This month is a landmark month for me. I am now officially the mom of a teenager. How did that happen? I am still trying to figure out how the time went by so fast.
In the meantime, I decided to read Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp.
Here are my three biggest takeaways.
1. Give Up Delusions of Control
“[Parents of teens] wish they could wield some power over their teenagers so that they would do what they were asked to do,” Tripp says. “What many parents mourn, as their children enter the teen years, is their loss of power. So by harsh words, dramatic punishments, shame, and guilt, they try to control the thoughts and behavior of their son or daughter. What happens is that is that they find themselves in an escalating war for power and control with a teenager.”
This is a reminder to me that I need to let go of things that don’t really matter—and stop harping when there are minor annoyances—and trust God more. My job is not to control my older kids so they always make the same choices I would make. My job is to point them to Christ.
This doesn’t mean I won’t have any boundaries for my teens. It is important to set healthy boundaries for teens, and then enforce consequences. Setting boundaries, however, is different than feeling like I have to control their behavior. I don’t. And, in reality, I can’t.
2. Reject Notions That I Am Entitled to Rest and Comfort
It’s amazing how quickly entitlement can seep in. After more than a decade of parenting, I feel that I deserve a little bit of a break.
The truth of the matter is that my job is far from over.
“There’s a war out there; it’s being fought for the turf of your heart and control of your [teenager’s] soul,” Tripp says. “Parents who demand comfort, ease, regularity, peace, space, quiet, and harmony will be ill-equipped for this war.”
In fact, when we parents selfishly demand comfort and peace, we are more likely to lash out in anger at the very teens who need us. We will begrudge our kids and react harshly, losing precious opportunities to connect with them and have meaningful conversations.
Let’s face it, my older kids are staying up later. Often I go to bed before them! I am tired. I just want to go to my quiet room and read a book for 10 minutes before I fall into blissful sleep. On many late evenings, I don’t want to talk to anyone or deal with anything. But these selfish expectations mean I will miss out on ministering to my kids, connecting with my kids, and helping to guide and encourage them.
I need to not grow weary in parenting, and make sure I am available when my teens need me. This might mean creatively finding ways to rest earlier in the day, or cutting things out of our schedule to avoid being hyper-busy, or simply adjusting my expectations about what I need or deserve.
3. Resolve to Daily Pursue My Teenager
“Teenagers don’t tend to live openly. They usually aren’t walking around the house, dying to talk with mom and dad,” Tripp says. “Don’t accept the moat your teen builds around himself.”
Tripp has developed the habit of “visiting” each of his four children when he comes home at night. When teenagers open up to parents, “it is important to realize that these conversations don’t just happen. You make them happen by daily pursuit of your child.”
Daily pursuit of your child. I like that.
Pursue your teenager. Daily express your love. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Catch them doing something right, and encourage them. Keep conversations interesting and to the point—teenagers don’t tend to be good listeners. Talk to a teen in a way that lifts up Truth and points to its beauty.
Tripp encourages a “constant conversation model.” This means “not living with the distance that he has introduced into the relationship. It means hanging in through those uncomfortable moments when you’re not really wanted and not really appreciated, and forsaking a negative relationship where you only have meaningful talks when your teenager has done something wrong.”
Time is so precious. The days can be busy and long. But I can’t imagine anything more important than making sure I take time every day to touch base with the people I love to make sure they are okay, and they know I am there for them.
It might be trickier to connect with a teen, but it’s worth the effort.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following images courtesy of author.