Monday, July 13, 2015

Parenting Your Christian Teen, Part 1

After my teary flashback, I'm preparing myself spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for a new, challenging stage of parenting.

The teen years. 

My preparation actually began a while ago, with the Lord teaching me many things along the way. Peter is a half-year away from 14 years old, and Paul is two thirds of the way toward 12. We're in the thick of the hormones, the moods, and the unfinished portraits of manhood.

It's exciting but scary. It's a privilege but also a huge responsibility. Parents of teens need to have core beliefs identified, lined up and solid, and their own personal relationship with the Lord firmly in place and growing.

Yesterday when the church youth director told students that drivers were needed for a youth event and would they please invite their parents, there was a general groan from the teens. This was just one more reminder to Peter that he's different--different being something he's partly struggling with, partly grateful for.

He likes his parents. They are not his enemies, nor are his siblings--a group he's also heard the teens groan about.

He's seeing that in today's world, teens are a separate entity from family. They are their own tribe and this phenomena is certainly more true now then ever before, due to teen involvement in social media, which further isolates them from family. They can be in the same room as their family, but still not be with family.

I explained to him that today's teens spend a lot of hours in school, and in after-school activities, and then on the weekends, in church youth activities or with peers--a schedule that doesn't leave a lot of time for family relationships. Teens begin to see parents as their adversary, rather than their loving, firm foundation.

I told the boys that because they're homeschooled, they have the blessing of more time at home and thus more time to develop close relationships with family. That's why they actually like their parents and siblings. There's true relationship here, not just a shared dwelling. Relationships take hours and hours and they're intentional, not merely a byproduct of shared space.

You can certainly have rich relationships without homeschooling, but carving that time will be more of a battle. I think Kristen from We Are That Family does a good job of fighting for family time in the midst of a public school schedule.

My son Paul responded, "Wow. I hope my wife homeschools my children. You've really raised us well."

We were all at the lunch table together and my husband and I glanced at each other, grateful for this surprising, positive comment from our tween. Parenting kids with anxiety disorders is pretty much a recipe for constant stress, and this little morsel of praise renewed our strength.

The first thing every family needs to grapple with in the teen years is: How important will peers be to your teen? 

What do you think God wants from your teen's relationships with peers? And from your teen's relationship with parents? And with siblings?

As Christian parents we have to remember that we are separate from the world. We are supposed to be set apart, with different beliefs and goals.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

God's goals for our children's teen years are not about them developing BFF's, social media followings, and engaging in every kind of fun and adventure. Teens have no special mandate from God to "live it up", but they do get this push from the world. 

In contrast, we want to rear holy young people after God's own heart--we want them closer to God then ever before, caring about what God cares about.

How should our children think about peers during the teen years? 

Well, rather than central to their image or their identity, peers should be on the receiving end of God's love, through our teen. 

A teen should ask: How can I reflect God's love to this peer, and build him or her up in Christ?

It's about Him, not about us. This is true for the teen years, as in any stage of life. Don't look to be served, but serve. Don't look to be exalted, but humbled before Him.

And as to the opposite sex? 

I want my teen boys to see girls as Daughters of the King, not as potential dates. 

As parents we have to teach them to manage their attractions by putting them under God's rule, rather than indulging them, as society encourages teens to do. 

You may be attracted to that girl, son, but remember: she belongs to God, not to you or any other teen boy. You can't touch her, possess her, or steal anything from her (i.e. her purity). If you want to have anything to do with her at all in your teen years, let it be to build her up in Christ.

We want our teen boys to know that until they can support a wife, at least with a roof and food, they really have no business getting involved emotionally with one girl. 

Why did God give teen boys such a strong sexual drive? If anything, I think the strong attractions are meant to help boys stay goal-oriented toward being able to support a wife. 

One of the main responsibilities of a Christian parent during the teen years is to provide boundaries that assist young people in giving God control over their sexual/emotional passions. Stay involved. Stay present. Make sure young people are not alone together, and are not talking incessantly on social media, developing emotional bonds that will only lead to frustration and sin. 

The teen years are not for stepping away and giving teens "space". Teen brains are hard-wired for a lot of risky behaviors, and they also have difficulty managing moods, anxiety, and stress. They need more support than ever, not less. They need more parenting than ever, not less.

Secular society will shame you, the parent, for your involvement and your boundaries. They will crucify you, as they've done to the Duggars, who advocate courting, not dating, and who don't allow young people to be alone together. Such practices are freakish, according to our world. Unrealistic, at best.

The difference is often in the amount of time a parent is willing to devote. Yes, this may all sound good to a sane minority of people, but how do you put it in practice?

We give up what we want, same as with all the other stages of parenting. Whether it be a flourishing career, a driving interest, or anything else that exalts us over God, or drives us away from family--we have to put it on the altar. 

A Christian parent's job is to serve God through our children

That doesn't mean that raising our children is the only thing we do for God. But it is the major thing. It is our primary responsibility and the reason we were gifted with these precious children, who really belong to Him. We were given the gift of years with them. The gift of watching them grow and discover and learn to love. We are to dedicate them to God, giving them right back to Him for his glory.

Just as the Lord treats us, we are to treat our children. Just as He sacrificed for us, we are to sacrifice for them. When our main job is done we should be able to present them to the Lord, holy and blameless.

Will we mess up? Yes. Will they mess up? Yes. Will God be there to pick up the pieces, ready to use the brokenness for his glory? Yes.

But it is also true that the closer we are to God, the closer they are to God, the less messy it will be.

The fact that we can never do it perfectly doesn't mean we shouldn't do it excellently

If we keep our eyes on God and not on our problems and challenges, we will get up that mountain by turning it into a hill.

The minute we look in the mirror, or at our pile of problems, is the minute it seems too hard and we stop trying.

The number one lesson is to look up at Him.

Yesterday was a pretty horrible parenting day for a variety of reasons, but when I went to bed I rested soundly. I looked up at Him and I found my way again.

Part 2 of this series, here. Part 3 here.


Tesha Papik said...

AMEN! I really agree with all you said. I think choosing to homeschool has made a huge impact on my teen boys, they adore their dad while their peers laugh at their dads. Also coming form the private school to homeschool the time spent with them alone is worth it and my oldest was only in 5th grade when we stopped I can not imagine the pressure in High School. Our boys have no girl relationships other that sisters in Christ at youth group. We do encourage them to pray for their future wife as she is most likely a teen also and needs to make good choices with her heart. Plus I think praying for her gives them the idea she is a real person that they could potentially hurt if they acted wrongly in these years. We limit peer interaction except for youth group and try to encourage our boys to be best friends there is an age gap right now with Jadon but her will catch up to the big boys in a couple of years. Great Post!

Christine said...

You have a lot of wisdom to share, I am sure, with so many boys and your oldest 17 now. Good to hear from you, Tesha. Glad you don't think I'm crazy! :)