Teenagers are like preemies. They’re premature adults who haven’t fully developed. As a result, they need extra attention and special care. If you’re like me, you may have imagined that as your child got older, they’d need less attention and care, but I’ve found that is simply not true. Sure, your premature adult can make their own sandwich and may even shave their own body hair, but in order to navigate all the teenage problems, it’s all hands on deck.
When I was a teenager, I vowed to become the the type of parent that I desperately wanted: cool, laid back, understanding. Spoiler alert! I did not become that super-chill parent. Instead, I was your standard frustrated and stressed variety. Can you relate?
My teenager and I clashed on many levels. There was chronic tension in our relationship. I was tired of the defiance, attitude, and disrespect (among other things). I didn’t know how to get through to her and the challenges seemed overwhelming. But just when I wanted to throw in the towel, I found some help for loving my child through all the teenage problems. That’s when things started to turn around.
To begin, God revealed to me the real issue He wanted me to address. Turns out, it wasn’t teenage problems. It was parent problems. God brought me a lot of correction and encouragement through this Bible Plan. I was doing what so many of us well-meaning parents do. I was so concerned with her behaviors and decisions that I forgot about what matters most—her heart.
Often, the majority of our parenting effort is spent teaching and correcting, but there is so much more to it. Parenting isn’t just discipline and guidance. It’s the art of tending to the human heart. In our deepest of hearts, we all crave love and relationship. It’s how God designed us. Your teenager may be pushing you away, but in their heart they still desire a relationship with you. A relationship that goes beyond teaching and correcting. Do they still need your guidance, boundaries, curfews, and challenges? You bet. But they’re more likely to actually follow your parental guidance if you develop a real friendship, too.
These four questions reveal four key components to building a strong relationship with your teen.
- How often are you engaging in the things that matter to your teen? What does your teen like? Can you talk about their hobbies and interests? See if you can join them from time to time. Maybe you can let them choose how to spend a fun day together—yes, even if it means taking a trip to the mall or sitting down to play video games. I know. Doesn’t sound super fun to me, either. But it’s so worth it.
- How often do you listen to your teen without inserting your opinion or value? Every last waking moment doesn’t have to be a “teachable moment” anymore. Your teen is probably pretty capable of working out right and wrong on their own now. Did your teen directly ask you for your opinion on their new hairstyle, the latest “cool” phrase they’re using, or the guy they think is cute? No? Then, it’s probably best to respectfully abstain from offering it until it’s requested. And even then, be at least as loving and gentle to them as you would one of your adult friends!
- Are you encouraging your teen daily? When your child was little, you probably encouraged them all the time. “Good job coloring that picture for me!” “You’re so sweet!” “I love all your hugs and kisses!” But the teen years can feel like a desert. Why haven’t they given me any hand-made tokens of their affection lately? Why are they so rude? How come they pull back when I try to hug them at school? And why are they doing what I told them a hundred times not to—again? It’s enough to make a parent’s encouragement meter sit at zero for a while, and raise the “Stop it!” meter up to code red! Believe me when I tell you: Your teen needs your encouraging words more than ever. My daughter certainly did. And daily. All your encouraging words expire at midnight. Start fresh and encourage your almost-adult as often as you can.
- Are you validating their feelings? The maze of feelings a teen has to run is complex. And varied. They probably feel more emotions in one day than you and I do in a year. It’s easy for us fully grown adults to forget what that roller coaster was like. Your teen needs a safe place to let those feelings out. If you’re tempted to say, “Well, you’re being ridiculous,” instead try to imagine how it must feel for them. Try saying, “That sounds rough. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me. Let’s pray about that right now.”
Loving your child through all the teenage problems becomes a blessing when you tend to the heart of your premature adult. Our God has always cared more about our hearts than anything else. “… For God sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NASB