How Can I Make Sure My Teenager Turns Out Right?

It's frightening to be a parent of teenagers today. I've been lying awake nights worrying about the challenges and temptations my kids face every day at school, in our neighborhood, on the streets, and in all kinds of social situations. Even the church youth group isn't immune to the influences of secular culture! Is there anything I can do to make sure that my teens stand firm and stay true to the values I've tried to instill in them?

Yes and no. If you understand your job as a parent and do it well, you can exercise a tremendous amount of positive influence in the lives of your teens. On the other hand, if you’re laboring under the assumption that there’s some way to guarantee that they “turn out right,” you need to think again.

Your kids are free moral agents, created in the image of God and equipped with wills of their own. The older they get, the more important it is to come alongside them in the role of mentor, advisor, role model, and sympathetic listener. But by the same token, the nearer they come to the threshold of full-fledged adulthood, the more you have to realize that you cannot force them to believe as you believe or behave as you want them to behave. You can teach and model biblical values for them. You can also establish a set of house rules – for example, no alcohol, no drugs, no premarital sex, be home every night by a certain predetermined time, and attend church with us on Sundays. Once that’s done, you can say, “My house, my rules. As long as you live under my roof, you have to abide by my standards.” But in the end you simply don’t have the power to control the choices they will make as they mature. We’ll admit that this is a scary prospect. That’s the reason for your sleepless nights.

Perhaps the first thing you need to do is step back, take a deep breath, and try to relax. The truth of the matter is that it never was your job to control your children’s destiny. We can understand, of course, how you may have felt that it was. When they were small, you found it relatively easy to contain them, manipulate their movements, channel their energies, and shuttle them from place to place as you saw fit. But even during those early years you lacked the power to reach inside their little minds and direct their thoughts and attitudes. Now that they’re adolescents you’re becoming even more painfully aware of your limitations in that regard.

Are we saying that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to steer your kids in the right direction? Of course not. But we are suggesting that you start moving away intentionally from a control-based to an influence-based model of parenting. The key to success lies in discerning the difference between the things you can and can’t controland in realizing that the results are not in your hands. When you realize that it’s not your place to manipulate your teens’ attitudes and behavior but rather to nurture and validate them as unique individuals, always pointing them in the direction of God’s truths and moral values, you’ll be in a much stronger position to lead and guide by advice and example.

Our counsel, then, is to lighten your grip on the reins and concentrate more on building your children up in love. Let them know that they’re precious in your sight. Pray for them every day. Using Philippians 4:8 as a guide, identify their strong points and good qualities and tell them exactly what you see. Show them the path of life and encourage them to weigh their options wisely. Equip them to think for themselves by helping them understand why God’s way is the best way. In so doing, you’ll be stacking the deck in their favor. Acting on the foundation of the security and affirmation you’ve given them at home, they will be better able to respond to the temptations and challenges of the outside world in a healthy, positive manner.

As you navigate this passage, remember that it’s natural for teenagers to go through the stages of what psychologists call developmental individuation. In the weeks, months, and years to come you can expect your kids to begin moving:

  • Away from parents and family and toward the peer group.
  • Away from dependence on Mom and Dad and toward greater independence.
  • Away from rules and toward advice and counsel.
  • Away from your hands-on guidance and toward your hands-off availability.
  • Away from your control and toward your wisely exercised influence.

We realize that this may be unsettling for you, but we have to emphasize that it’s all part of the normal process of growing up. The baton is passing as it should and must. From your perspective, the key is to go with the flow and work with the new currents instead of against them. This is a high art and an exacting science, but you can master it if you put your mind to the task.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas and suggestions at greater length with a member of the Focus team, our staff counselors would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to trained therapists practicing in your area. You can contact our Counseling department for a free consultation. It would be their pleasure to assist you in any way they can.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Losing Control & Liking It: How to Set Your Teen (and Yourself) Free

The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love

Boundaries With Teens

Why Christian Kids Rebel

Your Teen Needs You

Tips for Parenting Teens

Loving Your Teen Through Life’s Seasons

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