The teen years are not the time to start child rearing, but to put the finishing touches on parent — child relationships.
WITHOUT a decent set of parents, a kid doesn't have much of a chance in this society," says California juvenile court judge Joseph N. Sorrentino, author of the book The Concrete Cradle. At no time during a child's development is that statement more true than during the wonderful, crucial, turbulent teenage years. Teenagers need active, proper guidance from good, strong parents if they are to mature into successful adults. Think: This world in which we all live is a pulsating pressure cooker — a constantly changing and challenging, even threatening, environment. And teens are faced with this world just at the most volatile period of their lives — when they are trying to come to grips with their energy and emotions, when their personalities and habits are being solidified, probably for life.
Is it any wonder that the path from adolescence to adulthood has been called an obstacle course? Here's what one youth, overburdened with the problems of this world, said: "What's the use of trying to learn anything or be anybody? The world's going to blow up in a couple of years anyway. Why not just have a good-time and enjoy life however you can while you can?" This seems to be the attitude of many young people today. And can you really blame them? Can the average 15-, 16- or 17- year-old help resenting that his world and his future could be ended in a nuclear holocaust in just a few minutes' time? Can the average teenager help resenting a world filled with fights not of his making — problems not of his creation — frustrations beyond his solving? After beginning to learn of the imagination — staggering plight of this modern world, many a teenager begins asking why, and wonders how the world got this way and where it is going. Feeling betrayed by home, school and church, he resents the conditions of this world, sometimes becoming so resigned to the situation that he just gives up and drops out-living only for the moment in a destructive whirl of drugs, sex, crime and violence. Obviously, there are dozens — even hundreds — of intensely personal reasons why young people defy authority, reject parents, fight police. But the one biggest reason is that they simply do not like this world the way it is, and deeply wish it could be changed.
Hope for the Future
Longtime readers of this publication know, thankfully, that this world's situation is not hopeless. Humanly, of course, it is. But the plain truth is that God Almighty is soon going to personally intervene in the affairs of this world and save humanity alive, ushering in a new world of peace, prosperity and happiness for everyone (Mic. 4:1-4). That knowledge gives us tremendous hope — encourages us to overcome the obstacles in our lives and be the best we can be. It propels us to learn and live God's way of life — the only way to true happiness. It is this knowledge and motivation, ultimately, that must provide the solution to the problems of teenagers today. But exactly how can parents help their teenagers right now, in practical, down-to-earth, effective ways? Almost every parent wants his or her children to succeed. It is one of life's greatest joys to see them do so. As one man said, perhaps the one reward a parent gets in child rearing is to see his or her son or daughter become a success in life. On the other hand, it is one of life's greatest heartaches for a parent when children go the wrong way. And make no mistake: There is a battle raging between you and this world — a battle for your teenager! At birth, the battle began, between you — the parent — and Satan. The spoil is your child. If you truly want your teenager to succeed, now is the time to continue decisive action. Next to the years of infancy and early childhood, these teenage years will most influence your youngster's development for life. You as a parent must help. How sad it is that many parents simply choose not to fulfill this duty. Said Dr. Amitai Etzioni, professor of sociology at Columbia University: "An increasing number of parents have resigned their responsibility for the character of their child. It's as elementary as that." And that, in essence, is what we are talking about here — how, given the knowledge of God's truth and the understanding of the spirit in man, by which humans differ from animals, a parent can instill right character in a child. Don't make excuses! Of course, every teenager is different and must be dealt with individually, but there are some broad principles that apply during this special period of a young person's life — principles that can help a parent give a teen the best possible chance in life. Whether you have teenagers now or will have someday, this information can greatly benefit your child rearing. Let's examine these special areas of concern applying to teens.
Strengthen Family Ties
The foundation of a healthy society is the home, and a good home is built around a strong family. When a child loves and respects God and his family — feels a deep sense of loyalty to them — he will not want to bring shame or problems upon God or his family. He will watch his conduct so that it does not reflect negatively — upon God, his parents or others in the family. He will do what is best for members of the family — he will try to please them. Developing a strong family unit requires authority in the home. Children must be taught to respect parents, with the father as the head of the home (Eph. 6:1-3, 5:22-23). Children who learn to respect their parents can relate to respect for God and human government in general. Many parents, influenced by faulty modern psychology, have made the mistake of trying to be their children's friends instead of their parents. This method does not work. Children derive a sense of security — strong support — from knowing there is a trusted, reliable authority in charge. Children need someone to look up to — models from whom they can learn to develop strength of character, right confidence and emotional balance. Strengthening family ties requires spending time — quality time — together. Eating together, constantly conversing, being entertained in a happy and fun-filled atmosphere at home rather than outside the home all the time — all these elements are important.
