Too often, parents of teenagers back away during the turbulent teen years, believing that their kids will do best by experimenting with life and learning from their mistakes. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Teens need their parents more than ever. The best thing you could do for your teen is to get involved in his or her life, providing the kind of hands-on love and guidance that will make a real difference in your teen's future.
Here are some ways you can parent your teen with boldness:
• Help your teen express himself or herself. Encourage your teen to talk with you regularly about thoughts, feelings, ideas, goals, and dreams. Every day, share three things from your own life and ask your teen to share three things from his or her life while you listen with genuine interest. Prompt your teen to open up more by asking open-ended questions. Praise your teen when he or she does communicate well with you. Understand that your teen will test you by sharing simple things before deep things; don't overreact to what you hear so your teen won't clam up. Remember that all teens want to know what their parents think and why. Share your own thoughts and feelings with confidence. Try creative ways to learn more about what your teen is thinking and feeling: working on a project together (which facilitates good conversation), using your time in the car together to talk, taking walks together, and inviting friends over to your home or chaperoning an event where your teen gets together with friends so you can overhear their conversations.
• Guide your teen to choose friends wisely. Understand that your teen's friends will exert a critical influence on his or her life. They will shape your teen's values and identity. Be proactive about helping your teen learn how to discern other people's character. Explain to your teen the reasons behind your commitment to guide his or her friendships. Monitor your teen's actions and relationships. Don't be afraid to require your teen to avoid or limit time with other teens who exert a negative influence, and affirm your teen's wise choices of friends.
• Develop your teen's character. Strive to build virtues into your teen's life that reflect the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Realize that every attitude and action - no matter how small - matters a lot when it comes to how your teen's character is developing. When your teen demonstrates self-centered behavior, let him or her experience the natural consequences of it. Take the time to explain why you have set the rules you have, and be sure to follow through. Help your teen understand how specific attitudes and actions either honor or dishonor God.
• Help your teen learn to be responsible and disciplined. Tie freedoms to responsibilities by refusing to allow your teen to engage in certain privileges (like talk on the phone or borrow the car) until he or she fulfills certain tasks that must be done (like homework or chores). If your teen becomes overwhelmed by his or her responsibilities, break the tasks down into manageable segments and monitor your teen's progress to make sure the work gets done on time. Explain the positive rewards or completing the work, as well as the negative consequences of not doing so. If your teen doesn't fulfill his or her responsibilities, calmly carry out the consequences so he or she will learn to do better next time.
• Help your teen learn how to obey from the heart. Know that when your teen learns to obey authority figures like parents and teachers, he or she will learn to obey God. Explain what constitutes right behavior, and why it's important to act justly. Then set up boundaries and consequences to follow through. Let your teen know that God expects obedience all the time - not just when we feel like doing what He asks. Present a united front with your spouse when disciplining your teen; if you disagree, discuss the issue when your teen is not around. Encourage your teen to constantly consider what's good for others - not just him- or herself. Help your teen take meaningful steps toward achieving his or her dreams. Talk with your teen regularly and openly about issues like staying sexually pure and avoiding drugs. Welcome any and all questions from your teen, and strive to answer them well. Make sure you live a life that models the kind of obedience to God that you'd like to see from your teen. Let your teen know how much he or she is loved by God, and by you, too. Explain that obedience is ultimately a way of responding to love with more love.
• Step in to prevent disaster. If your child is heading for trouble, don't just look backward in regret. Instead, learn from your past mistakes as a parent, then decide to move forward. Have your teen clean up the messes of irresponsible choices (such as by setting up a payment schedule to replace a car that he or she crashed). If your teen has gotten involved with the wrong crowd, help him or her pursue a healthier lifestyle and direct your teen toward new friends. Clean up communication problems by insisting that your teen lets you know where he or she is going and with whom. When your teen returns, ask for details of how things went. Set strict rules when it comes to issues like dating and driving that could be dangerous for your teen is he or she approaches them the wrong way.
• Insist that your teen participate in church. Make church attendance nonnegotiable in your family, just like school attendance. Let your teen know that even when church is boring or other people at church are difficult, God wants to use church to help him or her grow in ways that wouldn't be possible outside church. Besides the weekly worship service, insist that your teen attend at least one other weekly church activity (such as a youth group meeting or Bible study). Encourage your teen to go beyond attending to participating. Affirm your teen's God-given talents and urge him or her to use them to serve others through your church's ministries.
• Help your teen develop a good work ethic. Stop funding areas of your teen's life that he or she can support through a part-time job - such as clothes, transportation, and recreational outings. Help your teen find a job to earn his or her own spending money and pay for his or her own gas and car insurance. Show a genuine interest in your teen's job, and help your teen learn how to be persistent and strive for excellence on the job. Explain to your teen the importance of giving his or her best, no matter what kind of work he or she does, because doing so honors God and helps your teen grow. Show your teen how to effectively manage the money that he or she earns.
• Manage your teen's moods by channeling feelings toward good actions. Understand that all teens experience intense emotions like pride, love, sadness, anger, fear, shyness, embarrassment, and happiness. Remember the intensity of the feelings you experienced when you were a teen so you can empathize with your teen. Teach your teen that feelings shouldn't control him or her. Instead, they are gifts from God that should point him or her toward constructive actions. Let your teen know why his or her emotions and make sense, and work with your teen to figure out what to do about them.
• Handle rebellion with loving firmness. Always explain the reasons behind what you're asking your teen to do. Try to keep calm during conflicts. Focus on discussing the issue at hand rather than attacking your teen personally. Use positive reinforcement as often as possible. Be consistent and dependable, keeping your rules no matter how much your teen rebels. Know that, eventually, your teen will be glad to have the security the rules provide. As you implement the rules, however, be sure to do so with the goal of loving your teen as God loves him or her.
Adapted from Bold Parents, Positive Teens, copyright 2002 by Karen Dockrey. Published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co., www.waterbrookpress.com.
Karen Dockrey, the parent of two teenagers, is a youth minister and writer who has walked through the teen years with hundreds of teens and their parents. She holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has served as minister to youth for more than three decades. Her books include When a Hug Won't Fix the Hurt, The Student Bible Dictionary, and The Youth Worker's Guide to Creative Bible Study. She lives with her husband and teens near Nashville, Tennessee.