“There’s no hope for teens,” her voice said through the phone. “They are, by nature, selfish, and do not notice others around them.”
I sat on the cement stairs in front of my home and listened with a weary ear. Four kids in my home and all of them headed for this? No hope? How could this be true?
That discouraging conversation sent me looking for answers. My husband and I spent years raising our children to be giving and compassionate and faithful and smart. They worked hard at school and did chores at home. They complained little and supported each other. I just could not believe that all of that teaching was about to fall away. How would these children I knew become strangers with habits that did not match how they lived thus far?
My husband and I decided that we would not believe what others told us about what was to come. We would not substitute their judgment for our own. We would raise teens we liked.
Here are some of the goals we set for our family and ourselves:
- Communicate. We want to keep the lines of communication clear and open throughout our children’s lives. We did not begin this at age 13. Instead, we started when they were young. We sought to listen to their stories, embrace their fears and joys, and seek their opinions whenever possible. And when the iron curtain of teenage silence began to fall, we did not accept it as inevitable but instead called it what it was and raised the bar again. Our approach has not always been easy, but we know that the work has been worth it.
- Validate. While many parents believe that the events in kids’ lives are somehow smaller than the experiences in adult lives, we look at this differently. First love is powerful. First heart-break is painful. Social dilemmas are confusing and failed friendships cut deep. We do not minimize the lives of our children, because my husband and I remember these experiences of our own teen years. If they were meaningless, would our memories still hold ground in mid-life? Our teens need to be validated. They need to be understood. They need to know that parents see hurt and laughter as formative and important. Validating our teens helps them to feel seen and honored and connected.
- Expect. After hearing that initial, hopeless account of the lives of teens, we decided that we would expect differently for our children. In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul sets high expectations for Timothy, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." Our desire is that our children will live into these godly behaviors. We expect that they care about school, about friends, about family, about faith. We give them opportunities to explore and grow into a deeper understanding of why these things are important. We expect that they give of themselves to church, to community, to anywhere their gifts can be used. We seek areas where they can plug in and be helpful to others. We expect that they are respectful to adults in their words, their actions and their choices. We raise the bar high when it comes to how they interact with others and teach them to be appropriate even on hard days. We expect that they will try and expect that they will fail. And most importantly, we expect that we will offer them a safe place to land when the world becomes a difficult place.
While the lists of goals we set for our kids is lengthy, the focus has been on building a strong relationship with them that will give them the courage to step out and the confidence to try. We want them to know that we are here as they navigate this season, but we also want to be clear that discipline remains.
What we want, more than anything, is to turn our heads away from the cultural expectation that the teen years must be tumultuous and hard. Instead, we step forward in faith and continue to parent our children through the teenage years. We want to help them prepare for adulthood and support them as they explore autonomy.
And throughout it all, we will continue to pray over them and speak truth into their lives. Because even when your heart aches, even when you are drawn down some dark path, even when you are confused, the God of all draws near. And He loves. Deeply loves.
This compassionate God loves our teens and understands their hearts. There is hope.