Families should talk. Teenagers especially need to communicate with parents during this challenging and potentially traumatic period in their lives. Many parents do not take the time to talk with their teenagers. Even fewer take time to listen. They have their own interests and pleasures — business to take care of, friends to spend time with, television shows to watch. They reason: "My teens don't want me there. They want to be by themselves." "We just don't have the same interests." "I have more important things to do. I can't bother with these little matters on the kids' minds." How tragic! Have you as a parent forgotten what it was like to be' a teenager? The matters you now think are little were certainly not little when you were your teen's age. How many parents set aside a certain amount of time each day to talk with their children? When parents don't know what is going on in their children's lives, serious problems result. You've known of cases in which everybody — brothers and sisters, other relatives, friends, neighbors — everybody but the parents knew a young person was smoking or running around with the wrong crowd or involved in some wrong activity. Why were the parents in the dark — the last to find out? Because they never asked! Their children probably came to feel that they didn't care. How many times has your teenager come home with a serious problem on his mind, actually wishing he could talk it over with you, and you gave him no chance? How many times after a date has your daughter come home wishing to talk with her mother about certain things, yet was afraid or ashamed to because you have made it clear that, you don't want to listen? Do you ask your children about their activities? Their dates? What they did? Whom they were with? Not in a prying grill session, with suspicion in your voice, but with open, friendly, warm, loving interest. Do you ask them what happens at school each day? Where they have been? Do you try to find out how they feel about certain things — what their viewpoint is on life and its problems? You must! Proverbs 29:15 points out that "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Revised Authorized Version throughout). Many parents, to their chagrin, learn only too late what was going on in their teenagers' lives. Show loving, compassionate, sincere, warm interest in your teenager, and he will open up to you. You can help him before it's too late. And be honest in your communication. Uncertain answers make young people uneasy. They need a solid foundation to stand on — rules to play by. This means being generous with praise. If you compliment your teenagers they will be more able to accept constructive criticism. They want you to tell it like it is.
God intended for humans to receive instruction through the family — from father to son and mother to daughter, down through the generations (Prov. 1:8-9, 2:1-5). Many of the problems in teenagers' lives today are the direct result of their parents not following their parental advice. They didn't learn from the experiences, and yes, mistakes, of previous generations. You, as a parent, need to be integrally involved in every facet of your teen's education — moral, spiritual, emotional and intellectual. It is interesting to note the Hebrew word for train in Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child in the way he should go"). The root meaning of chanak, from which train is translated, is "to narrow." Training our children involves narrowing the choices they have to make, instead of accepting the vast array of deceptive, negative lifestyles this world offers (Matt. 7:13-14). Your example is paramount in educating your teenagers. Teenagers will follow parents' examples more than parents' words. Do you keep your word? Do you say nice things to other people's faces and then speak critically of them in private? Setting the right example for teenagers includes showing affection, displaying good work habits, taking care of your health and personal appearance and providing properly for your family's needs. A major responsibility you have in educating your teenagers is instilling within them a knowledge of and respect for God's laws and way of life. Notice the last half of Ephesians 6:4: "Bring them [your children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord." The average parent today is totally unaware of the basic principles by which to help teenagers. Yet God's revealed Word is plain about the way children should be taught to go: "You shall teach them [God's commandments] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:7). Sometimes parents know their teenagers are not doing what is right, but are afraid to tell them. Why should parents be afraid of their own children? Why not call your teenager aside and have a good, serious talk with him? You may simply have to lay it on the line. Tell him just where he is headed if he will not obey. Tell him again who is the head of the house. Let him know what his obligations are. Make him understand! Thoroughly explain again God's Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (Ex. 20:12). Again, in Proverbs 20:20, God gives the same principle: "Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in deep darkness." Teach your teen responsibility and emotional balance. As Lamentations 3:27 says, "It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth." Or, as one father told his son when he claimed he didn't know how to do a certain job, "You'll never learn any younger!" This applies not only to physical chores, but to developing important character traits also. The book of Proverbs contains much sound advice on achieving true success and building happy human relationships. Read through the Proverbs — and encourage your teenagers to do so — or, better yet, read through them together in a different translation this time. The Proverbs apply to everyday situations and are easy to understand, especially if you read in a modern translation. You may be surprised at the wisdom you find in them. Learning from instruction, such as that found in the Bible, and from the experiences of elders, is far better than being educated in the school of hard knocks. As a parent you can no doubt vouch for that. At this time in life, your teenager will be interested in several special areas that you should be aware of in terms of his or her education. These areas include music, sex and marriage preparation, career education and different forms of recreation.
