On Parenting Teenagers and Peace

A very wise woman and teacher once told me that all the teenage “attitude” we see is the release of years of parents attempting to control their young offspring.

“Lead, don’t force,” she said.

It made a lot of sense to me at the time, when I had only two children, both of whom were still young. But even then I recognized a serious flaw in her theory.

parenting teenagers

She had no children of her own.

The only people I have ever met who have this parenting thing figured out are those who have no children. Those with only one are close behind them.

When I was in the midst of dealing with the talking back and sometimes irrational outbursts of my first teenager, a very wise man who had raised four teenagers of his own gave me another piece of advice.

“The cure for 13 is 15.”

And it turned out to be true. Because sometimes, patience is all that’s required but patience is the hardest thing of all. Because it requires a fair bit of faith as well.

All that is to say, be careful with parenting advice. No one on the other side of a computer screen has a clue what is actually going on in your home or what is best for your child. That doesn’t mean you can’t brainstorm together.

But listen closest to those who are a few years ahead of you, walking the same path you find yourself on and who have the grace and compassion to tell you that sometimes, it’s just hard. You don’t know what’s right and you just have to do the best you can with what you know and have faith that love truly does cover a multitude of sins. And perhaps the hardest lesson of all is realizing that your teenagers are young adults, capable of their own decisions and their own mistakes. It isn’t always about you and what you did right and what you did wrong.

So what’s my advice? I don’t give a lot of that around here, but if you want a few principles that I believe help make the teenage years more peaceful, get a grain of salt ready and I’ll share. A cup of tea would be nice, too, because I’m having one right now and all the best parenting conversations occur over tea or coffee.

Recognize the teenage years for what they are: a period of transition.

Teenagers are going through a world of changes as they come into puberty. Their bodies are developing fast enough, it can throw off their coordination. Their brains are expanding, grasping new ideas and exploring abstract concepts. Just like their two year old selves might have had to try on every item of clothing in their wardrobe at the same time, they need to try on these new ideas. They are starting to recognize themselves as a person separate from you. A year or two ago, their entire existence was under your control, from when they woke up to what clothes were in their closet, from what food was on the table to what kinds of books they were allowed (or even required) to read. In a few short years, you will have no say in any of those decisions at all. In these few years of transition, it’s time to begin loosening the reigns. letting them take on more responsibility and helping your home be a soft landing for their mistakes.

Lead. Don’t Force.

Wait. Didn’t I lead off with that as problematic advice? Yes, but not because I thought it was bad on its own. The premise is off. If a perfect father like God can end up with Adam and that conniving wife of his, it can happen to anyone. Teenagers are almost adults and they need to be treated like almost adults. They need more freedom. They need more opportunities to make their own mistakes. And they need someone who will help show them the way. It won’t be long and you will only have the influence over them that they allow. That’s already beginning to be true, but think about what you want your relationship to be when they move out. Lead by example, lead by encouragement, lead by stepping back and allowing them to make those first faltering steps of independence before they leave the shelter of your home.

The cure for 13 is 15.

Or, like I said above, be patient. Be consistent, be loving, be kind, be faithful and be patient.

Get to know them.

Don’t get so focused on child training and behavior management that you don’t take time to find out who they are becoming. Step into their world a little bit. Get to know their friends (not just the ones you like), play their video games with them, read a book they recommend to you. Somewhere in these years, you are going to start to transition out of your role as parent and into the role of friend. I don’t mean you get all buddy buddy with your kids, becoming enablers rather than parents. But remember, when they move out, all of your authority leaves with them. This new found freedom will be a lot easier to navigate if they received it in small doses over a few years.

Know that sometimes, it’s just hard.

We are sinners in a fallen world dealing with other sinners who can’t seem to figure out how to put the lid back on a gallon of milk. (Please tell me I’m not alone in this.) We make mistakes. They make mistakes. We question our parenting. They make more mistakes. We wonder where we went wrong. They make more mistakes. Sometimes we lose our temper. Sometimes they lose theirs. Sometimes, we just want to cry. Sometimes, stepping into our room and just crying is probably the best choice in that moment. And that’s OK. Always strive to be better. But be quick to forgive.

Err on the side of grace.

Our savior does. Each day is a new day. I think that verse about forgiving your brother 70 times 70 times is relavent here. Particularly if you are struggling with ongoing behavior problems, disrespect or downright defiance. When the consequences are served, let it be over. Christ removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. Try not to see your teens as nothing more than the mistakes they are making. Don’t bring up last week’s issues while dealing with this week’s. Drop the words “always” and “never” from your behavior discussions. Try to find a way to connect in the calm periods. Build your relationship. Give them something to look forward to. As another wise person once told me in relation to raising toddlers, “If time-out isn’t working, make sure the time-in is worth working toward.”

Pray continually.

Pray for them. Pray for their friends. Pray for people to be put in their lives to draw them always nearer to Him. Pray for their future spouses. Pray for your relationship. Pray for patience. Pray for your own growth. Pray for grace. And especially pray when you just don’t even know where to begin anymore.

And finally? Love them.

Fiercely. Gently. Sometimes mama bear, sometimes mama robbin. Because love really does cover a multitude of sins. And the more they feel that love, the less the mistakes matter as they mature.

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17 Responses

  1. Such a great post! I love this line, “No one on the other side of a computer screen has a clue what is actually going on in your home or what is best for your child.” When I am meeting with parents during therapy sessions I remind them this all the time! I also won’t give advice to parents until I have asked many many questions to get the best picture I can. And even then I remind them that parenting is hard!
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  2. I can not stand for the life of me when someone wants to give me parental advice when they have no children. Parenting is such a hard job and all of us are trying to do the best we can. I have a teenage daughter, so I can relate to this post!! I loved “pray continually.”

  3. I love this SO much. My Tinies are 4, 2 and 1, and lately I’ve been a little overwhelmed when I think about the teen years to come. I love your point to “err on the side of grace.” So much truth here – thanks for sharing!

  4. Great post and advice. I’m about to have two teenagers (my second is turning 13 in a few weeks). I think this advice is true. Spending time with them and really knowing them is so important.

  5. I like this a lot. I hope that I am a gracious, loving momma who allows for mistakes knowing that I am certainly not perfect myself! 🙂 I like the idea of making your home a “soft landing” location!

    1. Yes. I also think letting our children know we aren’t perfect (and they already know, we just don’t always admit it!) helps. Then we aren’t quite so hypocritical.

  6. Great perspective. My oldest is 12, so we’re just standing on the edge of the teenage years. My hope is that we’ll be able to lean into relationships with our kids, setting boundaries but also letting them explore their growing freedom.

  7. This is a very good article. Thanks for all the wonderful tips. Made me feel warm all over. My son is 16 and like any regular teen and parents, we clash, too. But what I like about our relationship is that we have an open communication. He tells me when he thinks I’m overreacting, as much as he tells me if I’m “doing a good job”. And vice versa. Well, he’s more secretive now but that’s understandable. I was once a teen, too so I can totally relate. I just don’t like how technology and the internet are taking most of their times.
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