I’m far from an expert on this, but I thought I’d share some thoughts about my first few years of parenting teenagers. I hope that some of these reflections might help some of my fellow-strugglers.
From what I have experienced, and also witnessed in pastoral ministry, there seems to be three tensions that define the teenage years.
Family v FriendsObviously as children grow older they need family less and less – they think. They are not so dependent on their parents for food, drink, clothing, guidance, protection, etc. They spend more and more time outside the home in school, sports and church activities. They meet more and more young people and begin to form friendships and relationships with them. All this is natural and normal.
However it also produces an increasingly problematic tension at home. Usually unnoticed before it is too late, the child’s focus is no longer on home, family, parents and siblings, but on friends, friends, and more friends. The children spend less and less time at home and invest less and less time in family relationships. And then Facebook enters to increase the tension even more by enabling children to be focused and engaged with friends 24/7, even when in the family home.
If unchecked, this unbalanced focus on friends can be carried into marriage, resulting in lonely spouses and practically orphaned children. Questions to ask our teenagers: Where is your primary focus – family or friends? Do you give more honor and respect to your friends than to your parents, brothers and sisters? What are you doing to make this home happier? What have you done to serve your parents or siblings today?
Relationships v Riches As parents lavish more and more upon their children, the children may begin to define their relationship to their parents in terms of what they get from them – toys, iPods, snowboards, Wii’s, horses, clothes, vacations, etc. So children start selling their love to their parents.
And parents unwittingly cooperate with this by thinking that unless their children get the same as other children, they will grow up to hate their Mom and Dad. So parents start buying their children’s love.
Again, children often bring this economic view of relationships into other friendships and even their marriages, as they define their happiness in a relationship by what they can get out of it.
Questions to ask our teenagers: Do you love your possessions more than your parents? How would you respond if all your possessions were taken away, and all you had left were Mom and Dad? How much do you think about giving as opposed to getting? If you had the choice between your Mom and Dad in poverty or another Mom and Dad with millions, what would you choose?
Education v Entertainment Children sometimes view school as either a means to an end (a good job and salary) or as a necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) evil. They live for evening and weekend sports, games, and recreation. Education is so boring. Entertainment is so stimulating. Boys especially tend to do the bare minimum to keep teachers and parents off their backs. But when it comes to skateboarding, hunting, snowboarding or computer games they come to life and practice, practice, practice until they excel!
This too carries over into adult life, as work is seen as a means to an end or as a necessary evil, rather than the place God has put them to glorify Him.
Questions to ask our teenagers: Do you see your school and your education as your divine calling – the place that God has called you to serve and glorify Him in? How much enthusiasm for excellence do you have for Math, English, etc? If the Lord Jesus was your teacher, would he be happy with your schoolwork?
Tensions I’ve set out three tensions, and that’s what they are. They are not three choices; it’s not that we and our children must choose family instead of friends, parents instead of possessions, and education instead of entertainment. Every parent-child relationship will have both elements of these three equations to one degree or another. The problem is when the balance of them falls on the wrong side consistently and excessively.
The “world” whispers (and sometimes shouts), “Unless you focus primarily on friends, possessions, and entertainment, you will lose your children’s love!” The Bible says otherwise.
How much we need to cry, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” And one of the ways He helps us is by driving us away from our own wisdom and strength, and towards prayer for Gospel power to change our children’s hearts.
This is not a battle we win once, but a battle we have to fight every day. Often we drift imperceptibly into imbalances, and we have to suddenly and painfully re-balance. Maybe reading this will at least help you to recognize the nature of the battle. And that’s often more than half the battle.