My husband and I were camping with friends when our preteen daughter trekked into the forest with another girl late one afternoon. They weren't following trails — just their courageous spirits. Luckily, a fellow camper saw what they were doing and brought the girls back to our campsite. Still I felt a shiver of fear, and later I took a long walk with my daughter to discuss what she had done. The experience opened my eyes to the possible hair-raising and dangerous choices my teenage son and daughter might make as they journeyed toward adulthood.
The urge to explore and to push past childhood boundaries leads teens through a time of questioning and testing their faith and values. They are seeking to discover who they are, why they are here and what they think about all they've heard — at home, school, church and from the culture around them. As parents, we too easily confuse this natural, healthy exploration with the more destructive choices of teen rebellion. We feel the tension in their pushing against and pulling away from us — and it fills us with uncertainty and even panic.
When our children reach adolescence, their push for independence becomes our reality. If we respond in fear and with overcontrol, we risk sparking embers of defensiveness that can flame into defiance and self-destructive choices. Instead, when we seek to nurture an atmosphere of compassion, support and availability, we help shape a stronger path toward maturity and wisdom.
Our influence isn't slipping away; our role is shifting. We now have an opportunity to engage our teens in conversations during which they process issues and ideas for themselves. We still offer guidance and wisdom, but we also listen more attentively and ask supportive questions:
- "That's a great question. What do you think?"
- "What do you think God is leading you to do?"
- "Who else can you talk to for biblical advice?"
- "How can I pray for you about that?"
Listening and asking questions without our ready-made answers honors our teens' growing ability to work things through. They will make mistakes, and we will still need to respond appropriately. But if they are confident that their honesty will yield support rather than shame, we invite mutual respect and communication, freeing them to mature.
Engaging our teens
We can foster this respect in our relationship by engaging our teens on increasingly adult levels, giving them opportunities to develop responsibility and trustworthiness. We also can encourage them as they choose solid friends, mentors and godly influences, and nurture their interests and talents through activities they choose. The challenge is to step back while remaining available to them, offering guidance only when they need it.
Our Father God says to His children, "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken" (Isaiah 54:10). Having experienced that kind of love for ourselves from God, we can offer our children the assurance of our love in the same way, even through the shaky teen years.