by Karol Svoboda
As we go down this road of focused parenting together, we have had different emphasis on different stages. The first stage (birth to five years) has a primary focus of building discipline and self-control on a foundation of love, security, and trust. The second stage (six to twelve years) is focused on building basic life skills, discovering and developing strengths and weaknesses, and helping your child excel in their areas of strength. Now we move into the final stage before adulthood: teens.
If, as parents, we haven’t been as consistent, in touch or diligent as we needed to be it is often in the pre-teen (11 to 13) years that we get our wake- up call as parents. Our child is growing up quickly and still needs a lot of input! Our influence and family values do not need to change but often the way they are communicated needs to be adjusted. In the teenage years ahead our main focus is to be a coach, to begin letting out the rope of controls so they begin to gradually grow into adulthood.
Sadly, parents often tighten controls on their teenager in order to stop them from making wrong choices, mistakes or doing things that don’t reflect well on their family expectations and values. Unconditional love is still our foundation and it is from that core we take on the role of coaching our teenager into a loving, responsible, Godly adult. The coach’s role is to encourage individuals to develop the necessary skills, attitudes and knowledge that will help them reach their goals. In coaching teens we are not as closely involved with the details of our child’s life as we used to be. But we need to try to understand their world by listening to them, learning all we can about their world and giving them space to make decisions on their own. That also means letting them take responsibility for their mistakes so they can learn from them.
As a parent of a teen our availability to our child is really important. They long to know that their parents are still available for them, even if they may not want it much of the time. When our kids were teenagers I learned an important lesson. I had the misconception that I could schedule quality time with them in between my busy schedule. Kids don’t want to be an agenda on our to-do list. Sharing from their hearts doesn’t fit into a schedule, it fits into a time when they are ready to share and they know we are there for them, not just an agenda item to fit into the rest of our duties. It may come at an inconvenient time for us, but our availability speaks depths of love to our teen.
Talk about Sex
The most obvious door into the teen years is puberty and your child’s sexual development. This is an awkward subject for many to talk about with their child. But, we can’t deny the fact that our world has become a very sexually focused world and a subject that cannot be pushed aside. Advertisements, Bollywood, media, etc. blatantly advertise casual sex without boundaries and without lifelong commitment. As parents one of the best things you can do for your child is step out of your own discomfort and talk to them about the changes in their bodies, preferably before it happens and about sex from a Biblical perspective compared to how the world portrays it. Create a place of safety and security to talk about puberty and sex with your child. If you just don’t feel you can, find someone with your values that your child trusts and will listen to and talk with them. They will learn about it no matter what we do. So aim to give them a healthy, biblical understanding.
Listening and Understanding
Seek to understand and know your child. You get to know your child by listening to them-what they communicate verbally and non-verbally, how they interact with friends, siblings and their world. Listen with a heart to understand and discover afresh their unique personality, sense of humour, dreams and insecurities. What excites them? What frightens them? Creating conversation to understand and not to correct is crucial for a teen. Ask God to give you wisdom when it is time to listen with empathy and when to give advice. Many times a teen is coming to gain our empathy and not get advice. That is when trust is built and advice is welcomed later on. I can look back on many times we shut our kids down, but offering answers and advice without really hearing their hearts. That hurt them and shut them down from wanting to talk. Some issues that often divide parents from their teens are the teen’s choice of music, dress and friends. First seek to understand from their perspective why they listen to the music they do, why they dress how they do, how they choose their friends. If they know you really want to listen and not just correct or change them, they will be much more willing to hear your advice. Choose the battles that are really important and in the less important areas give them space to express their own uniqueness.
Love and Forgiveness
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? It can be a whirlwind of emotions, guilt, self-hatred and just trying to figure out who you are. No matter how many bad choices a teen makes, they need the security of a family that loves them no matter what. The love and forgiveness that a parent holds out for their teen will get them through many of the trials of growing up. Love has to be tough at times, where values and boundaries are enforced for the good of the teen, even if he/she doesn’t like them, but in the end what will always come through is the love that undergirded the enforcing of the values. As a parent extends forgiveness it opens the door for your teen to receive God’s forgiveness. These are often the years that test our love and forgiveness the most, but in the end it is so worth it, because we will gain a teen that matures into a friend as they become adults.
The teen years are a wonderful maze of discovery, growth, laughter and sometimes heartache. A short article like this does not even begin to cover the depths of wisdom and understanding needed to build a teen. Take what you have learned here and go deeper in your growth as a parent to your growing teen.
There are a few resources I would recommend especially for parenting teens, such as family.org.
Karol Svoboda and her husband were part of the pioneering team of YWAM in ‘80s. They have three children, who grew up in India. Karol has been a role model to many mothers in our organization.