The teen years are a daunting time. Lots of changes in the air. Expectations and insecurities are ramped up. Drama seems to lurk around every corner, and you’re wondering when it will ever end. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what your kids are feeling.
Helping your teenager develop a relationship with God adds another dimension to this tumultuous time. You’re not only helping them navigate the normal curveballs of life, but you are also trying to help them have faith.
Our teenagers need our guidance, but they don’t need us to fearfully control them. How do you find the balance? One of the biggest lessons God has taught me both from my own experience with my father and now as a father myself is how to guide my teenage daughter while giving her the space she needs to become her own person.
When to guide your teen
When I was a teenager, I was challenged by many things – which were often accompanied by the typical intense swing of emotions teenagers tend to experience as they grow up.
What helped me navigate through those challenges, besides my own relationship with God, was my dad. He helped me through the insecurities I had about being accepted by people, anxieties I had about expectations being put on me, and the fallout of hurtful things that were said in a fit of frustration at a headstrong teen.
Getting information from someone can be like getting water from a deep well. If you are smart, you will draw it out.
Proverbs 20:5 ERV
I have memories of just sitting and crying and telling my dad I felt like I didn’t know if I could do this, if I could make it as a Christian. And my dad listened. He didn’t judge my outbursts as unreasonable, though often they were. He didn’t ridicule or minimize my tears and insecurity as an inconvenience. He sat and listened.
He let me spew whatever jumble of words matched my emotions at the time, and he would wade in and try to make sense out of it all, for himself and for me. He would often see the truth I was missing and dive in to help me figure it all out, sharing wisdom from experience and scriptures from the Bible. He braved those deep waters of my heart so I could learn how to deal with all the turmoil going on inside. He didn’t waffle on conviction but was able to patiently guide me toward truth.
I’ll never forget that. His patience helped me to understand that no matter what, I had someone to listen to and a home to go back to. We all need that kind of mentor, parent, or guide to aid us in our quest for growth and maturity.
Dear friends, if God loved us that much we also should love each other. No one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us.
1 John 4:11-12 NCV
If my dad, human and as imperfect as he is, could love me, then what he taught me is that God, the source of all love, would love and accept me no matter what. The Bible says that our love helps others understand God’s love, so the love we show our children points them to God and the safety they have in him.
Because of my dad’s heart for me, I made the choice at that young age that I would help my children understand that, no matter what, they are loved and they always have a home to come back to.
When to give your teen space
When my daughter got older and started wanting to learn about God for herself, I had to make the decision to let her experience what it’s like to stumble and reach out for God and grow that relationship on her own. This was easier said than done.
See, having become a Christian at one point myself, I had lots of thoughts about how to ease her into this process. I wanted to kind of guide her through it so she wouldn’t have any bumps or gaps in her knowledge. I became a helicopter parent – a dad who hovers over his child incessantly, constantly probing for information and trying to exert my influence. My daughter was lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and mentors in our Y ministry who wanted to help her on this journey, but I still felt like I needed to be the one to guide her.
What I found out is that all my input and free advice was just steering her back toward me, not toward God.
As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4 CEB
As Christian parents, we are called to raise our children with “discipline and instruction” about Jesus. Since I had decided a long time ago that my daughter would grow up understanding the Bible and that God would be no stranger to our home, I kind of figured that I was doing a good job already.
What I discovered is that I often provoked her to react in a negative way. I had done the second part of that verse, teaching her about Jesus, but kind of forgot that I needed to make sure I wasn’t doing the first part of provoking her, too.
Teach a child how to follow the right way;
even when he is old, he will stay on course.
Proverbs 22:6 VOICE
I lost sight of this truth. If I had already taught my daughter the right way, then why was I meddling in her learning and growing even more? I realized that all my extra-curricular teaching and “guidance” was really not helping her get closer to God. She would hesitate to express her own personal thoughts and convictions because she didn’t want to create a potential source of conflict with me. I had to back off and let her go through this with her peers and mentors in the Y Ministry because there’s a point in our children’s lives when they will have to go outside our sphere of influence to learn deeper truths, about life and about themselves.
In many ways, this was opposite what I learned from my father. Yes, my daughter could talk about anything with me and I would listen and guide and help, but I was not giving her the space she needed to grow. Instead of making home a place where she could be herself, I was making home a place she needed to be careful. She was not free.
That didn’t mean I was silent during this process. I prayed for her a lot and trusted that God was going to move for her, no matter what. Not only did that happen, but she began to develop deeper relationships with her friends and with her mother.
Giving my daughter space didn’t mean that I let her do whatever she wanted when it was harmful to her emotionally physically or spiritually; ultimately, as a parent I believe I’m still responsible for leading, protecting and guiding my children. I just had to guide her in a different way. I learned that part of being a responsible parent was guiding my daughter toward peer relationships that would help her have faith, be honest, and build her own convictions. She was able to become her own young woman, not a kid with a spiritual helicopter parent.
Our roles as parents are to guide our children. Sometimes you guide your children by listening and helping them make sense of their hearts. Other times, you guide them by letting go of your fear and control and giving them the space to learn to believe in a God who is bigger than themselves and bigger than you.