There’s no denying the teenage years can be difficult, especially for inexperienced parents who are ill-prepared for the challenges that await them. I often smile when new parents talk about the proverbial “terrible twos.” I think to myself,You have no idea the journey awaiting you in 10 years!
The truth is, the joy of seeing your child develop into a young adult can often be overshadowed by the challenges of independence and trust, boundaries and curfews. Learning to appropriately balance freedom and responsibility can be tricky. Admittedly, when my two oldest children were venturing into this uncharted territory, I often feared that I wasn’t doing most of it right: I talked too much, I didn’t talk enough; I punished too quickly, I didn’t punish quickly enough; there was too much grace, then not enough.
Here’s some wisdom that I learned raising my now young adult children: there are 10 things teens want you to talk about.
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Because communication can be more difficult in the teen years, parents often shut it down altogether. Frustration and disappointment can be the culprits. Even when teens resort to one-word responses, believe it or not, they do still want to have conversation with you.
Often teenagers are experiencing changes within themselves that they don’t fully understand or know how to articulate. Hormones can cause them to be sad, angry, and a host of other emotions. It is our job as parents to keep the lines of communication open. Have fun. Dance with them. Laugh. Talk about their hopes and dreams without criticism or advice. Even if it’s difficult, stay at it.
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2. Your Past
What did you do when you were 'cool'? What did you learn? What did you like and dislike? Your teens want to know. Explain to them the great and not-so-great choices you made in those years and how they shaped who you are today. It’s important to share both the good and the bad, but have a healthy balance. If you share only the good, your teen might feel like they don’t measure up—especially if you didn’t deviate too far from the beaten path.
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You knew this one was coming. Naturally, the preteen and teen years are when most kids become interested in sex. Let’s face it. Everyone and everything is talking to them about sex, so we’d better have that conversation.
For example, did you know food can now be considered ‘sexy’? It’s pretty ridiculous. We have to be open, honest, and forthcoming with information. They are discussing the topic with someone. Let it be you.
Hint: The conversation can’t simply be about not doing it, either.
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There will be times when your teen will disappoint you. They will break the rules, make a bad choice, or say something that catches you completely off guard. It’s normal. It’s expected. It’s what we did.
Having the ability to quickly forgive your teen exhibits a level of grace parallel with our heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness for us. Your forgiveness will strengthen your walk with the Lord, and hopefully, theirs as well.
Likewise, it’s important for you to forgive yourself for mistakes you make as a parent. Speak life over the situation. Speak hope. Speak encouragement. Forgive and move on.
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5. The Positive
I once heard a Christian author say that Christian parents tend to lead too close to rules and not close enough to grace. I’d give them credit, if I could remember who it was. But what wisdom! We want them to have great lives and be fruitful adults. We want them to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. But when there is any evidence, any at all, that they are not going to stay on the path, we panic. We tend to focus on the negative. We nag. We replay last year’s missed curfews.
May I just encourage you to find something positive to speak over your teenager every single day? This can be especially challenging if they’ve made a series of poor choices, but it’s important. They need to know that you still love them. They need to hear that they haven’t messed up too badly. They need to know that despite a hundred wrong choices, your love is still there waiting for them.
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Young adults are often ill-prepared to handle the financial challenges of adulthood. They don’t know how to pay bills, manage money, purchase a home or car, or plan for their futures. Often, college or high school doesn’t teach this information in an effective way, if at all, so the responsibility is solely ours.
Take a financial class with your teen. Teach them how to balance a checkbook. Open a small checking or savings account for them. Have them grocery shop for you or assist in bill payment. These practical life lessons are ones that will serve them well later.
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Discuss how your teens can earn trust, keep it, and rebuild broken trust. Again, this goes back to navigating disappointment. Sometimes, if our children have broken our trust, it is easy for us to completely shut down. We may say things like, “I knew it. I knew he would mess this up. I’ll never let him drive the car again.” While I strongly believe in consequences for poor choices, I don’t think they should be a life sentence. Keep the dialogue open about how your teen can rebuild broken trust.
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Proverbs 22:6 refers to the 'going.' Train them up in the way they should go. This means they should and will eventually leave you. Your ultimate goal, as a parent, is that your children will one day find independence (with the exception of those who may have additional special needs). And even in cases where there may be some special needs, the goal must be to encourage as much independence as is possible and reasonable.
This means we must provide some freedom. Don’t hold the reins too tightly. It doesn’t prevent mistakes. (Trust me! Been there, done that!) Allow them to make mistakes and grow from them. This is truly the best time for them to make mistakes—while still within the safety of your home. If we fail to issue enough freedom due to our own fears, it is likely they will leave the nest and exercise their new-found freedom in ways we hadn’t expected or hoped.
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9. The Future
No matter how much attitude your teen throws your way or how seemingly nonchalant they are about their futures, rest assured. They care. They care more than they want you to know.
They want to know they will be okay. They want to know that they can make it on their own. They want to know that they will one day be able to figure out a career path or a future spouse. Talk with them about their hopes and dreams and fears and potential. Explore possibilities. Give them the space to explore without shooting down ideas.
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10. Authentic Christianity
Teens can smell fake a mile away. They witness the gossip, the judgment about poor choices, and the hypocrisy we sometimes live in. Teenagers aren’t falling away from churches in droves because they aren’t open to a relationship with the King of Kings. They are falling away, because they sometimes see a misrepresentation of Christ through religion and traditionalism.
Talk openly about what Christ has done for you. Share your imperfections often and honestly. Be transparent about the hope offered in Christ. Balance the weight of sin with the joy of knowing that a true relationship with the Father changes lives. They want to know! They need to know!
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 )
This oft-quoted Scripture sounds great. It’s the end goal. It’s the hope and faith we stand on. But the steps it takes to actually “train them up” can be difficult to discern. Today, I’m happy to report that I made it through the parenting-teen years alive, and the kids survived, too! We have such a rich and meaningful relationship now, and I learned some things about myself along the way—as you will too.
Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and serves more than 1,500 churches and 82,000 single mothers annually. She is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. For more information, visit www.jennifermaggio.com
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Originally published Monday, 20 May 2019.