“Just wait until you have a teenager!”
Heard that one yet? It’s the classic, lighthearted observation of experienced parents talking to their younger counterparts. Whatever the situation, the message is about the same: You may think you’re getting the hang of this parenting gig now, but the real work hasn’t started yet.
While every stage of parenting has its trials, there is something uniquely challenging about adolescence. Many parents remember their own turbulent teen years. They wonder if they’re truly ready to walk with their kids through all the emotional drama, the conversations about sex and dating, and the challenges of resisting the corrupting influence of a secular culture.
Yet it’s going to happen, whether you’re ready or not. Your kids are growing up, their maturing minds and hormone-fueled bodies propelling them toward adulthood. As you prepare them for this launch into the teen years, you can equip your kids to have stability and direction during this time of change, to not just survive the teen years, but thrive. That starts with helping young people comprehend and appreciate three important truths:
The truth about technology
Much like the printing press, radio and television once did, the mobile phone has completely changed culture. But this transformation is far more pervasive — smartphones have become nearly inseparable from many teens, often consuming their life and draining time and bandwidth from richer relationships and activities.
Mobile devices also create a direct portal for negative influences. Instead of enhancing and educating, personal devices often isolate teens from healthy relationships, subjecting them to cyberbullying, distorted messaging and risky behaviors.
A child’s healthy view of technology use starts at the top. As parents, we can give our preteens healthy boundaries for their devices and model those boundaries with our own devices. We can also lead them in an exploration of technology’s potential for creativity and productivity in their areas of interest.
Young people who develop a healthy relationship with technology understand that they are not made to be consumers but producers — created by God to do great things for His glory. Producers create music instead of just listening to it. They take up photography, instead of spending hours absorbed in friends’ Instagram feeds. They join a missions trip rather than following someone else’s travels. We have an important responsibility and opportunity to help our kids recognize and explore the thrills of the real-world adventures that are all around them.
Spending time texting, watching videos or flipping through social media isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but our young people have to be prepared so they aren’t taken in by the addictive nature of these platforms. When texting and social media no longer enhance but consume their lives, they need to evaluate how they’re using their time.
Have your teens periodically examine their use of time by asking themselves a few questions: Do the things I invest my time in make me better? Do they improve my heart or my character? Are they helping me grow into a smarter, stronger, more resilient person? Teach your preteens that before they turn to a screen, they need to consider doing activities that help them answer “yes” to those questions.
Words of Truth:
The truth about their friendships
Does it sometimes seem like your child’s friends have become more important than eating and breathing? Adolescence brings a massive desire to belong and fit in with peers. This is natural. God designed us for relationship. But our teens need guidance in developing friendships. It’s critical for our young people to identify trustworthy peers who will help them grow and to avoid negative influencers who may hurt them over time.
Help your preteens recognize this age-old struggle: In working hard to fit in with a group of peers, we may be tempted to betray what friendship really is, even betraying who we really are. Teens crave community, to belong to a group. But this natural, healthy desire can be corrupted when, in their efforts to be accepted, they change themselves to become who they think the group wants them to be.
Ask your preteens: “Are you really accepted into a group of friends if you’re only showing a counterfeit version of yourself?” Help them see that their peers can get them into trouble by influencing them to do things they know they shouldn’t do. Good friends, however, point them toward good behavior, wise advice and sound decisions.
Your kids will also be reassured to know that they are not alone in this struggle. Share your experiences — about how you’ve dealt with the pressure to fit in — so that your kids recognize they’re not alone in their trials.
Parents can also help their kids see a more genuine view of friendship by intentionally seeking out healthy community that accepts young people for who they are. Nurture a community composed of family, extracurricular clubs and church that gives kids love and belonging and helps them through life’s challenges.
Teens are able to develop a real sense of community when they recognize that they belong to something bigger. They are naturally wired to participate and work with others. Parents have the great opportunity to help kids discover those environments and activities that are a natural fit for their kids’ unique personalities, gifts and interests.
When young people work together with peers on various goals, they fulfill their need to belong, without caving in to the pressure to change themselves to fit in.
Words of Truth:
On the Focus on the Family broadcast, listen as youth expert Jim Burns helps parents understand how to navigate the challenges kids will face during the teen years. Download here!
The truth about their identity
All people feel bad about themselves from time to time. For teens, those emotions are a normal (and sometimes quite dramatic) response to life challenges. But when teens feel bad in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations, their emotions can run out of control, hijacking their perspective.
Sometimes these emotions overstay their welcome, causing kids to believe serious lies about themselves. You’re dumb. Ugly. A loser. Kids not only begin to believe these lies, but also start wearing them like labels they can’t remove.
Help your preteens recognize two seemingly contradictory facts about emotions: They’re useful, but they often deceive us.
Emotions are a bit like skin, which alerts us when something we touch is too hot or when there’s a spider crawling on us. When a friend isn’t acting loyal, feelings of insecurity warn your kids that the relationship may not be safe. They may need to distance themselves from that friend and hang out with other friends. Insecurity doesn’t feel good, but as a tool, it can help teens make decisions.
Emotions can also mess with teens if they don’t understand the power of emotions to direct their thoughts toward things that aren’t true. When teens face new situations and challenges, their emotions often ricochet around, trying to manage the new experiences. They can feel exhilarated one minute and completely discouraged the next.
Truth trumps emotions
Help your child recognize that when she compares herself to everyone around her, she’s not seeing the truth about herself or the truth about who her peers really are. Emotions are amplifying and reacting to thoughts that aren’t true. Teens can take control over these roller coaster feelings by focusing on larger truths about who they really are.
As parents, we must consistently help our kids recognize that difficult circumstances and turbulent emotions don’t change the larger truths about their identity. Affirm them, teaching them that how they feel doesn’t determine who they are. Rather, their true identity is anchored in what God says about them — that they are uniquely made masterpieces chosen for good works that advance His kingdom. The Creator of the universe loves them unconditionally.
Repeat and affirm this truth to your kids often so that they can recognize the truth about who they are when stormy emotions threaten to wreck their perspective.
Words of Truth:
Your kids will face many challenges as they launch into the teen years, but by teaching them these core principles, you can help them recognize that:
- Real-world living is far better than being immersed in media and technology.
- True friends will accept them for who they are.
- Their identity is determined by God, not by their feelings.
With these truths, young people can develop the self-discipline and self-respect needed to thrive during their teen years.