Parenting healthy teens can be an awesome adventure, but if you’re anything like me, parenting teenagers might take you by surprise. The difference between parenting little children inside your home and the change to this relationship as they grow and become more independent can be tricky. Still, we have found some great ways to make this transition a little bit easier.
I just got off the phone with my 21-year-old son—the topic of conversation: wedding plans. My son is getting married in 3 weeks. I am still stunned that we made it here so fast. He is a full-fledged adult. He needs me for very little, which is so fantastic and a little sad. Things are so different now; parenting children in your home is a full-time, hands-on, excellent job. Parenting them through their teen years and helping them prepare to leave your house and discover their unique path is an entirely different animal, but also incredible! Honestly, it’s a lot of fun getting to know the adult that your child is becoming.
The Scary Teen Years
The teen years were not nearly as scary as I had been told. They were actually some of my favorite years of parenting, but it takes some navigating for sure.
So how do we go from wiping noses to being sideline support crew? Here are a few things that have helped me along the way.
Pray. Pray. Pray For Your Teens.
As your child grows, he or she will be making more significant decisions with bigger consequences. Pray.
Pray that they lean into the Lord and not away from him. Pray for their faith to be steadfast even as they figure out precisely what they believe, now that they are on their own. Pray that they seek wisdom and make wise decisions. Pray for the friends and teachers and coworkers that are such a big part of their life. Pray for their spouse. Pray for their hearts to be encouraged when they are down. Pray for humility – so much pain is avoidable if they can only cultivate a humble, teachable spirit that accepts wisdom from outside. Pray for their pride to be broken and for them to know where real joy comes from.
You get the picture. Pray for them all the time!
Respect Their Thoughts and Opinions.
This one can be challenging as a parent. We think we know what is best for them, and sometimes we do, but they are their own people with their own unique thoughts and opinions and personalities and quirks. It is OK for them to think differently than us. It is good for them to think something through carefully and come to their own conclusions, even if they are not the same conclusions. My son is one of the most complex thinkers I know. If I rush in with my opinion all the time, I miss out on getting to hear his process and the different sides of the issue that he sees that I don’t see.
We will miss out on so much of the benefit of the relationship if we are always just waiting for them to agree with us. You know that feeling that rises in your chest when your teenager says something you disagree with? That pressure to mold their thinking into a shape that you can be comfortable with? We are not the Holy Spirit to take on the responsibility of changing others’ hearts — even our children. Certainly, we speak the truth in love. In an article on raising teens, Paul Tripp says, “Our call is to make wisdom attractive.” But we don’t control their responses, and we overstep when we try.
“Our call is to make wisdom attractive.”
Learn how to disagree well. Learn how to have lively discussions that leave room for multiple opinions to be discussed in love. Create a space where it seems safe to think outside the box or consider new things. This can be scary for us as parents because we have so much invested in their well-being, but it is so worth it.
Listen to your Teen More Than You Talk.
This principle can be helpful when parenting any age children, but I have found it to be especially true with teenagers. They are experiencing so many new things, learning so many new things. It is a privilege if they want to share this with you. Listen!!
Don’t form quick conclusions about what your college student is saying. Really listen. Ask good probing questions if you are given an opportunity, but don’t immediately jump in with your thoughts on the matter. They are figuring out the adult world around them, and they need us to give them space to do this.
Your options as a parent can be minimal at this stage of their lives, depending on the relationship. One option is to try and make them listen to you, dominate the conversation, and potentially alienate them unnecessarily. Another option is to model active listening and show your love through earnestly engaging and seeking to understand them. Try to remember when you were a young adult, trying to make sense of the world. Maybe you were full of ideas, with limited capacity for listening to, and valuing, the thoughts of others. Perhaps you were fighting to show yourself to be a force in your own right, a worthwhile adult with your own valid conclusions.
Bear with them, in all their strengths and faults, in all their youthful imperfections that may seem so glaring to you. Lovingly listen. It could be a game-changer for your relationship.
Let Them Make Mistakes.
I will repeat that because it is so valuable and challenging for us parents to do. Let them make mistakes.
In our attempt to love and protect our children, sometimes we fail to let them grow up. It is OK for them to experience failure, fall down, and have to start over. This is how we learn and grow and gain compassion, and so many beautiful things are built into our character by our failures. Think long and hard before you “rescue” them from failure.
Long term, you want them to be adults who can handle setbacks.
Support Your Teenager Without Judgement
This can be tricky too. I am not suggesting that you cheer them on while they make horrible life decisions, but I am suggesting that they feel safe to come to you. If they have made a mistake or they have a rough patch, be there. You can still be their biggest cheerleader without coddling them. You can point them in the right direction without judging them.
Most likely, they already know what you think. They might even expect you to be critical. Surprise them. Be soft and compassionate. Remember the mistakes that you made at that age so you can approach your son or daughter with love and humility. You want them to know you are on their team, in it with them; you’re not watching their life choices from the judge’s booth.
Find Common Interests
This is the season where your relationship with your child has so much friendship potential. Nourish it! My son and my husband, and I are currently working on a book together. My husband writes, I edit, and my son is illustrating. I cannot even begin to express how much joy this has brought all of us.
No matter how different you are, it is worth the work to find things that you might enjoy together as friends. Start simple. Choose a show that you all watch and talk about. Choose a type of food you all want to try. These are things you can do, no matter how much time or resources you have. Relationships need connection. Keep trying until you find something that sticks.
Spend Time Together
As our kids grow, they spend more and more time outside of our home until eventually they are gone. Make an effort to spend good quality time together. This takes more effort because your lives may be different, and you’re all busy. Still … make the time!!! I can’t stress this enough. It takes wisdom and perspective to prioritize the truly important over the urgent. What is more important than doing all you can to know, love, and enjoy your child?
This spring, we rented a little place away from both of our homes, spending time with our oldest not too long after his transition to adult life after college. We knew this was an opportunity that would never come again, and it was such a gift. We all took time out of our schedules and just focused on enjoying one another. It was a definite highlight in our year, with so much laughter and love. We got to have some deep, meaningful conversations we would never have had if we hadn’t — by God’s grace — cultivated a relationship of mutual respect.
We got to know and experience him as an adult. I cannot fully describe the pride in our hearts as we got to experience, first hand, the man that he had become.
They Just Might Grow Up to be Your Favorite Adult
My relationship with my 21-year-old son is one of the most enjoyable relationships I have. We genuinely respect one another, can have deep conversations, a lot of fun, and we look forward to the times we get to be together.
The goal of raising children is to help them, as best we can, by the grace of God, reach their full potential. We want to allow them to grow into joyful, healthy, productive, wise adults. But they are the ones who must grow. We cannot grow them or grow for them. Rejoice in their growing independence in mind and body. Encourage their continued pursuits of maturity. Pray, listen, spend time. Maintaining a close relationship with your teenager takes intention but has the potential to bring so much depth and joy to life.
As parents, we are most effective when we can understand and accept our changing role in our child’s life. We go from caretakers to coaches to equals. These changes can be challenging and scary because they involve letting go of control. But they are necessary. We aren’t raising children who stay children. We are raising adults and must learn to relate with them as such.
Have patience and take heart and enjoy who they are and who they are becoming.