By Jessica Van Roekel, Crosswalk.com
Terrible twos. Turbulent Teens. We laughingly use these terms to describe different stages of growth in our kids. At the same time, they can also create a wedge of fear in our hearts. The twos, like the teens, are periods of time when our child reaches for more independence, which can lead to conflict between parents and teens. Parenting teens is a joy and a privilege. We get the enormous honor of shepherding our kiddos through their final development stage to adulthood. If you’re weary, scared, or unsure of whether you still have a voice in your teen’s life, let me reassure you, you are needed.
Here are seven ways your teen still needs your presence.
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1. Teens Need Present Parents to Guide Them into Adulthood
Conflict’s roots can be found in broken communication. This makes sense when our two-year-old isn’t fully linguistic yet, and we simply do not know what they want. In their frustration, they scream or cry, and we grow frustrated. Once our child reaches their teen years, it seems like we struggle to understand them even though we’re speaking the same language. They push against the boundaries we’ve placed around them for their well-being with the same kind of persistence we remember from their toddler years. Even though it's frustrating, they need us to stay present to guide and direct them.
The teen years need present parents just as much as toddlers do. It looks a bit different, but teens still need guidance and direction. The teen years hold so much adventure for both the parent to learn how to effectively parent their teen and for the teen to reduce dependence on their parent while becoming increasingly responsible and independent.
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2. Teens Need Present Parents to See Past the Challenges to the Wonder
What makes a parent dread the teen years? Teens tend to take risks but still lack the judgment to keep themselves safe. They push their parents away in favor of their friend group. Teens can become resistant to the rules they use to be compliant toward. They can be critical of their parent, which makes the mom or dad feel rejected, which can stir a critical response from them. Parents feel worried, helpless, and confused on how to connect with this “new” person.
During this period of adolescence, parents also experience developmental changes. For moms, it’s menopause. For dads, it��s recognizing they are not as young or strong as they once were. This can make the teen years challenging because of the double adjustment both parties face. Teens are on the cusp of vitality and parents realize aging is a real event. It seems like the whole world is opening to our teens and it feels like our options are closing. Parents can struggle to adjust to the reality of who their teen is and not the image of who they thought their teen would be.
The teen years can be wonderful too. Teens radiate fun energy. Their passion and idealism can energize a parent who begins to feel the mundaneness of mid-life. Teens can show real empathy toward the plight of those around them and as their intellectual capacity grows, they can become great conversationalists. This march to adult maturity occurs over eight years or so and can look like a two steps forward, one step back kind of wonderful dance.
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3. Present Parents Can Influence Decision-Making Skills
Teens do not have fully developed frontal lobes until early adulthood according to medical professionals. An article by The Harvard Medical School states, “The frontal lobe is the seat of executive function, a term for the cognitive processes that allow us to plan, make decisions, and judgments, formulate insight, and assess risk.” Teens need a present parent to help them navigate life while this part of their brain develops.
Proverbs 15:22 gives us insight into one of the ways teens need present parents. It states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors, they succeed.” Proverbs is a book of wise principles for making good decisions. A parent who cultivates an in-person relationship with their teen is better equipped to walk in step with their teen as they navigate decisions.
A way a parent can do this is by inviting their teen into a discussion around areas that may cause conflict such as curfew, driving privileges, choice of friends, and school or work performance. Rather than dictating decisions to our teens, we can invite them into a calm dialogue. This becomes a time for the parent to model how to think through the good or bad consequences of decisions they discuss with their teen.
Staying involved in our teens’ lives and giving them some jurisdiction on decisions while inviting them into a discussion about others, allows our teens to learn how to make decisions while reaching for independence.
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4. Teens Need Present Parents for Accountability
A free-for-all all sounds fun, but too much freedom leads to chaos. God set us free, not to live for ourselves, but to live for him (Galatians 5:1). Teens need present parents in their lives for accountability in building good habits and life skills. On one side of the coin, parents need to demonstrate good habits themselves like getting to work on time, completing basic self-care, paying the bills, or cleaning the house, even when we don’t feel like it. Proverbs 25:28 encourages us to develop self-control. Good habits help build a strong foundation for life.