You've probably seen, in comic strips or on television, humorous representations of the seemingly eternal war between parents and teenagers over the type of music the teens listen to. But the subject, in reality, is not really one to be laughed at. As a parent you need to take particular interest in the music your teenager finds enjoyable — again, not from a negative, vindictive, condemning standpoint, but in an attitude of helpfulness in steering your child in the right direction. Much of popular music today, with its themes of violence, illicit sex and rebellion against authority, is simply not good fare for entertainment. In considering the music your teenager listens to, think: Since music is one of the most powerful instruments for good or evil that the world has ever known, the music your teen selects can make a big difference in the attitudes and behavior patterns he or she develops. Encourage your children to be cautious and to ask questions before being swept away by any kind of music. Is it constructive and uplifting to mind and body? Or does it tend unnecessarily to shock and upset and lead listeners in moral and emotional directions they shouldn't go? It can be a lot of fun exploring the many different musical styles other than the one your teen may be locked into — or the one you may be locked into yourself! Why not make some positive musical discoveries — together?
Before you deal with questions about love, sex and marriage preparation — and you will, as a concerned parent, have to guide your children in this area — we would encourage you again to refer to our free, full-length book The Missing Dimension In Sex. You would do well to guide your teenager to and through specific sexual information, fully discussing areas such as premarital sex, birth control, abortion and marriage planning. Many parents are concerned about teen dating — when to allow it and under what conditions. Parents are the very ones who can do the most to develop right dating attitudes and habits in their children. Sponsoring quality group activities for your young people can do a lot to defuse the premature pairing off and going steady that can take place when your teens are forced constantly to find their own special outlets. Most important, get to know the friends they have.
The area of career planning is important to any teenager. Help your teenager make right choices by encouraging him or her to seek full information on the wide variety of occupations available. Numerous books, tests and counseling services are available to help your teen learn more about his or her aptitudes and interests. Get your teen thinking about the future and help avoid the frustration that may come from taking any job that comes along.
The same advice would apply in the area of recreational activities. Provide, as much as you can, for your young person to explore many different types of sports, hobbies and travel opportunities. These will help develop your teen into a well-rounded, balanced adult. And participate right along with your teen in many of these activities. No one can take the place of a parent. It's all too easy to excuse ourselves from spending time with our children. But no parent has a valid excuse not to be actively involved in the lives of his or her children as they grow from infancy through the teen years into adulthood. Although the individual interests of teenagers can vary as widely as they do with adults, taking the time to show a true concern will show your son or daughter that you really care. True, it takes time to learn about photography or skiing. Roller-skating with your kids or going with them to an amusement park may not be the most fun thing you ever do. But putting forth the energy to involve yourself in a realistic way can benefit you, the parent, in building bridges between you and your children. This type of bond cannot be bought with money. An ideal way to create this bond is to develop interests and hobbies as a family (more fully explained in an earlier installment). These can offer areas of mutual interest when your children reach their teenage years. The point is that parents should strive to share in the interests of their children, regardless of their ages.
Teens Need Discipline, Too
As a young person grows older, discipline well may take the form of denial of privileges. Proper discipline gives a young person a sense of security. To the surprise of some parents a "code for parents" drawn up by a group of young people stipulates: "Be strict and consistent in dishing out discipline. Show us who's boss. It gives us a feeling of security to know we've got some strong supports under us. "If you catch us lying, stealing or being cruel, get tough. Let us know why what we did was wrong. Impress on us the importance of not repeating such behavior. When we need punishment, dish it out. But let us know you still love us, even though we have let you down. It'll make us think twice before we make the same move again. "And make it clear that you mean what you say. Don't be wishy — washy. Don't compromise. And don't be intimidated by our threats to drop out of school or leave home. Stand firm. If you collapse, we will know we beat you down, and we will not be happy about the 'victory.' Kids don't want everything they ask for." Above all, in every area where you deal with your teenagers, be positive. Show them that you deeply care, and encourage them in every way possible to succeed. Ask yourself: "Am I for my sons and daughters? Am I interested enough to get involved in their lives during one of their most crucial and potentially traumatic periods of development?" Let's be sure we understand our parental responsibilities. Let's set the example of caring about our teens by knowing them and being involved, in a positive way, with them. Our next installment "Coping as a Single Parent" elaborates on this theme for those coming from broken homes.