10 Mistakes Made By Christian Parents Of Teenagers

Maybe we are weird but my wife and I love parenting teens. I’m not saying that we love our four kids who currently range from 13-20 years old. Of course that’s true but I’m saying something different than that. I’m saying that we love the teenage years.

Given that we are still very much in the middle of these years, I hesitate to offer much advice to parents who are at the same stage in their parenting. I am sure that I have more to learn than give. But I think that based on reading, talking to other parents, and our own experiences with our kids, there are some things that I’m learning about mistakes that are common to Christian parents of teenagers. My wife and kids know that I’ve made these very mistakes (and more) more than once.

 10 Mistakes Made By Christian Parents Of Teenagers

10. Not making your house a place your kids and their friends want to hang out.

Having several of your kids’ friends over to your house makes things cramped, loud, and expensive. Or at least that’s how it can feel in our house. Do I really want to buy more soda, pay for more pizza, or be woken up by kids watching a game or playing ps4? Well, if I think about it, the answer is yes, I do want that.

But I have to relentlessly remind myself that I’d rather the kids choose to be at our house than avoiding our house, that I really want to know their friends, and another 12 pack of Mountain Dew isn’t going to send me to the poor house.

I’ve learned that if I will sit and talk to their friends for a few minutes that I really enjoy them. They are great kids and it’s fun to be a small part of their lives.

9. Escalating tension.

By nature teenagers are emotional and defensive. In other words they are like their parents but just don’t do as good a job of hiding it. It’s a parent’s job to deescalate tension and bring the emotional temperature down a few degrees. Resist the urge to respond with the same emotional intensity as your child.

8. Rescuing them so that they don’t have to face the consequences of their choices.

It’s tempting to intervene and talk to a teacher or a coach or a parent or an employer on your teen’s behalf. But when we rescue our kid, we short-circuit the learning process.

I remember when one of our kids took an independent online class but never finished it. He had to reimburse us the $700 cost of the class. That is a lot of money for someone making minimum wage. It was tempting to not make him pay it or make him pay only half of it. But my wife and I encouraged each other to stick to our plan and make him pay for the whole thing.

He won’t make that mistake again.

7. Paying for their lifestyle so that they don’t have to work a job.

Each of us is shaped, for better or for worse, by our own childhood experiences. My wife and I grew up, financially speaking, in different situations but we both started working small jobs when we were 14 and continued to work through high school and college.

Three of our kids started mowing lawns in the neighborhood by the time they were 12. All four have jobs and have to think about giving, saving, and spending. I think that we’d all agree that a job teaches you lessons that nothing else can.

6. Not spending time with them.

Many parents think that their teenagers don’t want to spend time with them. That hasn’t been true in my experience. Look for ways that you can build bridges to your kids and find things that everyone likes to do together. (Suggestions: concerts, fantasy football, movies, sporting events, shooting baskets, etc…)

5. Expecting them to make decisions like a middle-aged person.

Paul Tripp says that if you don’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager, you’re going to have a hard time raising one. My wife and I fall into the trap of expecting our kids to make decisions like we would now not like we did when we were their age.

Before telling your kid how ridiculous her decision is, ask yourself what you were like when you were her age. Did you ever spend money on silly stuff, talk on the phone too much, get in trouble at school, not put forth your best effort in class, waste time, etc…? My kids are infinitely more mature at their age than I was.

4.  Letting their activities become your priority.

Your kids are in sports or choir or drama or band or dance or something. That’s great. Just remember it’s their activity not yours. You can (and should) root for them and encourage them and give them rides when needed but you have a full life on your own. Perhaps you’re married and have a job and your own interests. Those are all things that deserve your attention so don’t elevate your kids’ activities too high on your list of priorities. If you’re married, it’s far more important that you connect with your spouse than you watch every game. Far more important.

3. Wrong approach to church involvement.

I think that there are two opposite ways to err here. One way to err is to “force” your kid (16 and older) to go to church. The other way to err is to be passive as if your influence isn’t needed. Rules and bribes aren’t the way to reach your teen’s heart. But your kid does need encouragement to be a part of church.

One helpful thing that I’ve seen families do is get to know their teen’s small group leaders by having them over to dinner.

2. Not having spiritual conversations.

Closely related to #3 is the need to have spiritual conversations with your teen. You don’t have to be a theological expert to share what you read in your Bible or what you learned from the sermon or suggest a book you could read together. It’s not that you have to have all the answers or even any answers. The important thing is that you have a real relationship with Christ and value it enough to share what’s going on in your spiritual life.

1. Choosing between relationship and truth.

By relationship I mean that you are committed to your kid regardless of what he says or does. There is literally nothing that will make you love her any less. You love your teen for the same reason that God loves you…just because you love them.

By truth I mean that you aren’t going to hold anything back that you think that they need to hear.  You aren’t going to sugar coat or protect them from reality. Facts are your friend. You’re going to have hard conversations.

We think the goal is to find the right balance between relationship (acceptance) and truth but I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. Instead, what if we were 100% committed to both at the same time? What if we said to our teens, “I love you and nothing can change that.” And at the very same time said, “There are some hard truths that you need to deal with.”

If our kids know that we love them and if we can share the hard truths from our heart, I think that they will be very open to what we have to say.

This whole post has been a waste of time if you read it as a formula for raising perfect kids. There are no guaranteed formulas, perfect kids, or perfect parents.

These are just some of the things that I’m learning as I parent the teens that God has given me. Please share some of the things you’ve learned.

3 Comments

  1. Erin W said:

    Teenager brains are not completely “wired” yet. What I mean by that is, their brains, just as their bodies, aren’t fully developed. We may not need the patience we once had to dig deep for to get through the terrible twos, but we need to recognize that patience is still required for teenagers. Mistakes are going to happen, rules will be broken, just like when that toddler kept throwing her food as you told her NO! until they figured out the boudary. I forget this… A LOT. The most important part of this is Unity. A consistent, united decision making team to decide when and where the training wheels come off. They are on the cusp of adulthood and yet still so close to the carefree naivety of children. Crashes will happen literally and figuratively. We help pick the pieces until they get up on their own, all the while telling them they will be fine, they can do this!…because you all know she can. (or he).

  2. mMark Camp said:

    Thanks, Keith-great stuff!

  3. Todd S. said:

    Thanks Keith. We start the journey through the teenage years next month…

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