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I’m delighted to have none other than my own brother and sister-in-law on the blog for today’s teen-themed post!
Colin and Carol have two boys (aged 17 and nearly 16), and are my go-to for Christian parenting resources for all ages. In fact, you may remember me mentioning ‘Auntie Carol’ before, and all her wonderful finds for our own kids!
But they also have a powerful testimony of their own to share, which defies the notion that teenagers need an ultra-modern, all-singing, all-dancing youth group or church in order to thrive as Christians.
Read on for their wisdom on helping our teenagers to thrive spiritually, giving them the consistent Bible message that they are loved and valued.
By the time your Darling Little Johnny has turned into Kevin The Scowling Teenager, many things – apart from the completely unnecessary name change – will have been established in their life.
They will have a growing understanding of who they are and where they fit in to their family, the world, and society around them. They will have an awareness that childhood doesn’t last forever; and that at some point they will be required to either a) leave home, b) find a job, c) start their own family, or d) any combination of the above. They will have realised, most probably, the power of sexual attraction; not necessarily in themselves yet, but certainly in others around them, their older siblings or friends, or pop idols; and will certainly have noticed the way it rules the world, spawning huge global industries.
And for Christians and others who have grown up in a faith environment, they will be starting to investigate and question its tenets and form comparisons with other faith systems. These questions include: Who am I? What do I really believe? What are my ambitions and priorities?
They will find themselves increasingly influenced by their peers (which has always been the case) and by social media (which has not) – not to mention the beast Advertising, which prowls around seeking whom it may devour.
And, at the same time, they will be decreasingly influenced by, or dependent on, their parents and wider family.
So how does the Christian parent navigate this changing landscape and present a consistent Bible message which encourages them to grow in faith, rather than stagnate in it or even reject it?
During the seven years of teenagerhood there will be some resources available to play a crucial part in their advance into adulthood: Christian books, podcasts, events, festivals; church youth groups that provide a safety net as well as a safety valve for a host of adolescent issues; enthusiastic youth leaders who combine a listening ear and an understanding heart with words of wisdom spoken just at the right time.
All of these can combine to create a Bible message for youth which is relevant, helpful and nurturing as our young people find their feet on their journey with Christ.
But at least as important as these is the parent’s commitment to the child. Walking every step of the way with your teenager is your challenge, your calling and your privilege. Here are six ways in which you can show this commitment.
“Pray without ceasing”, says 1 Thessalonians 5:17. This doesn’t mean spending every waking minute with a prayer on your lips, but at whatever stage of the day, being ready to bring your concern to God – as a priority.
Bad day at school? Pray first. Dumped by girlfriend or boyfriend? Pray first. GCSE success? Thank God first. Bring God into your everyday life – or rather, bring your everyday life to Him. And find time to pray together as a family – whether daily or weekly, at mealtimes or whenever, using a book or just praying what’s on your heart – whatever works for you. In our family, we use the resource Window on the World to pray for a different nation each Sunday teatime.
2. Have integrity
Integrity breeds trust, because consistency of lifestyle gives a confidence that the parent knows (better than their child, at least) what they are doing, is trying to make good decisions, or at least has good reasons for the decisions they make. They model how to deal with failure and disappointment, and how to resolve conflict.
As you live out your faith with integrity, your teenagers will see the consistency of your choices, and this will have an impact on their choices too.
3. Model Biblical generosity
Help your teenager navigate their way to financial independence from you.
It’s good, from time to time, to make your child aware what you do with your money. Do you invest it? Give it away? Spend it? If so, why? The more they see, the more they can form their own money-handling policy.
Remember that money is one of the biggest causes of arguments in marriages and long-term relationships, so this is wisdom that will stand them in good stead for years to come.
As Christians, getting into the habit of tithing (while not being closed to other types of giving) can breed a habit of generosity in the next generation. If there are open family discussions about what to do with money, this can create a culture of thoughtfulness and collaboration. Make money your servant, not your master.
4. Embrace variety
It’s helpful to be open to variety in your expression of faith. Take opportunities to visit other churches – perhaps when staying with friends or family – to get a different perspective on faith and meet other Christians who do things different ways.
5. Provide space
Allow space for your teen to flourish as his/her life fills up with more ‘stuff’. Like any plant that needs food, water, sunshine and fresh air, your teenager needs space to grow. In particular they need to get the balance between hard work and time off, including screen time.
6. Do things together
Express an interest in your teen’s world, keeping lines of communication open, and letting them know that you are there for them.
As your child gets older, it may seem that they want to do less and less with you as a family – but the need is still there, and they will appreciate you wanting to spend time with them, even if it means re-thinking what kinds of activities you engage in together.
Finally, can I challenge a commonly held assumption? Your church doesn’t necessarily have to have a youth worker or youth group. What is crucial is a supportive church and the quality of relationships across the generations.
This was our experience. We recently moved to a new church under somewhat difficult circumstances. In the previous church, numbers had gradually declined and there were no other children the age of our boys. What that church did have, though, was adults who were authentic in living out their faith and engaging others of all ages – and one of the leaders, previously a youth worker, had invested time and spiritual teaching in our boys.
The new church had no youth worker or young people of their age either. But the transition went extremely smoothly. The lack of a leader or mentor, such as our boys had had in our old church, didn’t seem to matter – not least because the adults accepted us as a family and quickly connected with our lads. (And, just to be clear, the boys were totally in favour of the move to this church too!)
It does help if the church can give your teenager a role; it helps the church too! They quickly found jobs for our sons, one in joining a music rota, the other in running the PA and Powerpoints every week. This has kept both involved and helped us all fit in as a family.
By this time, hopefully you will have built up enough rapport with your child that, even if they start to move away from you and rely less on you, they still hold at least a measure of respect for your views and inclinations.
Ephesians 6:4 is very apt at this point: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Sometimes we can bang on about stuff as if our children have a duty to do exactly what we say. We have to transition to a place where we accept their right to make and own their decisions – even if we don’t always feel they have a good reason for them. We have to release them into independence; and how we do that, at what speed and in what areas, are judgements we make that are unique to each individual.
What if they reject our faith? We can’t stop this happening, despite our best efforts. But we can model how to react to that rejection when it comes: not with bitterness or frustration but calmly, understandingly and prayerfully.
Does that sound hard?
Maybe; but we are only following in the footsteps of Jesus, who knew exactly what rejection was from his nearest and dearest. He knows, he understands: “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”