Parents take a huge risk when they pull back completely from their teen’s life in an effort to teach them to stand on their own two feet. In truth, teens still need accountability, and when, we, their biggest accountability holders remove ourselves from their lives, we tell them they are not important enough to stand beside them. We can help them through the ups and downs of figuring out how to be a grown-up by staying present in their days.
The other risk parents take is trying to do too much for their teen, whether they rescue them or make excuses for negative behavior. This type of involvement is detrimental to their teen’s development because the teen doesn’t have to feel the negative consequences of their choices.
Staying present in our teen’s life is a way to help them learn accountability for their actions and the ensuing positive and negative consequences of their decision. A parent has the tricky dance of being there to encourage and guide their teen to be a responsible, contributing, and valuable member of society while not insulating them from feeling the tension of risk and failure.
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5. Present Parents Can Provide a Safe Sense of Community Teens Need
I’ve experienced the closed door in my face with my own teens. It may look like they have shut me out of their lives and because it hurts, I tend to withdraw. In my research for this article, I went to my own teen and asked her why she needed me to be present in her life. She said, “Being alone is fun, but too much alone time makes us [teens] feel forgettable.”
This reminds me to get over my own hurt in the face of a shut door, and still pursue a relationship with my teen. When kids are little, they rush into our arms whenever we walk in the door. It’s easy to hug them close and give them a snuggle so they know they are loved. When a teen gives their parent the “back off” speech through closed doors or closed hearts, we, as the parent, must pivot from what once was to what is now. It is our duty and responsibility to cultivate a sense of community between our hearts and theirs, so they know they matter.
We can do this by continuing to tell them we love them and show physical affection through a hug or pat on the back. When our teens step out of our home and into their world of school, they face the battleground of jockeying for position in a community built on the shifting sands of fickle classmates. We can remain present with them by creating a safe community in our homes where they are seen, known, loved, and heard.
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6. Present Parents Can Partner with God in Their Teen’s Faith
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 5:16, ESV. Much of the New Testament is dedicated to showing us how to treat one another, including, and especially, those within our home. To have our light shine in our families, we can cultivate a personal relationship with the Lord through prayer, bible study, and the transformation that comes from a mind renewed by God’s Word.
Within the context of our personal journey to spiritual maturity, our teens see us respond to the work of God in our hearts. This shows them the importance of a life built on Jesus Christ and what it looks like to live a life dedicated to him within the walls of our homes. When we experience God’s grace and forgiveness, we can extend it to our teens when they need it. We can build our teen’s faith in God when we choose to trust God when we don’t understand what’s happening.
Our teens need us present in their lives so they can see God at work in us. Through our example, they can learn how and when to humble themselves and seek forgiveness from God or someone else. I’ve had to do this with each of my kids and it not only builds our relationship, but it models how God forgives us when we miss the mark of right living before him. While we are not God to our teens, we can model godly responses to them so they get to know God better.
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7. Encouragement from a Parent Instills Security
In a world characterized by sarcasm and soundbites through the impersonal medium of social media, we’ve lost sight of the power of the encouraging word. We need to be careful not to let our fear of the potential bad choices our teens might make, to turn us into harsh critics. Correction can be helpful, but if it is not undergirded by love and encouragement, it will not produce the desired outcome of helping grow a deeper relationship with our teens.
Proverbs 25:11-13 show us the power of encouraging words to refresh our teen’s heart. These verses demonstrate how encouragement can make an impact. In this passage, we learn how words that “fit” an occasion bring insight and value to those who hear our words. Rather than throw words around that inflame the situation, we can choose our words with care.
There will be times when difficult conversations need to happen, but when we pursue encouraging our teens too, we discover difficult conversations end well because of the sincere encouragement we gave in the past. When a teen feels secure in who they are and in their parent’s love, they develop the endurance and grit needed to overcome their troubles. Our encouragement gives them the security to be courageous too.
When we look back on our lives, we will not regret the hard work of staying present in our teens’ lives. It requires flexibility on our part, along with trial and error, to find a healthy mixture of being present with our teens while giving them independence to manage their lives. Our commitment to remain present in their life pays off in our adult relationship with them. Stay the course and lean into God as you stay present in the teen years. Your teen will someday thank you.
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