Through almost two decades of spending time around teenagers and now having two of our own, my husband and I have learned a few things. We still have much to learn and are trusting the Lord to keep us humble. In no way have we “arrived,” but I’d like to share some thoughts that will hopefully encourage you as a parent.
In general, we Christians must live in numerous ways that are counter-cultural in order to honor our Lord Jesus and make him known. It seems the evil one has gained much ground in convincing parents that kids “will figure it out.” The busyness of life makes it challenging to be intentional as often as we’d like. Sometimes, quite frankly, we’re not quite sure what to do, and perhaps it means we do nothing.
May I suggest that this is exactly what the evil one desires: passive parenting. I don’t think it is necessarily our plan to be passive, but at times we find ourselves there by default due to uncertainty, lack of confidence, or exhaustion. Not surprisingly, this opens the door for many other influences in our children’s lives.
Our kids are resourceful. The tech-savvy ones can access all kinds of information and relationships without ever leaving their bedrooms. They’ll find answers to every question they have—some of which we may be surprised they’re asking. They have friends, teammates, teachers, coaches, fellow bus riders. Some friends they’ll never meet in person while others are nearby. The question is, are these sources of information helping your child to live biblically?
My encouragement to you as a parent is that they want and need you. Even the most confident and steady teen wants and needs his or her parents’ time and attention. Churched teens with great youth leaders need the influence and teaching of their parents more than they need those committed leaders.
This need for guidance and quality time does not diminish because they can drive, do laundry, and make meals. Their bodies may appear to be adult, but their minds and emotions are still growing. Youth leaders and other influential adults will be present in their lives for a season, but you will always be their mom or dad.
I’m not suggesting you hover over them and eliminate their personal space or privacy. A level of freedom is important, as so much of their learning will come through exploration and experience. Yet, I fear that too many parents don’t take the time to ask questions that can help their teen process life as well as making them aware that mom and dad are truly interested. Being aware of what’s going on day to day and encouraging them in their endeavors is a way to show our attentive love.
Many of us were not parented in this way, so there may be a learning curve. Even those who had this blessing will have to adjust to the temperament of each child. Some children will outwardly welcome this kind of attention more than others. But I’m convinced that each child needs and wants this kind of consistency, intentional parenting. It is essential, non-negotiable, and may require some bridge-building on the front end.
I have had to become a student of each of my children, and it is not an exact science! They’re moving targets, changing as they grow, developing different tendencies over time. Listening and observing help me attend to each child in the sovereign way the Lord fashioned them.
There’s one thing I absolutely know they appreciate as they have been gracious enough to verbalize it: my children love the variety of conversations we have and the regularity with which they occur. This has helped me challenge myself to invest time, energy, and mental space to foster those conversations. I simply cannot be too busy. I have learned this the hard way.
My fellow parent, please ask yourself if there are lesser priorities crowding out the divine responsibility you’ve been given. If possible, eliminate the ones that will buy you the time and energy needed for intentionality. It’s a worthy trade-off, with benefits far outweighing the cost. I pray that you, too, will enjoy this sweet gift. If you’ve already experienced some of this, keep it up and press on.