PARENTS - How not to provoke your teen-agers
Good News Magazine
July-September 1973
Volume: Vol XXII, No. 3
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PARENTS - How not to provoke your teen-agers
Arch Bradley & Gil Goethals  

Ephesians 4:6 and Colossians 3:21 tell us not to provoke our children to wrath. Yet, perhaps without realizing it, many parents are doing just that. Check up on yourself and see what you can do to improve your relationship with the children God has given you.

   THIS IS what a teen-age daughter of parents in God's Church, with tears rolling down her cheeks, recently told her local minister.
   "I want to please my parents, but I can never please my dad no matter how hard I work — he always expects more. I try, but I can't get all the work done. I want to talk to him but he doesn't have the time to listen.
   "When dad comes home from work we don't get love, we get 'chewed out.' If I go someplace and don't call in right away, I am in trouble.
   "I am never allowed any mistakes. I must bend to every demand no matter what. I am never allowed to make my own decisions.
   "Dad always thinks I am going to do something wrong, almost to the point where I feel I might as well."

A Typical Example?

   How many of the rest of us are being "too hard" and too unbending in dealing with our teen-agers? Paul mentioned this as an all-too-likely situation in Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger — do not exasperate them to resentment — but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord" (The Amplified Bible).
   This common parental tendency has alienated all too many of our sons and daughters from family and from the Church. We've "turned them off," and many teen-agers have simply turned their backs on the Church, reasoning that, "If that's what Christianity is, they can have it!" The result: we have presented a stumblingblock to many others who yet faithfully attend.
   Let's take a candid look, then find a realistic solution to the problem.

Why Parents Are Strict

   First, let's realize and admit that parents are not deliberately trying to drive their children away from the Church, nor intentionally making life unbearable for them. And teen-agers need to realize this — that parents really do desire the best for their children.
   And parents want to prevent at all costs their sons and daughters from making the same mistakes, and suffering the same resulting penalties that they have lived through.
   Parents — isn't it true that you want desperately to protect your teen-agers from having to learn from the "school of hard knocks"? Don't you want them to have a better life than you had, to steer the shortest and straightest course to success and happiness? You desire, as Christ put it, "That they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" John 10:10).
   But in our zeal to accomplish this, we often become overly strict and uncompromising about relatively unimportant matters. To our teen-agers, we appear unreasonable, unthoughtful, unreachable, unsympathetic and dictatorial.
   When does a teen-ager become an adult? At what age? The father of a 21-year-old man recently related how he woke up one day and had to face the fact that his "little boy" had become a man. Yet, in the father's mind his son was still his boy, which points up the fact that during those teen-age years we parents often fail to recognize the development that is taking place and continue to treat our teen-agers purely as children.
   Actually, terrific changes are occurring gradually throughout their teenage years. But it is hard — sometimes even traumatic — for us to realize that our children are growing up. And we often unthinkingly deal with them totally as children when in fact they are already well into the process of maturing and undergoing the transformation from little boy or girl to young man or woman.
   But though you may still think of your sixteen-year-old as your "little boy," it is not realistic to expect to dominate him as you did when he was ten. Because he is not a ten-year-old anymore. Granted, he does not yet have the mind of a thirty- fifty- or sixty-year-old — but he's not supposed to have. He would be abnormal if he did!
   The sixteen-year-old realizes his interests, mental abilities, emotions, etc., have developed greatly since he was ten years old. He knows he is far along the road toward adulthood. So if he is treated like a small child, he resents it and a "generation gap" can begin to develop.

Teen-agers Deserve Respect Also

   Obviously, a complete cessation of parental supervision is not the answer. Your teen-age sons or daughters are not out from under your supervision while at home, an9 they should respect your authority. But you also must mix with your supervision a great deal of respect for them, as befits individuals who are no longer little children.
   They aren't perfect yet, and don't claim to be, so don't try to demand perfection of them. Think instead of how God deals with His spiritual sons. He gives us time to grow toward perfection. He is extremely patient with us, overlooking and forgiving multitudes of shortcomings and mistakes. Rather than reminding us of each and every little error we make, He simply overlooks and forgets many of them, encouraging us to "stay in there and keep plugging."
   Notice Psalm 78:37-39, which relates God's great patience with ancient Israel: "For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away and cometh not again."
   Let's play that part back again! "For he remembered that they were but flesh." God is realistic — He knows you and I have not attained to anything near His level of perfection. He realizes perfection is a process and respects our efforts toward it. Let's deal with our teen-agers likewise — with respect and great patience, not expecting instant perfection in all points of life.
   In many cases our teen-agers are experiencing more problems and trying circumstances, through opposition to their beliefs at school, than we are at home or on the job. And in most cases doing a tremendous job of sticking to their guns. There are few desires or pulls greater than the desire to "fit in" or be like the crowd. Yet often our teen-agers cannot fully participate in school affairs and hence cannot "belong."
   Let's face it. If you don't attend school dances and athletic events, which so frequently occur on the Sabbath, if you keep the annual Holy Days, don't dabble in dope, do refuse premarital sex, rarely date anyone at school and don't mirror the permissive attitude toward everything in general, it is hard.'
   Most of our teen-agers are nevertheless doing an admirable job. Some of us might not do as well as they if we were subjected to the same pressures. So let's give them the backing, patience, appreciation and respect which they so greatly deserve. The Apostle John showed his respect for young men who had "overcome the wicked one" (I John 2:13). Let's pay the same respect to our teen-agers who daily resist Satan's influence on and through this society.

