Dear Mama- Don't Be Scared of the Teen Years

Like any sane parent, I've dreaded the teen years. Drama, backtalk, rebellion, unrepentant anger, zits, relationships, driving... I have kind of had a low-grade terror about the whole deal.

But now I'm in it. I'm dealing with boyfriends and periods and friend betrayals and acne and anger, and I'm here to tell you: This is the BEST. It does NOT have to be a nightmare.

NOTE: I write this to you with a bit of trembling and timidity because I'm not done yet. I'm not all the way through the teen years and only half my children are there. But I also say what I'm saying with boldness because the word of God confirms it's truth, and I'm witnessing it not only in my own life, but in the lives of friends and their teens as well.

So, I repeat: The teenager years don't have to be a nightmare.

Do you have a sense of foreboding about the teen years? Do you fear the day your child will lose their mind, begin to hate you, or you lose all control? Are you dreading a loss of relationship? Here are 5 tips for navigating the teen years with confidence and creating a loving relationship with your teen.

They don't have to be rebellious, angry, unkind, or overwhelmingly selfish. (Even though that can happen too, and it' doesn't necessarily mean it's your fault-- but more on that to come.)

Here's a thing that no one is telling you that can be the total game-changer: Your teenager is STILL YOUR CHILD.

And the really big secret is that if you don't give them the opportunity to think otherwise, then they likely won't. Your 16 year old is just as much under your authority, leadership, and discipleship as your 6 year old. And just like a 6 year old, they’ll take as much rope as you’ll give them. Sometimes enough to hang themselves (metaphorically speaking)… and so the entire thing can be summed up quickly:

Keep a measure of your rope. (And know that rope length won't ever be the same for every child.)

As our children grow up and seek their own way in the world (as they rightly should), we can often default to extremes: either a hands-off -they're-mini-grown-ups approach OR one that deeply seeks to control and shelter them from reality and hardships. (IE- Giving them unlimited rope vs no rope at all.)

I propose a middle road… or a measured rope, if you will.

Our children ought to grow in autonomy and responsibility as they age. They are BECOMING adults, but the slippery slope is that we can sometimes begin to treat them AS an adult well before they are ready. We can give them freedoms and options they aren't ready for. And in an effort to defy our own mortality and aging, we can slip into the "friend zone" by clinging to our own youthful inner selves and rejecting the realization that WE ARE OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE TEENAGERS. But they don't want or need another friend--they need a parent.

But they also don't need or want a parent that controls every moment in their day, keeps them from opportunities to grow (due to fear, anxiety, regret, or shame), and won't begin the slow work of handing over responsibilities to equip them for adulthood.

It's not about letting them watch whatever they want to OR not letting them watch anything at all. It's about equipping them with Truth and helping them develop discernment so that they can reject or accept what they hear and see as truth or lies. It's about watching that movie with them and discussing it openly. It's about listening to the music too and asking them how they feel about it with you sitting right beside them.

It's not about letting them date whenever or whoever they're interested in and "trusting" them to drive off into the night with a boyfriend or girlfriend by their side. It's not about chastity belts, being a virgin on their wedding day NO MATTER WHAT (lest you believe that purity is measured by virginity status), and shutting down all opportunities to be humans with the opposite sex. It's about preaching the gospel from early on, cultivating a culture of purity in your home, being transparent about your own experiences (for better or worse), and grounding your children in TRUTH before they even hit the dating scene. It's about choosing wisdom FOR THEM when you know their bodies might betray their beliefs. It's about being dialed in and involved enough to KNOW the family of the boy/girl that has caught their eye and investing time into these relationships as a family-to-family situation, not just a "good" boy and a "good" girl riding off into the night together.

  • It's not about always saying yes or always saying no... But having hard and awkward conversations well before the teen years and well into them.

  • It's not about controlling but equipping.

  • It's not about avoiding failure but helping them get back up when they do and being there to maybe soften the fall just a bit when it's right.

  • It's about giving them opportunity to fail in the little things so that they don't fail in huge, life-altering ways.

  • It's about knowing when to step in, when to hold back... when to catch, when to let crash.

It's ALSO not about taking full ownership of their faith and personhood upon your incapable (though amazing) shoulders, Mama. How we train up and educate and disciple our children is overwhelmingly important-- but that's not the end of it. WHAT WE DO is not the full story- that’s simply our portion. As they grow into young adults, they also become fully responsible for their actions, beliefs, and decisions. This can be hard for us to handle, but I want you to know that YOU can only do YOUR part. And that's what I'm speaking to here- your part. Your child's salvation, future, education, and happiness are also fully in their hands, all under the authority of a God who loves them more than you do. While we always want to keep a measure of the rope, so prayerfully while begging for wisdom, we do not answer for their lives at the end of it all. ONLY they can do that.

It's not easy. You will fail, you human-person-you. You'll have regrets and wish for a do-over. Your oldest child will be a guinea pig. But here's what matters:

1- God's grace is wholly and fully sufficient. If you're seeing big mistakes now and not knowing what to do, take it to the Lord. If you think you haven't set a firm foundation, take it to the Lord. I somehow have amazing 15 and 13 year olds, and I can't tell you how much we've failed.

2- Remember, the teen years are easier with a firm foundation. Good teenage years begin in the toddler years, but it's never too late to turn things around.

3- Be humble. Tell of your failures. Be real. Let your children see you fail AND repent. Let them know how your choices impacted your lives. Trust them with your hurt and pain. Be a full, real, open, humble, honest, WHOLE person in front of your children. They’re smart and won't take advice from someone they see as a hypocrite.

4- Be flexible. Be willing to pray and reconsider. Listen to their appeals and to their heart. Be willing to see what God may be doing in their hearts through relationships and opportunities. Let them see that you don't always have it figured out, but you're trying your best to love them well and follow God.

5- Be kind. Remember what it was like-- the uncertainty, pressure to conform, desire to be accepted and liked and wanted. Remember what it feels like to be so deeply influenced by others. But never mistake kindness and sympathy with empathy. Don't jump in the sinking boat with them because "you've made that mistake too..." rather, keep one foot on the shore and extend that helping hand because YOU have enough sense to see that the boat is sinking.

Above all, remember the Lord's command to:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deut 6:5-9)

When we commit OUR way to HIS way, when we seek HIS heart with our whole heart, when we live what we're preaching as hard as we can (and humbly admit when we haven't), our teenagers and young adults will not grow into holy terrors... Lord willing, they will grow toward his holiness.