We’ve been privileged this week to host hundreds of teenagers for the West Coast Baptist Youth Conference. It has been a joy to see their responsiveness to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word.
Teenagers are a delightful challenge—even to themselves! The teenage years can be full of fun and yet puzzling and frustrating all at the same time. There’s so much growth, change, and transition taking place in this move from childhood to adulthood.
Sometimes it’s a challenge to parents to know how to respond and what hat to wear at any given moment. Parenting or leading teens is weighty business. These young lives are sensitive and moldable, but they are also easily frustrated and sometimes reactionary.
Below are ten helps your teenager needs you to give during these teen years. I write primarily to parents here, but this list is applicable to pastors, youth pastors, teachers, and coaches as well.
These helps will make a difference in a teenager’s life.
1. Consistent parents
If you want to direct your teen’s heart in the love of God, you must be consistent in your own walk with God. I’m not talking about being perfect, but about being the same person at home as you are at church.
Teenagers are sensitive to pick up on inconsistency. And inconsistency does something in the mind and heart of a teenager that creates disillusionment and discouragement.
Perhaps the most powerful way you can help your teenager is to be consistent—in your parenting and, above all, in your own walk with God.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children…—Deuteronomy 6:6–7
2. Loving acceptance
Teenagers need to know that you’re going to love them no matter what. You may know this, but you need to communicate it to your teenager. Share your affection with them. It may feel awkward at times, and they may resist at first, but they need your hugs, affirmation, and love. Being assured of your unconditional love infuses trust for you in the heart of your teen.
[Charity] Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.—1 Corinthians 13:7
3. Clear boundaries
Teenagers tend toward excess, and they need you to set and keep clear boundaries for them—in technology, communication, entertainment, dress, friendships, and so many other areas of life.
Teens may not be mature enough to appreciate the boundaries, and they may think you’re a stick in the mud for holding them to boundaries. But they need them. And they need you to clearly communicate them in advance.
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.—Philippians 4:5
4. Firm discipline
I’m not talking about mean, red-in-the-face screaming, hitting, or being physically abusive. I’m talking about firm, loving discipline that is meant to hold boundaries while reaching the heart.
To ignore discipline is to render all boundaries ineffective and to communicate that you don’t care about the future life consequences that will come to your teenager when he or she continues disregarding boundaries. Loving discipline says, “Boundaries are important, and I care about you enough to insist that you abide by them.”
For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:—Proverbs 6:23
5. Trials and challenges
We live in a day with such protectiveness that we want to remove our children from any difficult situation. But just as it is in our lives, experiencing trials and facing challenges helps teenagers grow. If we fix every problem, they don’t learn the greater lessons of faith, problem solving, overcoming, and forgiveness.
Your children can go through and learn from difficulties when they are sixteen, or you can shelter them until they are twenty-four. But at some point they are going to hit the real world of pain and difficulty. How much better for them if they encounter it while they still have you to lead them and give them biblical perspective through it.
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.—James 1:3–4
6. Preaching and teaching of God’s Word
Young people are building the foundations of life in their teen years. They need to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in church, youth class, and any other venue they can get it.
This is one reason that I believe Christian education is so vital. A teen may be off the charts in academic honors or sports prowess, but if he or she has no heart for God, no compassion for the lost, no understanding of the basic truths of the Christian life, that young person is headed for an empty life.
On the other hand, teenager who absorbs the teaching and preaching of God’s Word and learns to guide his heart and decisions by it is setting a strong foundation for life.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.—Matthew 7:24–25
7. Opportunities to serve
One of the best things Terrie and I did was to have our teenage children work in the bus ministry. Each of our four children—all adults with families of their own now—will tell you that the bus ministry helped them to see outside of themselves and to develop compassion for others.
In whatever way your teens may serve, it is important that you give them opportunities to do it. If at all possible, send them on a missions trip. Take them with you soulwinning. Deliver pies to widows. Opportunities for serving can be a whole family endeavor!
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.—Philippians 2:4
8. Respect for authority
Teenagers think that authority is temporary—part of childhood. The truth is, authority follows us through life. From police officers to bosses, having someone over us is part of life.
Teach your teenagers to respect and honor authority. When they have a difficulty with a teacher or coach—or even with you—teach them the answer is never to demean or talk back to authority, but to respond and respectfully work out differences. Teach them to love, pray for, and respect the authorities in their lives.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.—Exodus 20:12
9. Relationship with authority
Beyond respect, teenagers need a relationship with those who are in authority. They will act like they only want to be with their peers. During these teen years, you may often feel like an unwanted fifth wheel. Interject yourself anyway. Your teens need you.
Find unexpected times and ways to show them your love and spend time together. Randomly pick them up from school for lunch out together. Plan family activities (and insist that your teens join the family on them).
Teens who are comfortable and open with authority have a good thing going for them. Teens who are secretive and closed to authority are blocking themselves from the people they need to help guide them to adulthood.
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.—Psalms 32:8–9
10. Godly friends
Encourage your young people to develop friendships with godly young people. Godly friends sharpen and encourage one another, and your teenager needs that kind of influence, as well as needs to learn how to be that kind of influence.
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.—Proverbs 27:17
The other aspect of friendship that begins to develop during teen years is guy/girl relationships. As the parent, you are responsible to shepherd your teen through these attractions and relationships, not to relive your own dating experiences through their lives. (I wrote a previous blog about preparing young people for marriage.)
Parenting (or teaching or coaching) teenagers is not always easy, and it is never simple. To be the spiritual leader your teenager needs, more than anything else, you need the wisdom of God!
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.—James 1:5