Discovering God's Calling in
Parenting a Teenager
Dear God, I thank You for the gift of this young person to raise, this life to share, this mind to help model, this body to nurture, and this spirit to enrich. Let me never betray this young person’s trust, dampen his hope, or discourage her dreams. Help me dear God to help this precious young person become all You mean him to be. Let Your grace and love fall on her like gentle breezes and give her inner strength and peace and patience for the journey ahead.
(Guide My Feet.Marian Wright Edeleman. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. Page 3)
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4)
Adolescence is a time of rapid change for the young person, as well as the family. Young adolescents are developing physically, sexually, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually—presenting parents with new challenges and growth opportunities for you both.
It’s a myth that the adolescent years are automatically problem years. Almost all youth and their parents survive the teen years without serious problems. When young people feel good about their family, the challenges of adolescence are easier to navigate. For parents, this can be a period that brings pride in your child’s new abilities, independent thinking, and sense of self.
Relationships and family life are crucial at this stage. This statement carries some irony, as you likely know, because our child(ren) is reaching the point where hanging with the family is not as desirable as it once was. However, when push comes to shove, when serious questions arise, when deep emotions overwhelm, and when life feels uncertain, young adolescents turn to parents and families first. If your relationship with your young teen is well-greased with rapport and understanding, then you both can weather the challenges of adolescent angst.
So what is your call at this stage? That’s the focus of this reflection. Think of yourself more as steward of your child’s journey rather than owner. As steward, you want to help your child discover and grow into God’s ideas for her/him. Whereas the ‘owner’ parent seeks to raise the child in the ‘image and likeness’ of the parent. As good and sincere as your ideas are for your child, God has even better things in mind.
At certain times in your life you may have carried the assumption that God calls you once, for just one purpose. Don’t miss the call, or you might spend the remainder of your days in meaningless mediocrity. In reality, it is safe to say that God calls us many times throughout the seasons of our lives, and each call challenges us to stretch further than we might have anticipated or imagined.
Congratulations! Your child has become a teenager, and your call in parenting has shifted. As you respond to this call, your young adolescent will show you facets of God that you have not seen or experienced before and will surely astound you. Place your trust in God, say ‘yes’ to the call as best you can, and give it your all.
One thing is sure: as your child encounters all the changes of moving into adolescents, you too are certainly called and challenged to change. It’s the nature of the stage. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges writes that transitions always start with an ending. Seems odd, yes, but he maintains that the first step toward a life change is identifying what you are losing and learning how to manage the losses.
Draw two pictures of your family. On one side of the paper, draw a picture of your family at an earlier time in your family's history (when your young adolescent was in the primary grades). On the other side, draw a picture of your family today. Include people, objects or scenery that portray your family at each stage of life, e.g., include the picture of your house at each time, or family members particular to each stage, such as grandparents or activities in which your family participated, such as sports.
Write and/or Discuss
Jot some notes or share with others your responses to these questions:
As your calling in parenthood shifts, and you embrace the changes in your child, in yourself, and in your family, reflect on . . .
All these wonderments and anxieties are normal. It’s part of the shifting process. Acknowledge them and recognize that God is present in them. And pray for trust that God will re-mold you into the authentic parent that your child needs and deserves.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)
What's Emerging in My Life?
Let’s consider what might be emerging in your life as a result of these changes. As we do so, let us remember a few things that others have discovered about God’s callings in their lives. We can say that responding to God’s call will likely . . .
Let’s focus on the last bullet point: not be overly complicated. While life itself can get complicated and confusing for your child, yourself, and your family, your call as parent remains relatively sound and clear: love your child into adulthood with faithfulness and authenticity.
The experts at Search Institute tell us that the key to fulfilling this call is relationships. Relationships are the active ingredient that empowers your child to eventually launch well into adulthood. So, in the context of your relationship with your child, you seek to:
When kids experience these five qualities in their relationships, they are more likely to grow up well. They do better in school. They are more caring. And they develop attitudes and skills that will help them throughout their lives. They also become more resilient, which helps them overcome challenges they face in life. In fact, the research suggests that strengthening these five areas of our relationships is one of the most important things we can do as parents for our kids.
Write and/or Discuss
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
How Should I Live?
Now we seek to turn the corner and fully embrace the call. We seek to develop fruitful patterns of behavior and action that bring fulfillment and grace to you, your young teenager, and the family as a whole.
In their book, 10 Best Gifts for Your Teen, Pat and Steve Saso express ten things that every adolescent needs from her or his parents.
Here are links to helpful practices and strategies for parenting a teenager.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).