Our oldest child just crossed into the teenager years. The emotions are high, logic off, and at times I’m dealing with an adult while other times a kid. This is par for the course. But as a friend of mine once told me, “Parents are not teachable when it comes to their kids.” Ouch, this is not what I want describing me. Unfortunately I have too many blind spots in my life to assume I always know what is best for my child. This reality prompted me to ask two different Youth Minister friends, in different parts of the country the same question. What mistakes do you see parents make regarding their teenagers? Naturally I was shocked when both men responded with similar answers. I have double checked, they do not know each other, and both have helped / ministered to youth for so long, they have a combined 20 years experience. If two men, in different parts of the country, with similar experience share similar answers, then maybe I need to listen?
Allow me to introduce my friends: They are committed to expository preaching, TMS graduates, at least 10 years of experience in youth ministry specifically, they have shepherd hearts who work with people, and love the local church. I’m 100% sure, they would be happy to sit down and speak to anyone interested in listening, I also know both men would be at your or your kids side at the drop of a hat. They are the kind of men you thank God for knowing.
As I read their answers, I noticed two major themes. So decided to convey their answers systematized into two main issues: pride and priorities. I pray each of these men’s warnings come through while you also sense their love for you. Our desires are to grow in Christlikeness and these answers help with this goal.
QUESTION: What mistakes do you see parents make regarding their teenagers?
Answer 1: Allowing the fruit of pride “I know best” to shepherd my kids. Pride is a major problem. It’s not do we have pride, but where is my pride. Often pride manifests itself with a “lone wolf” mentality. The lone wolf mentality says, “I don’t need other people, I have all I need in and of myself.” However, often the lie we tell ourselves is more subtle, “I know me, others don’t know me like I know me.” “Those guys over there are idiots, they don’t love my child / family like I do.” Proverbs 18:1 warns me of the danger of isolating myself from others. Hebrews 3:13 actually says sin is deceitful, meaning it lies to me . . . so I lie to myself. I’m the most dangerous thing to myself and my kids!
Both friends warned me about trying to parent alone. My youth pastor friend lamented, “Not sending their teenagers to the church for help. I have had a number of parents who have told me that they would rather take their teenager (who is actively involved in my youth ministry) to a therapist rather than get biblical counseling from me. This is NOT because they don’t think I am trained (although that may be true too, they just have not said that to me directly), but because they don’t want me to think badly about their child. They want me to keep a ‘perfect image’ of them, so that I can minister to them without baggage.”
My friend rightfully laments because to reject the church’s counsel is to assume the world understand holiness, the Gospel, and righteousness. “Of course this is sad. In essence, they are telling me that the world has better answers to their sin than the Bible. But further sad that they think that I THINK their kiddos are perfect people. I know they are sinners. I know what kind of horrible thoughts & actions can come from teenagers, because (1) I have good biblical theology, and (2) I am a fallen human too.”
Of course, this pastor notes pride. Pride thinks more highly of ourselves then we ought to think. The church is the perfect place to be honest and express our struggles in life. Here is a place where we 1) know sin exists in all humans. 2) sin is blinding. and 3). God restores people.
My other friend shared a similar problem, Family dynamics are such that really only one parent “parent’s” the kid [while the other isn’t invited or doesn’t help]. “Parenting in general and especially parenting teens must be a team effort. The secret sauce of a winning team is a marriage that reflects God’s priorities.” In other words, Parents who worship Christ and serve together exhibit exactly what we are trying to teach. He goes on to note the mistake single parents can make too, “For single parents, maybe isolating from church leadership?” I’ve been at this long enough to know people often assume leadership is too busy, so they don’t engage us. But perhaps the first pastor is more right than we want to believe, it’s not that they assume we’re too busy, but that they want us to base our thoughts on how they project themselves.
So what is the solution? “I would love to have parents see me (and my excellent Bible-theology training) as a resource to help their teenagers in their spiritual life, rather than trust worldly wisdom. I would love to see parents who are humble enough to realize that they themselves may not be able to disciple their teenagers in the same way I can. It seems to me that parents of teenagers often think that if their discipleship doesn’t work, then no one else in the church can (esp. not the youth pastor or leaders!). So they run to the world.”
My other friend agrees, teens need more than one person, they need both parents (ideally). And they need their church family, just like all of us do. The great reality, the great elephant in the discussion is this: we all need the local church in order to grow.
The 2nd greatest problem they see: family priorities:
As one pastor noted, parents seem convinced the goal of life is to make good grades, excel in sports, and all for a good college degree. “Parenting teens is about making disciples. Thus all other goals must play second fiddle to this ultimate goal. ‘For what does it profit a …teenager to excel in academics, sports, …or (fill in the blank) but lose his soul.’ Mark 8:36.”
Being a teenager is really about preparing for life. Of course “teenager” isn’t in the Bible, so we have to ask the question, what does God’s word say about children and adults. The obvious answer is, “children are supposed to grow into adults.”
One pastor specifically noted, whatever the priorities are, church is not: “Our world could careless about God. Scheduling events on Sundays is a no-brainer to them. And, sadly, parents just give in. They allow their teenager’s schedule to dictate their lives, even if that includes Sunday’s during church. I have asked parents why they don’t fight for regular church attendance on Sunday mornings. Their response: ‘Church attendance is not required for salvation.’ Well, that is true. But, then I point them to Heb 10:19-25 (and on) and show them that lack of regular church-attendance and involvement may mean you are not a Christian and that spiritual growth is virtually impossible without regular church attendance/involvement. Plus, 1 John (as well as Jesus in the Gospel of John) is clear that one of the obvious signs of a true believer is that they ‘love other church members.’ This is impossible is church attendance/involvement is ‘optional.'”
Of course, as the another pastor notes, “Where the parents are, there the kids often are too.” He continues, “At this point, I get some excuses from these parents, which shows the real problem is their (the parents!) own lack of desire for the church. In my time working with youth, any student who participates regularly in sports-band-etc. during Sunday church have always left the faith after high school (if not before). I am sure there are exceptions, but I have yet to see one in my 10+ years of youth ministry. Personally, I had the opportunity to play baseball on Sundays when I was a kid (high level, talented travel team). I made that team in tryouts as an outfielder. But, when my parents found out I’d have games on Sunday mornings, they pulled the plug on that activity and prioritized church for me. I hated my parents for it then. I am SOOOOOOOO grateful now! And I have seen this same scenario played over and over again. When parents prioritize church attendance/involvement over everything else, the result has been spiritual life and growth for the student and the family, because all of them are getting regular Bible-teaching and regular spiritual encouragement from the Body. Why would any Christian prioritize anything over these is a mystery to me??”
The SOLUTION is of course, remember what we’re called to do. We are called to make disciples. “A teenager who understand they are disciples are already set up for success.” What good is a Harvard education if the last words our child hears is, “Depart from me for I never knew you?” This is really always the answer for us, who believe: keep focused on Christ and be about making disciples.
For we who believe. The simple answer in parenting teenagers is this. Engage them, respect them, and remember our goal in life — faithfully proclaim Christ and pray He works among our seeds.