Listen to Your Teen-agers

   Remember the quote introducing this article? "I want to talk but my dad doesn't have time to listen." You need to take time with your sons and daughters. Listen to their ideas, opinions, evaluations of situations and problems. Has God patiently and attentively listened to your prayers? Certainly He has. Even when some of your requests may have been unjustified and "off base," He has continued to respect and hear you.
   But here is the chief cause for the communication gap that so often exists between parents and children. Many parents complain that their sons and daughters do not talk to them or let them know what's on their minds. Actually, the problem often is that the parents will not listen — and the teenagers know it.
   Here are two basic points of courtesy in listening. 1) Don't interrupt your teen-agers when they are expressing themselves to you, regardless of how you feel about what is being discussed. Remember the proverb: "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him" (Prov. 18:13). 2) When your teenagers are explaining something or trying to prove a point, reserve your judgment or decision until they have "had their say." In other words, listen with an open mind. Give them the same courtesy in this regard that you would or should show friends or individuals where you work. Doing otherwise can contribute toward "provoking them to anger" which God warns against.

Let Them Make Decisions

   The purpose of child rearing is not to build robots who instinctively obey on command, but to teach budding young free moral agents — potential God beings — how to make wise decisions.
   We do not mean to say that parents should allow their sons and daughters to make all decisions, directing their lives without any attention whatsoever from mother and dad. But there is a right balance. "I am never allowed any mistakes," said the girl we quoted earlier. "I must bend to every demand no matter what. I am never allowed to make my own decisions. Dad always thinks I am going to do something wrong, almost to the point where I feel I might as well."
   God allowed the Israelites of old to make their own decisions — even when they were wrong ones! He knew that they could not learn any other way. When Samuel had grown old and Israel wanted a physical king to rule over them, God allowed them to make a decision even though He knew it was a bad one.
   "'Give us a king like all the other nations have,' they pleaded. Samuel was terribly upset and went to God for advice. 'Do as they say,' God replied, 'for I am the one they are rejecting, not you — they don't want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually forsaken me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but warn them about what it will be like to have a king!'" (I Sam. 8:5-9, The Living Bible).
   Samuel informed the people of the consequences of their decision (verse 10-18). He told them it would mean many disadvantages and would lead to many problems from which God would not deliver them.
   "But the people refused to listen to Samuel's warning. 'Even so, we still ant a king,' they said, 'for we want to be like the nations around us. He will govern us and lead us to battle.' So Samuel told God what the people had said, and God replied again, 'Then do as they say and give them a king'" (verses 1922 ).
   Notice how God handled the situation overall. In spite of God's warnings, the nation of Israel was convinced that it needed a physical king. That was their decision. And God honored it. He entreated them as a father does a child, and warned them of the dangers of their decision. When Israel accepted those dangers and stuck with her decision, God then honored that decision.
   We can use this same approach, using wisdom of course. We can and should give our teen-agers parental advice and counsel, but leaving some decisions to them.
   On the other hand, you certainly wouldn't allow your teen-ager to decide if he or she is going to have an all-day party in your house on the Sabbath. You are responsible before God for what goes on in your house on the Sabbath. This is a decision for you to make, not your children.

Do Things Together

   Young people want to be active, to experience and learn new things — and rightly so. There are plenty of good things for them to experience. And a wise parent will pitch in and participate with his children in many of these activities and interests. It is important to find common interests with your teen-agers and pursue them together! For instance, if your children like the outdoors, you might want to take up backpacking with them and make it a family affair.
   Think back on your own childhood. Some of the fondest memories are sure to be those of doing things as a family and with your parents. The same will be true of your children when they are your age. So build fond memories into your children's lives now. Build the rapport and friendship between parents and teen-agers that God intends, and which will serve them well for all their life to come.

Expect the Best

   One of the greatest ways that we can help our young people is to look at what they can do, at their virtues, their accomplishments, instead of mistakes or shortcomings. Be positive with your children! Expect the best of them, not the worst.
   And compliment them on their right decisions, actions and jobs well done.
   "'Nothing kills confidence faster,' said Yale's outstanding swimming coach Bob Kiphuth, 'than always keeping the pressure on. If you work your heart out at the high jump and finally clear the bar at six feet, you deserve appreciation.' But if the coach comes over and says, 'Come on, you can do better than that!' you are going to wonder if it was worth it" (What a Supervisor Should Know About Employee Relations, The Dartnell Corporation).
   Use this principle in your own child rearing. A teen-ager will respond a whole lot faster to positive encouragement than nagging criticism. Here is another example:
   "A young officer was given an important assignment. He failed miserably. To everyone's surprise, the colonel gave him another job, equally dangerous, equally important. This time he came through so heroically that he was awarded a decoration.
   "When a friend tried to congratulate him, the young officer cried out: 'But what else could I do? I failed my commander and he went on trusting me!'" (ibid.).
   "If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him" (I Cor. 13:7, The Living Bible). You do love your teen-agers. So show it!
   Sure, teen-agers are going to make mistakes. But we all do. Let them know you appreciate their efforts to avoid and overcome them. As the old song goes, "Accentuate the positive."
   In conclusion, here is another scripture very much like the one with which we started: "Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or fret your children — do not be hard on them or harass them; lest they become discouraged and sullen and morose and feel inferior and frustrated; do not break their spirit" (Col. 3:21, Amplified Bible).
   The stakes are high! A year from now, will your teen-agers be attending services and growing in God's truth? Or — will they have become negative, disillusioned and sour toward God's Church? What you do will largely determine which they do!

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Good News MagazineJuly-September 1973Vol XXII, No. 3