Raising Adolescents

The Role of Understanding

Suppose you were visiting a foreign land and you do not speak the native tongue. No doubt communication would be difficult, but not impossible. For example, a phrase book could help you to learn basic expressions of the language. Or perhaps someone could translate for you, so that you would be able to understand others, and be understood by them. Parents raising teenagers may sometimes feel that they are in a similar situation. Not only the language of adolescents, but their behaviour may be difficult, but not impossible, to comprehend. The key is for parents to try to interpret just what is happening during this natural, but often confusing, stage of growth.

Behind the Behaviour

A youth’s desire for independence is not always a sign of rebellion. Remember the Bible acknowledges that in time “a man will leave his father and his mother” (Genesis 2:24). To prepare for greater responsibilities in adulthood, young people need at least some experience in making decisions.

Like little children, teenagers repeatedly ask, ‘Why’. Now, however, a brief, simple reply may not end the discussion. The apostle Paul wrote “When I was a babe, I used to reason as a babe” (1 Corinthians 13:11). As young people develop their ability to reason, they need more extensive explanation so that their ‘perceptive powers’ can be obtained.

Whether it occurs early, late or at the right time, the growth spurt of puberty makes many overtly aware of how they look. Girls may greet curves with excitement or with apprehension or with a mixture of both; add the discovery of acne and make up and it is easy to see why teens may seem to spend more time in front of their mirrors than in front of school text books.

Secrecy can be dangerous (Ephesians 5:12). Privacy, however, is different. Even Jesus saw the value of seeking out ‘a lonely place’ for isolation (Matthew 14:13). As they grow, youths too need some personal space and they need adults to respect that space. A degree of privacy helps youths to learn to keep up standards, a vital skill that will serve them well after childhood.

Similarly, learning to establish friendship is a part of growing up. True, bad associations can spoil useful habits (1 Corinthians 5:33). At the same time, however, it is the Bible which says “a true companion is loving at all times, and a brother is born for when in distress” (Proverb 17:17). Learning how to form and maintain healthy friendships is a vital skill that will last throughout adulthood.

When confronted with any of the above situations, parents would do well to acquire understanding so that they do not misinterpret the behaviour of their teenagers. Of course, understanding needs to be coupled with wisdom, the ability to respond to a situation in a way that will produce the best results.

Good Communication Is Vital

The Bible tells Christians to be “swift about hearing and slow about speaking” (James 1:19). While this is good advice when dealing with children of any age, listening as well as hearing is particularly important with adolescents. And it may require great effort.

A Changing, Developing Person

There is no doubt that parents of adolescents face a daunting task. At times, they will likely shed tears of frustration as they strive to bring up their children “in discipline and mental regulation of God” (Ephesians 6:4).

In the end, effective parenting is not about controlling, but about teaching and instilling proper values (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Easier said than done? Absolutely. Strive to apply Bible principles. Always be reasonable in what you expect from your children and never give up your place as primary role model in their life. “Train up a child according to the way for him; even when he grows old, he will not turn aside from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

How Much Freedom?

Perhaps the most frequent cause of conflict between parents and adolescents has to do with the issue of independence. How much freedom should be given to a teenager? Sometimes an inch is given and a mile is taken!

Obviously, unrestricted youths reap bad results. Indeed we are told that a boy let loose will cause his mother shame (Proverbs 29:15). Youths of any age need firm guidance but parents should be consistent in their handling of the family (Ephesians 6:4), and there should always be love. At the same time young people need a degree of independence so that they will be prepared for the making of decisions.

Learning from Bible Examples

Evidently Jesus, as he was growing up, was granted a measure of independence by his parents and he did not abuse the trust that was accorded to him; on the contrary, “he continued subject to his parents as he went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:51,52).

Bearing the Consequences

“Good it is for able-bodied man that he should carry the yoke during his youth” (Lamentation 3:27). One of the best ways of bearing responsibility is to learn the truthfulness of the Bible by experience. “Whatever a man is sowing, this is what he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Although they have good intentions, some parents mistakenly shield their teens from the consequences of unwise actions. For instance, suppose through frivolous spending, a son gets himself into debt. What lesson will be taught if dad and mum simply pay it off for him? On the other hand, what lesson will be taught if the parents work out a plan for him to pay off the debt himself?

Parents do their children no favours when they fail to allow them to learn the consequences of irresponsible behaviour. Rather than prepare for adulthood, this only teaches them that someone will always be there to bail them out, clean up their messes and cover up their mistakes. It is far better to give teens opportunity to reap what they have sown and learn how to work through their problems. This is an important aspect of having their powers of perspection trained to distinguish both right and wrong (Hebrews 5:14).

Bro Nelson Anyals (Ahero, Kenya)

previous chapter previous page table of contents next page