If you have small children, then you’ve probably heard it said, “Just wait until they’re teenagers; that’s when parenting REALLY gets tough!” Most of the times I have heard remarks like this, I have simply nodded my head with a forlorn look of dread as I have considered what it will be like to have 5 children in the “Tween” and “Teen” years at the same time. At other times, I have shared Mark Twain’s interesting advice on the matter. He said, “When a child turns 13, seal them up in a barrel and feed them through the knot hole; when they turn 16, plug up the knot hole.”
But is teenage rebellion really the inescapable reality that our culture says it is? Are parents doomed to face heartache and difficulty as their teenagers experiment with the freedoms and responsibilities that come with the immanent approach of adulthood? Conventional (Worldly) wisdom says it is important to give teens the “freedom” or “space” to test the boundaries, to figure out who they are, and to learn important problem solving skills that prepare them for adulthood. But does this really make sense? Must we endorse what is most often sinful behavior and ardent disrespect in the name of allowing a child the time to “grow into themselves” and “sow their wild oats?”
Not according to Scripture. Those identified in the Bible as “Youth” are not given any special provision to indulge sinful behavior in the name of “growing to maturity.” On the contrary, Scripture tells us very plainly that all of us are active in our rebellion against God and His authority. Children, youth, and adults all suffer from the reality of sin. And sin is not something to be openly tolerated or tacitly “endured” in any season of life. Scripture does tells us to discipline our youth and children so that they will know God’s law and the path of righteousness (See Proverbs 13, 15, 19, and especially 23:13-14). It instructs children to obey their parents and it instructs parents to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:1-4)
What does this mean for us as we consider the plight of the modern teenager? It means we need to be active in biblical parenting from the time our children are born. What does that look like? Well there are many answers, and I would commend to you many good books (like Lou Priolo’s “Teach Them Diligently”), but for the sake of brevity, here are some pointers.
1. BEWARE OF CHILD-CENTERED PARENTING. Many people parent on the basis of what their children “feel” like in any given circumstance, or to state it more accurately, they parent on the basis of what will keep their child happy or satisfied or free from “melting down.” The problem with this is that children, even ones less than a year old, figure out very quickly what behavior they can exhibit to get what they want from Mom and Dad. Sometimes, they have very legitimate needs that they are expressing, like hunger, tiredness, illness, or simply the need to be comforted and loved. But keep in mind that they are sinners, and often they are expressing pure and simple selfishness. (A wise parent takes the time to discern the difference) But as sinners, whether they be preschoolers, gradeschoolers, or teenagers, they need discipline and direction a whole lot more than they need to be placated. Regular indulgence of a child’s selfish desires or a youth’s sinful manipulations reflects very lazy parenting.
2. PARENT SCRIPTURALLY. Make Gospel truth the regular staple of your conversations in the home. As we see in Deuteronomy 6, the Word of God is to be spoken and shared and taught and lived with intentionality. The truths of the faith are to be passed on from generation to generation. This means that you, as the parent, need to be devoted to the Word and Prayer yourself. It also means that you need to weave the Word into conversation and especially into your discipline of your children. Teach them that when they have sinned, they have not just broken your rules and disrespected your authority, they have sinned against God and disrespected His authority. Then teach them about the forgiveness and grace that is available through repentance and faith in Christ. Finally, be consistent in enforcing the rules. Nothing exasperates children more than when parents constantly move and readjust the boundary lines because of their own moods and whims.
3. FOSTER GOOD COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR CHILDREN. Among teens who are struggling with rebellion, the main complaints are that their parents never listen to them and never care to take the time to understand their struggles or what is important to them. Some of this could be sinful excuse-making, but much of it is quite true. While your children are young, foster good communication with them. Listen to them. Ask them questions. Demonstrate a sincere interest in their thoughts and involvements and challenges, regardless of their age. Show them love by spending TIME with them; teach them that they can come and speak to you no matter what, and that you will always strive to love them as Christ loves you. Good communication also fosters trust and spiritual nurture. Remember, your goal is to exemplify the character of Christ to them in your parenting. I love you all dearly!