How You Can Parent Your Teen

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Gerald F. Kastens, former administrator of the Commission on Youth Discipleship

Nine tips you can use to strengthen your family.

Twenty years ago, being a father seemed rather easy–challenging, but not terribly complicated. Fairly regular devotions, rules about finishing broccoli before dessert, lots of wrestling on the living room floor, occasional discipline for infractions of established boundaries, some good family outings, and a weary, but noble, patience seemed quite enough.

What Teens Face

But in 20 years the stakes have risen considerably. Misbehavior then meant a messy room or perhaps a tantrum. The decisions parents must make today seem much more complex. Now it may involve drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, or a lifetime of rejecting God.

No matter what has changed, though, children are still a blessing from God. He gives the main responsibility and privilege for Christian nurture to parents. God designed the home to teach identity, values, and skills. Parents are God’s primary agents for nurturing children.

What Teens Need from Parents

It would be nice if parenting could be simpler. I earnestly wish that all I had to do to get my kids to turn out well was to pray before meals, bring home a paycheck, and never miss church on Sunday.

But sin has ruined everything. We live in a fallen world. Parenting isn’t something that can be solved by simple formulas. Any honest parent knows that being a parent requires commitment and effort. What seems to be at the heart of parenting struggles is having the knowledge and understanding to do what will have the greatest impact on kids.

Teenagers need their parents to…

  • love the Lord and his Word. What youth need the most is for mom and dad to be in church, to attend Bible class, to participate in the Lord’s Supper, to read their Bibles, to pray out loud, and to use God’s Word in their homes. When parents break the silence and initiate conversations about spiritual matters and share the truths of God’s Word with their family, then you can look forward to youth who are spiritually fit.
  • love unconditionally. It’s not what they accomplish that makes them significant. Nor should our love be dealt out only when children obey. Look to God the Father for the ultimate example. He doesn’t see us for what we are. Rather, he sees what his Son has done for us.
  • act like adults. Teenagers don’t need another buddy who dresses and acts just like them. Be someone who models and instructs how a Christian thinks and acts. Sometimes that means having the courage to say “no.”
  • love each other. How can your children know that you love each other? Show them. There is a difference between being in love with your mate and showing love. Someone once said that it takes four or five hugs a day just to exist, seven or eight for maintenance, and 10 for growth.
  • give them time. “Quality time” is a myth. The real time that counts is quantity. Teaching and training take time and commitment. The teachable moment seldom occurs twice.
  • get to know them. What are their struggles? How do they see themselves? Do they have a foundation for making godly decisions? Who are their friends? Knowing your child’s friends can be an important window to your child.
  • communicate with them. That means listening and instructing. It’s all right to disagree and discuss. The key is to keep the channels of communication open so that you can reach their heads and hearts.
  • help them find their talents and gifts. Not everyone can do everything well. Avoid pressuring teens to do the things you did or couldn’t do when you were young. Each youth is a precious and unique gift from the Lord.
  • pray for them. Make it the real thing, not wishful thinking. Pray for them daily and frequently. They need your prayers. God does not ignore the prayers of his people.

Focus on the Main Thing

Undergirding all of our efforts is a caring God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Everything your family needs is available from the Father. He does not cast us off for our failures. Rather, he is gracious and faithful to his promises. His Word and sacraments alone can strengthen our faith and give us the resolve to provide the kind of parenting that teenagers need.


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