Terrible Teens?

Smiling teenage son with dad

Oh no, oh no, my child has become a . . . a teenager!

Why do so many parents think that way?

When did teenager become shorthand for scar-faced monster, man-eater or tattooed rebel?

I didn't find it so.

Even without their own cars, my three sons cruised through the teen years and became intelligent, likeable adults with a strong commitment to Jesus Christ. This despite the fact that I was just a very average dad, at best.

No, we didn't crack open the Bible at dinnertime or look for teachable moments when they were young. Should have, I suppose, but we didn't.

No, I can't recall taking any of them on special retreats to give them special talks about hush-hush grown-up stuff.

No, they didn't get a very good education at their public school, learn to act like perfect gentlemen or become star athletes.

So why did it all work out OK? The grace of God? Could be. He may have figured that I was too weak to handle much in the way of parental challenges, so He sent the tough cases elsewhere. But I think some other factors may have helped, too. Here's a little advice from a has-been parent.

First, stay close to your teens

Look for lots of ways just to hang around one another and be family. That won't happen if you go off on trips. Not so much business trips as ego trips or whatever you call it when Mom or Dad is more interested in garnering applause at work (or serving at church) than in being a parent. You know, missing dinner and phoning home with saintly excuses. If you care more about your own agendas than the lives of your teens, you're asking for trouble.

Second, encourage your younger kids to take up interests that will last into their teen years

Get them to be about something, whether it's soccer or software or snipe hunting. When adolescents stand like empty houses ready to be occupied, all kinds of demons come knocking, such as obsessions with the latest fashions, drugs, the opposite sex or getting into the "right" crowd at school.

Blessed are the kids who wear pocket protectors, play tuba in the marching band or have some other talent that gets ignored. They face fewer temptations, and the only problems they cause are the sort I can handle:

  • When I saw smoke curling out of my son's bedroom, I required him to open a window before plugging in his soldering iron.
  • When another son pined for what was hot, sexy and beautiful, I had to remind him that new Macintosh computers cost a pile of money.

I suppose a few teens can become Mr. or Miss Most Likely to Succeed and still survive, but I don't like the odds.

Third, don't try to raise teens alone

For centuries, parents have relied on a community of caring people to work with them. No, it doesn't take a village, but it does take a viable church or extended family.

My sons were surrounded by loving Christian relatives who reinforced our feeble efforts at parenting. Few are so fortunate today. If you aren't, find several Christians who can be to your kids a kind of substitute aunt or uncle or grandparent. Skip the "hi, hello, good-bye" churches and look for a tight-knit fellowship where other adults are willing to wrap their arms around your sons and daughters, look them in the eye and say, "Really, how's it goin'?"

There you have it — three things that, if you do them, might even make raising a teen enjoyable.

This article first appeared in Focus on Your Child Teen Phases in April/May 2005. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
Copyright © 2015 by Focus on the Family.

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