When I shared with an acquaintance how painful it will be for me when my daughter leaves home, the puzzled mother blurted, "Oh, I can't wait to have my daughter out of the house! Teenagers are so difficult!" Even when my children were young, I received dire warnings from exasperated parents of teens.
Yes, there may be conflict during the teen years, but it can also be a time when relationships take on new depth and beauty. As a mother of three young adults (ages 17, 20 and 22), I'm happy to report that although we've had our share of teen–parent battles, our home has more often been filled with laughter and joyful interaction.
Strong relationships with our teens don't occur by accident — they require deliberate parenting. You are the adult, the one who sets the tone for the home and who has the power to encourage with a warm hug or a gentle word. Every day offers new opportunities for you to create lasting bonds.
Remember that God designed your teen to grow in independence as he or she transitions into adulthood. And isn't that what you really want — your children to become courageous, independent adults who are equipped with a clear sense of direction and a strong moral compass? The teenage years offer the perfect opportunity for you to help them fine-tune their discernment and decision-making capabilities, while still providing the safety net of your intervention when necessary. This season also gives you the chance to model forgiveness and teach the principles of redemption and restoration. When teens err — and they will — your response can teach more about Christ's love than a thousand lectures.
As your sons and daughters are exposed to opposing worldviews, they will look to you for moral direction. They need to know that there is a firm foundation of truth upon which to build their lives. The hook-up pop culture offers a world of uncertainty and broken hearts. But your living example that says, "I am here for you. I have your back. I will always love you," will speak louder than any cultural message and be exactly what they need to hear.
The teen years also offer the opportunity to help your children discover and hone their unique gifts and talents. Encourage them to develop and pursue their own dreams, even if they are not yours. I learned to do this when my son was 15, and he suddenly burst forth as a talented artist. As I looked for classes and opportunities for him to develop his talent, I began seeing the world through the eyes of my son — the designer. He flourished and found immense fulfillment in discovering that he was created to create.
Teens are social creatures, so one of the most significant things you can do is to make your home inviting, warm and fun. Hungry teens flock to food and to a comfortable hangout. My husband and I decided long ago that part of our income would be spent feeding the masses, and we'd scour ads and yard sales for foosball tables, movies and board games. And it worked! We gave the kids "their space" but were always on hand to supervise.
As you take deliberate steps to interact with your own teen, make it a point to interact with their friends, too. Stop what you are doing when they arrive. Give them a warm greeting, make them the focus of your attention and engage them in conversation. You will discover that teens are desperate for sincere adult attention and respect.
Because we took the time to care for our teens' friends, they became our friends, too. Our home is still filled with laughter and excitement as college kids descend upon us during every school break.
To help you get started, wake up tomorrow morning — and each day after — with a simple prayer: "Lord, please help me today, on this one day, to uphold the standards that You have set for our family, to enjoy my children as You do and to truly know these precious souls that You have put in my care."
When you take the initiative, you and your teens can experience a bond that withstands even the most challenging transitions, and you'll discover immense joy in the process.
Rebecca Hagelin is the author of Home Invasion. She's the executive vice president of MPower Media and speaks to parents' groups around the country.