Thinking that anything a parent can say, do, or offer to their children as they grow up a will guarantee a smooth and trouble-free adolescence is just plain wrong. I’ve learned that there are no such guarantees in life.
Stuff happens in the teen years that is out of our control as parents, even if we do everything right. Raising one angelic teenager can lead us to think that we have found the right formula, right up until we see our next child go down a completely different path. Welcome to the real world — a world where God gives each of our children a free will.
One parent wrote me saying, “We’ve done everything right. We took our son to church, raised him in a Christian home, sent him to a great Christian school, home-schooled for a few years, have taken him on mission trips and poured our life into him. What has gone wrong? How can he reject all that we’ve taught, and all that we’ve been striving for?”
These parents raised their teen in the church and taught him good and strong values. Then one day he decided that those things no longer worked for him, so he started “trying on” other values – values of his peer group. He was not interested in how his behavior made his parents feel. He was “in control.” He acted as he chose to act. Every trick in their parenting bag failed. Their arsenal was empty. Did they do everything right? Possibly.
The pain and stress comes when we, as parents, recognize that our children have chosen poorly and are clearly (at least to us) heading down the wrong path. This is not just when their choices are self-destructive — drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, etc. — but also when they begin practicing a different religion (or denomination), or to decide that after years of playing piano and winning competition after competition, Julliard no longer matters.
When your teen is struggling to discover his or her identity and trying to become independent, it can be an extremely frustrating and painful process for all involved. But it can help us better understand how God must feel when he see His children fail.
No parent is perfect, nor is perfection the answer, for even though God is perfect He still had a couple of rebellious kids. So, it’s not about the parent, and it’s not always about how they were raised. It’s all about the child and his God-given gift of individuality and free will, which is first exercised during adolescence.
I’m sure you really did lay a firm foundation for your teen. You did a great job! You did such a great job that your teen feels safe to create his own immature views. It may not seem like it now, but that is a very good thing. This is how teens become mature, well-grounded adults, who can contribute positively to this world. They are stretching their wings and preparing to fly.
Sometimes these “first flights” are hard for parents to experience, especially when they typically involve several failed attempts. The important thing is to be there when the wounded teen wobbles back to the nest, to encourage a stronger and more skilled flight the next time around.
Being a parent of a teenager can be hard work. There is emotional pain and even feelings of betrayal when our child gets off track in the adolescent years. But I know this — it makes us parents spend a lot more time on our knees! The process is therefore worthwhile. For in our journey, no matter how bumpy the turbulence, we may learn what God is trying to teach us as well.
Changing Your Teen May Involve Changes from You
I recently looked at some old photos of myself and was shocked to realize that I was wearing the same shirts today that I wore 20 years ago. I was so used to wearing them that I never took time to notice the nicer, newer shirts left for me in my closet as a gracious hint from my wife.
I have the same problem with my shirts that many parents have with their old parenting techniques. There is nothing wrong with their tactics for kids in their younger years, but they are just a little outdated for teenagers today.
If your son or daughter is responding negatively to some of your well-intended discipline, and your attempts to rein in their behavior is not working, don’t automatically assume that what you’re doing is all wrong. It’s just that your teen is changing at such an alarming rate that some of the established ways of doing things are no longer giving you the positive results they once were.
You can’t control the way your teen responds, so you might have to adjust what you have control of—your own rules and regulations—in order to initiate a different response.
Many times the way parents approach teen discipline can bring the teen to exasperation. The definition of exasperation includes a number of words that clearly describe the situation I see with so many families today. They are words like; make furious, irritate, provoke, annoy, anger, inflame, infuriate, exacerbate, make worse, enrage, and aggravate.
I have always read that verse thinking that the intent of the writer was to discourage dads from doing anything wrong in the rearing of their child, like cussing at a child, beating him, abusing him, yelling and screaming, acting selfishly, sinning against the family, and other things that would cause a child to respond negatively. However, older children in the teen years can also be exasperated over things that parents are trying to do right, without the parent realizing that their method is the heart of the problem!
For example, I once worked with a father who needed to update the way he approached his son’s discipline. His solution to protect his teen from this crazed culture was to keep him from participating in it in any way. While it is admirable to insulate a child from the evils of the world, isolating him will never work.
The son shared that he loved his parents, but that they were ruining his life. He said, “They won’t allow me to just grow up.” He brokenly shared how he was teased and picked on at school for never being able to attend school functions. He had no friends because he could not attend the events that the other kids did, or visit them in their homes. He choked up when he talked about not knowing how to relate to girls, and his embarrassment over making stupid comments in front others. He did not know how to relate to them because he was never allowed to be around them.
He was being insightful when he stated that he was moving away from his family, his friends were moving away from him, and he was stuck in the lonely middle.
His story caused me to tear up, repeatedly. It hurt to hear this young man — who was really a good kid — talk about struggling through awful pains of adolescence. Something was so right in his parents’ good intentions, but also so wrong. Their son needed to know how to live in his world. But when he couldn’t, he rebelled. He was not right in the way he rebelled, but I understood his reasons for doing so.
My recommendation for this family is the same for yours; learn to loosen your grip, and let go of the rope, just a little.
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential program for struggling adolescents located in East Texas. Learn more at www.heartlightministries.org or call 903-668-2173. Mark’s blog can be read at www.markgregston.com or he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/markgregston. His radio programs can be heard at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.