Learning how to behave like a mature responsible adult is hard work. The transition from child to adult is fraught with opportunities for foibles and failures, missteps and misunderstandings. As parents, it’s our job to guide our teens through this turbulent time so they can learn from their mistakes and grow in wisdom.
We have an enormous emotional investment in our children, so it’s terribly easy to get bent out of shape quickly when they make poor choices or foolish decisions. But really, we know that flying off the handle doesn’t improve the situation or enhance the relationship. So the next time you find yourself dealing with a sticky situation caused by your not-quite-an-adult-yet offspring, try giving your teen these six things instead of an earful of your own emotional reaction.
- Present Re-education—Keep in mind, the error in judgement may not be intentional defiance or deviousness. Many things that seem obvious to parents are concepts that are not yet grasped by the teen. Perhaps repeated and/or additional instruction on the expectations or how to navigate them is all that is needed. You may have said it already and often, but we all need to hear things more than once before they stick. How many times has God had to repeat himself to you on a particular topic?
- Provide Re-direction—Everybody needs a course correction now and then. Your teen may just need you to suggest a new vector. Gently reveal where you see him headed in the wrong direction and help him make a plan to turn his ship around. Be careful to nudge her on course in a way that does not provoke rebellion. Teens are eager to be treated as adults, not children. There’s really no benefit to being bossy. Instead of approaching your teen in a “you’re a mess and I’m going to fix you” kind of way, try to think like a coach. Be a Mr. Miyagi, not a Mrs. “I-Told-You-So”.
- Allow Re-enforcement—When dealing with humans of any age, consequences usually speak louder than words. When we make poor choices, we must face the unpleasant outcome. It’s so tempting to rescue your child from negative consequences. We don’t like to see the people we love suffer—even if it’s just a little bit and even if it’s their own fault. But our teens don’t need us to shield them from reality. They don’t need to be rescued; they need boundaries. When our children are young, we must be careful to distinguish between disobedience and childishness when disciplining. With our teens, we must continue to pray for discernment between true sinfulness and mistakes that are merely a result of inexperience.
- Lavish Unconditional Love— Our affections for our children are never based on their performance. You know you love them no matter what and always will, but do they? When was the last time you deliberately and sincerely told them how much you love them and that nothing they do or don’t do will ever change that? We probably think it’s obvious (and hopefully it is), but teens who are struggling to be successful in a particular area may need to be reminded. The enemy wants us to believe we are unloved and unworthy and he often uses our blunders to plant those seeds of self-loathing in our hearts. Proactively fight against that attack by telling your children out loud how you adore them no matter what (even if it embarrasses them). They will have a much easier time accepting God’s incomprehensible love if they have first experienced it from you. It’s more important to tell them they are loved when they are struggling than it is when things are going smoothly.
- Pour out Abundant Grace –Transitioning to taking care of yourself is a huge task that some grasp with greater ease than others. Let’s be honest. We all know one or two full-up adults who have yet to master it. They will make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean they’re bad kids or you’ve failed as a parent. Accept their failures (and yours) and lean into God’s grace. His love is expansive and His grace is extensive. He will never run out of either. He has plenty to give you so you can pass it on to your teens (and anyone else who occasionally acts immaturely—spouse and self included).
- Demonstrate Patience—Teenagers are wavering between childhood and adulthood. Sometimes they will amaze you with their maturity. Other times, they will blow you away with their childishness. Don’t let their successes go to your head nor their faltering devastate you. Roll with the punches and be there for them in the highs and the lows. That’s really all they want and what they need most from you.
Adulting is hard work, even for adults. Your teens will mess it up from time to time, as we all do. By refocusing your teens in a grace-filled way, you can help them get back up again and get on the right track when they blunder.