Wait! Don’t stop reading just because your children are small. You see, one day, faster than you can imagine, they will be in the unique phase of life I am about to talk about and knowing some of the pitfalls ahead can really make your life easier in the long run. What am I talking about? Today I’m talking about parenting teens! Those nebulous, not adult, not child balls of emotion and unfocused passion. When my kids were small, the thought of one day having a house of teenage girls made me cringe. Now, however, I have to say that, though it’s certainly not easy, these teenage years are some of the best of our families lives!
Let me start with what makes them wonderful. First of all, we are really seeing the kind of adult they are going to be. It’s exciting to see their talents and unique abilities grow and mature into something that will soon be marketable and serve them. It’s also exciting on those rare occasions when you get a glimpse of their personal depth. Even more astonishing is when they let down their guard enough to see the seeds of their growing faith blooming inside them.
Now, the challenges. Teens are emotionally explosive and anything but consistent. You have a sweet, snuggly child one moment and someone throwing words that cut you to your core the next. They are aware of the options around them but not experienced enough to deeply understand the results or consequences of those options. They are sure they’re ready to head into the big beautiful world but lack experience or, frankly, a fully formed frontal cortex. The teen years are truly a magical and terrifying time.
As you parent these emerging adults, one of the most difficult things to deal with is how to let go, the right amount at the right times while still maintaining authority. If we do too little parenting and offer too little guidance, they experience unnecessary pain and can find themselves in situations they are not equipped to deal with. If we hold on too tightly, we rob them of opportunities to learn decision making or experience self-reliance while still safe in our home. Either extreme can encourage them to push us away and enter into all forms of rebellion.
We parents love the part of the bible that tells children to obey their parents but The bible doesn’t stop there. It’s easy to forget that God also warns us:
Ephesians 6:4 ESV “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Do not despair! With God’s help, this balance is possible and it is never too late. What we need to for guidance is to, with prayer and biblical principles, look at how God disciplines/relates to us. HIS children. The Lord gives us rules and guidance. However, he then backs off and lets us learn. He allows us to make choices that will hurt us and even bring us far away from Him in order to mature and grow. He disciplines us when necessary but lets us pay the natural consequences of our choices. He lets go of the control he clearly has in order to give us the gift of freedom. It’s this immeasurable gift that we need to try and pass on to our own kids.
Well, that’s all well and good, but let’s be honest. Knowing we need to let go and being able to do it are two very different things.
What are some practical ways that we can start to let go?
1. Listen – Not just hear what they are saying but REALLY listen. Sit with them, look them in the eye, forget everything else on our minds for a few moments and listen. When we listen, we take whatever they are saying seriously even if, to you, it makes very little sense at all. Feeling heard by you will soften their heart and make it easier for THEM to hear YOU. Once this bond is established, it will be easier for you to let go knowing that your teen is open and willing to hear the ideas and advice you have to give.
2. Give them the opportunity to make their own choices – This one is ideally started young and built on; however, it can be unquestionably powerful when a parent has controlled most of the decisions in a teens life and makes the choice to ease up and put some faith in them. The confidence and strength this simple act can give your child is immeasurable. You can start as small as you need to. The key is to remember that: Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God has plans for your child. Good ones. The question is not how much you trust your child but how much you trust God. I’ve known plenty of kids who move out and have no idea how to make choices for themselves or how to handle the consequences of those choices. The outcome is rarely good.
3. Allow natural consequence – Its tempting as you let them make more and more choices to soften the blow when the results of those choices don’t turn out as they’d hoped. Fight the temptation. This can be crucial as well as painful for parents. However, it is one of the most effective ways for kids to learn. Let your teen fail the test and have to work twice as hard on the next one. Let them go to class without their project if they leave it home. The hard lessons of life learned now while they have you to fall back on is critical for them to be able to grow. You may be surprised at how well they handle the tough stuff. You may be floored at how quickly they grow. Observing how capable and resilient they actually are will go a long way in your ability to let go as your teen becomes a young adult.
4. Practice Restraint – Choosing your words and your battles carefully will give your teen the freedom to take what you DO choose to attack more seriously. If everything is a big deal, they will eventually tune out.
5. Be a safe landing spot – This is much more than loving your teen. Its being a place that they can come to when they fail or when things get difficult. A place where they know that they will be nurtured. Our teens are still children in many ways. If they can’t come to us for a safe landing without fear of judgement or criticism, they will have to go somewhere else. Somewhere else can often be very dangerous. Reserving criticism or “I told you so” is extremely daunting as a parent; however, doing it despite our feelings is an enormous step towards letting go.
6. Finally, and MOST importantly… PRAY! – The most powerful and effective way of learning to let go is to pray. Pray for your child’s safety, wisdom and discernment. Pray that God protect your child and give them the tools they need when things go terribly wrong. Then, pray for yourself. That you have the faith necessary to trust the Lord with all your child no matter what happens.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your path.”
And, He WILL make straight the path of your child as well. Some kids need a short road and some need to take the long, hard one. God alone knows what is best for your child and God alone can take their unfortunate choices and turn them to good. As you trust God more and see the changes in your emerging adult’s heart, it will be easier to let go.
The teen years are some of the most layered and complicated years of raising a child. They can also be some of the most memorable and beautiful. Regardless, it is these years when we, more than ever, need to give the safety and well being of our child to the Lord. It is in these years that we must learn the art of letting go.