It’s an easy trap to fall into. Your teen wants more independence and, for the most part, you want to give it. You don’t want to be the controlling parent that teens rebel against. She projects an air of responsibility and her friends seem pretty normal, so you let her have her space… And let’s face it —you’re tired. You’re tired of fighting, tired of being labeled the “only one who doesn’t…” and sometimes, just plain tired.
Of course, the underlying conflict is that she wants independence at a rate that exceeds her desire or readiness for responsibility. But try to explain this correlation and her eyes roll back into her head as she thinks, “She doesn’t get it!” “She doesn’t understand or trust me!”
So, you finally relent and allow her peer culture to assume the authority role over her life.
It doesn’t feel that way at first and it certainly isn’t intentional, but it’s practically what happens. When you really stop to calculate where time is spent, and think about her primary sources of influence, it’s easy to feel like you’re letting go of the reigns sooner than you’d like, and sooner than you should.
The short answer of course, is that there’s no guarantee. The more you try to co-opt her will, the more likely she is to resist it. But there are certainly some proven ways to cultivate good soil that make spiritual growth more likely.
Tending to soil is good imagery for parenting adolescence because it helps remind us of what we can and can’t do. We can spend a great deal of time, getting our hands dirty, carefully monitoring health, and creating a nutrient rich environment for growth. We can’t however, create growth itself.
What are some of the ways we can create healthy soil for our teenager’s spiritual growth?
Live a vibrant and authentic life of faith before their eyes
Give them a front row seat to your relationship with God. Share your areas of growth and your struggles (when appropriate). Let them see how important your faith is and how it’s not only changing you, but impacting the world around you. Bring them with you when you serve and pray for others. They need to see the vitality beyond the responsibility. Don’t fear failures in the right direction, God’s grace is sufficient. Just steer clear of hypocrisy, your child will see right through it and it’s far more damaging to his faith than if you were an atheist.
Help him connect to the Father and not just “say his prayers”
It’s the birthright of every child of God to hear his Father’s voice. We need to teach our children the lesson of Samuel–the posture of, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Prayer is one of the most important areas where faith needs to be individualized. More than a great deal of knowledge or even high levels of service, a child’s ability to hear from the Lord is a great predictor of a faith that will stick.
Your family doesn’t shrink from hard questions
You don’t hide from the world or detach from difficult conversations. In fact, you initiate them at the dinner table. You ask good questions, share what you’re learning and how you respond to hard questions with grace and humility.
Be a learner
Teens can’t talk to know it all parents, so let him see that you’re a learner. Don’t be an alarmist when your child is expressing crazy thoughts. Keep your composure and make sure he feels heard, understood, and validated. It’s ok if you need to hyperventilate later.
You exercise discernment in exposing your child’s faith to testing
Jesus was ready when he went into the wilderness to be tempted. As parents, we need to guard our children’s influences carefully and discern the difference between a healthy stress test and simply setting them up for failure. Keep the end in mind and remember that you’re raising up an adult, not a child, but go carefully as you expose them to competing influences and temptations. Fear and naiveté are opposing errors in this dance. If your child’s faith is weak, limit damaging influences, and seek ways to shore it up. Open and honest dialogue is paramount here.
Live as a family on mission
This is really what I mean by “bringing them with you.” Read the Scriptures and pray together. Serve your community together. Let them find meaningful ways to contribute to God’s work in your church and city. We tend to minimize the effect of family on faith and exaggerate the influence of an hour at church.
I once thought that the time requirement of parenting decreases as a child gets older. Not true! We often underestimate our influence as parents and delegate our role too quickly and to too many people. Keep the word “disciple” in view when you discipline and it will help keep the end in mind.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” —Mark Twain
Two opposing viewpoints, right? So, which one will it be? You’ve got several options when it comes to the brokenness in your family tree.
You can excuse it, “She did the best she could under the circumstances.” You can ignore it, “Nothing good comes from digging up the past.” You can resist it, “I’ll never be like them!” Or, you can courageously face it and choose to forgive, “God, help me see my family and past as You see it and allow your grace to heal and transform it.”
Brandon and Michaela had each heard hundreds of sermons. But when they got married four years ago, there were deep, entrenched parts of their souls that were untouched by the power and grace of Jesus. Somehow, two biblical truths had managed to evade them:
The blessings and sins of our families going back a couple generations profoundly impact us today.
Discipleship requires putting off the sinful patterns of our family of origin and relearning how to do life God’s way.
The real idea behind generational curses in the Old Testament is more of an observation than a spiritual law: sin naturally spreads until there is a deliberate break. I give what I’ve received and I withhold what was withheld from me. The break happens when I say, “I see this now for what it really is and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t want it to be a part of me and I certainly don’t want to inadvertently pass it on to my kids. So, I need to name it, forgive it, and then step fully into a new beginning through the grace of God.”
Life has a way of deadening our emotions. Pain and disappointment chip away at our childlike enthusiasm and hope until our most common feeling is simply “numb.” Remember as a child how you lived unencumbered by all that weighs you down today?
There was no morbid self-consciousness. There wasn’t a trace of timidity. Your head and heart were connected and you weren’t jaded, disillusioned, or bitter.
Some people seem to gravitate more naturally toward potential problems and errors. It may be as simple as an eye for precision and detail that notices slight inconsistencies or breaks in pattern. The picture is crooked, the number isn’t exact, or the expectations weren’t fully met. On a beautiful image, their eye naturally focuses on the almost undetectable blemish.
Thought patterns are established easily and unconsciously and negativity is a common thought-rut, especially the more detail oriented we are. So, how can a realist become a contagious optimist?
Wesley Furlong is the founder and director of City of Refuge (refuge.life), a network for community transformation and the director of Church Development for the EVANA Network, an evangelical Anabaptist network of churches across North America.