’ errors against them?

When we hold onto a painful memory, that pain holds onto us, keeping us bound both to the trauma of the experience and to the person. Additionally, if we choose not to forgive, God’s forgiveness is not available to us either. We put ourselves in a position where neither of the bits on our key can engage.

On the other hand, when we choose to let go of the pain by forgiving, we release the person to God and the unhealthy ties are broken.

Forgiving can be very painful. Sometimes we need the support of others to help walk us through the process. Sometimes we need to forgive a person many times over for the same incident as we work through layers of pain. If we lift our eyes to God and remember His mercy to us, He will give us the strength we need to truly let go.

As we do, that key turns in the lock, the cage door flings open and we are set free to fly.

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“He has sent me to . . . proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . .” Isaiah 61:1

 “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

blue sky, wispy clouds

Forgiveness is also good for our health! For further reading, see:

www.thriveglobal.com/stories/38631-why-you-should-embrace-the-forgiveness-mindset