When my children were little, it seemed like every parent my age was dreading the day their children would become teenagers.  We all knew horror stories of sweet children who did the Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde thing upon hitting adolescence, turning into almost unrecognizable monsters. In our minds, adolescence was certain to be the end of family peace and happiness as we knew it. I was dreading it more than most, since my children were very close in age.  We would have four children in high school simultaneously. We were doomed.

That dreaded season in our lives was soon upon us.  To my amazement, those fast paced and crazy years were among the best in our lives.  My husband and I loved having a house full of teens.  They entertained us with their wonderful humor, broke our hearts with their struggles, and encouraged us by their fledgling commitment to the Lord.  Friends stopped over all of the time, and descended on our pantry like locusts. I don’t mean to give you the impression that life was perfect, or that my teens did not present huge challenges to my husband and me. Those years kept us on our knees as we watched our children begin to spread their wings.  However, I can tell you there was never a dull moment in the Coleman household. 

Now that my children are in college and beyond and living for God, many parents of younger children have come to us to obtain advice on raising children.  Of course, children are unique, and not every strategy works for every child.  However, there are some general principles that we found to be true as we went through the years of raising our teenagers.

1. Live out your faith like you mean it. No one can smell a phony like a teenager.  If you want your children to have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, then model what it looks like for them on a daily basis.  I am not talking about following a set of rules here.  Children will define our genuineness by the fruit we bear.  Our lives should be marked with love, forgiveness, humility and grace.  Our fruitfulness is directly related to our personal relationship with God and how closely we are reliant on Him.  Be real.  Don’t be afraid to show them you are struggling with a spiritual issue.  They will learn more from how you deal with conflict and involve the Lord in the process than any words you can say. Children are forgiving when you approach them with humility and let them know you are very aware of your own shortcomings.

2. Make your home a safe and comfortable place. Teens need to know they are significant in your life and home. Home should be a refuge for your teenager. Make it a point to stop what you are doing when your teen comes in the door and ask about their day, activities, or time with friends.  Even when I am last to enter the house, I make it a point to go around the house and make personal contact with everyone who is already home.

No one wants to come home to nagging and tension.  Adolescents are an easy target for this, since they can be irresponsible, thoughtless, and self-centered.  There is so much to nag about!  Let your teenager know you like them and are happy they are there at home. Of course, household rules and standards need to be upheld.  Just be sure your positive comments far outweigh the negative ones you make.

Warmly welcome your adolescent’s friends. Yes, this can be a scary proposition.  Remember that these friends are as intimidated by you are you are intimidated by them!  Greet each teen as they enter the house and make a bit of small talk with them.  If my kids’ friends were staying for any length of time, I would offer a drink or a snack.  Treating them like a welcome and valued guest often surprised my children’s friends.  Eventually, they in turn would return the interest in us, even though we were the adults. Teens need love and acceptance just like the rest of the world.  They just have a hard time making themselves vulnerable enough to let anyone know it.