Every time you go to the gym to work out with weights, you know you’re headed for pain.  Pumping iron hurts!  Why?  We build muscles by tearing down muscles.  All that pain eventually delivers impressive results, but it ain’t always fun.

Parenting today’s teens involves the same painful process.

As parents, we are responsible to help our children build the muscle they need to lift the heavy issues of life.  But as their virtual personal trainer, it takes a lot of discernment to help them understand how much weight they should lift.  I can tell you from my experience with kids at Heartlight, teens are quite capable of handling tough issues, but they can’t do all the heavy lifting on their own.  Teens are still trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world.  You get to help your teen manage their muscle-building program, and all of us go through lots of blood, sweat and tears along the way.

When your child appears weak and insecure, it’s tempting to want to step in and rescue them from the pain of failure.  Or, we become over-controlling and smother them with advice, lecturing and counsel.  In these times, we do little to help our teen build the muscle they need and, in essence, we try to manipulate what only God can do in their life.

Psalms 1:1 describes a process that a person follows when he is learning something.  First they walk, then stand, and eventually they sit.  The psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the one 

    who does not walk in step with the wicked 

or stand in the way that sinners take 

    or sit in the company of mockers, 

but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, 

    and who meditates on his law day and night. 

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, 

    which yields its fruit in season 

and whose leaf does not wither— 

whatever they do prospers.

When your child is young, you can’t demand a lot of that child because you know he doesn’t have the skills, experience, or wisdom to make the decisions on his own yet.  Your child walks in the way that you direct him, looking to you for guidance in placing each step.  But your teen is in transition now.  He is in the standing position, getting ready to take his position on life.

Remember this when you interact with your teen!  When your child is standing, you can transfer opportunities for him to build his muscles while you are still standing next to him.  But this means you need to know where he is standing as well.  What are his challenges?  Who are his friends?  What are his needs?  With open lines of communication, you will have a greater opportunity for sharing your own experiences and wisdom with your teen.

In a few years, your teen will choose where he will sit.  Which way will he be facing?  What outlook will he take on life?  What things that you have taught him will he hold onto and what will he discard?  Everything he has experienced up until this point will help him make that decision.

If your goal is to help your child grow up, then be intentional in your relationship with your child.  This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye when bad stuff happens, but it doesn’t mean holding onto the reins so tightly either.  Teens aren’t perfect.  Parents aren’t perfect either.  But when you allow your teen to exercise his freedom and to face the consequences in a safe environment, surrounded by people who love him and want him to succeed, he’ll be able to flex his muscles and grow.

I would never want to run a marathon without any training.  In fact, if I signed up for a marathon, I’d be out there every day getting ready for my 26-mile trek.  Bit by bit, I would run farther and faster.  And eventually, I should be able to reach my goal.  The day is coming when your teen will leave your home and be on his own.  Sure, working out right now might create some risk as you and your teen determine his boundaries, but if you wait until that day to allow him to experience freedom, he may not be able to handle his newfound liberty

When you train your body as a weightlifter, the key to success is to keep at it.  There are days when you won’t want to get up and pump iron, do squats or run on the treadmill.  It’s the same way with your relationship with your teen.  If your family isn’t intentionally building strength together every day, the muscles you are trying instill in your child’s body will atrophy.

If you have been holding onto the reins tightly, try starting off with some light weights.  See how he responds to responsibility, and then gradually increase the weight.  If you have been taking a hands-off approach, get a sense of whether your teen might be struggling under too much weight.  Remove some of the freedom until he is able to show that he can handle the responsibility.

When you give your teen the opportunity to succeed and the opportunity to fail, he will either make a mistake, face the consequences, and try his hardest not to do it again, or he will succeed and remember how good it feels.  With every choice that is made, your teen will strengthen his ability to handle the harder decisions and responsibilities later on in life.  When that day comes, you can look back with deep satisfaction knowing that God used you to be his personal trainer.

Mom, dad, keep up the good work.  Your son or daughter is well worth the effort!

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Publication date: July 2, 2012