‘My son, if you accept my words … then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God’ (Proverbs 2:1-5).
My wife and I, by the grace of God alone, have raised four children. We are now convinced that the teenage years are among the most difficult ones to face. This is true for both parents and young people themselves. Understanding what the Scriptures teach about this age will help us be wiser parents.
What are the particular challenges of youth? According to the Scriptures, young people face some unique challenges.
Young people increasingly have the bodies of adults and desire to make their own life-changing decisions.However, they lack the wisdom and experience of adults. The young prodigal son (Luke 15) leaves home with half his father’s money. He lacks the wisdom that comes from experience and, consequently, he wastes it all!
A young man is enticed by a loose woman (Proverbs 7), but, without the experience that would alert him to danger, is led ‘like an ox going to the slaughter’ (7:22). Youth is a time when God can so easily be forgotten. It is so filled with new and exciting experiences that it is easy to forget God altogether. This is one reason Solomon writes: ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth’ (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
Youth can be a time of intense temptation. ‘Flee the evil desires of youth’, writes the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 2:22), implying that there are temptations unique to youth. Paul is not only referring to sexual temptation, for vanity and over-zealousness (now called ‘radicalisation’) are also particular temptations for young people. Paul himself was a violent zealot when young (Acts 7:58).
These challenges are compounded by the long transition to adulthood young people have to endure in Western culture. In other cultures, young people have to accept adult responsibilities much earlier in life.
In contrast to these special dangers, youth can be a time of great spiritual opportunity and service. It can be a time for accomplishing great things for God.
Samuel was a leader from his youth (1 Samuel 12:2). David killed Goliath in his youth (1 Samuel 17 — would he have attempted such a daring act as a more ‘sensible’ adult?). Daniel and his three friends stood up fearlessly for God in their youth (Daniel 1-3), and Timothy was a young pastor (1 Timothy 4:12). So we must never assume that the years of youth will necessarily be times of failure and decline.
How then should we guide our teenagers? In the light of the particular challenges of youth, how should parents guide their children during these years?
Parents ought to familiarise themselves with the particular Scriptures that can help young people at this time: the early chapters of Proverbs; the specific teachings of the apostle Paul on raising children; the example of God the Father, both towards his perfect only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and towards us, his erring sons and daughters; and the way Jesus gently discipled the Twelve, as recorded in the Gospels.
To pray for them goes without saying. How will we gain the wisdom we need without constantly remembering our children before the Lord in prayer? I will never forget the tearful prayers of my own mother for her six children.
Understand the enormous changes taking place in their bodies and lives and don’t ‘exasperate them’ (Ephesians 6:4). Choose your battles carefully and let many lesser matters pass.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of our Lord’s patient discipling of the Twelve is how he admonished them only for big faults — such as pride, prayerlessness and faithlessness — forbearing with their lesser foibles. A wise parent of teenagers will learn not to nag like a dripping tap.
At the start of his ministry, Jesus Christ heard his Father in heaven speak highly of him: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). During the teenage years, when our children are trying to work out who they are, speak encouraging words to them.
The prodigal’s father continued to love his wayward son and every morning scanned the horizon, hoping and yearning for his speedy return (Luke 15:20). Whatever happens, our children should be assured of our love for them.
Keep talking to them. In the Gospel of John we catch a glimpse of the constant fellowship between God the Son and God the Father.
We know that communication is central to all relationships. Maintain communication with your teenage children, even though talking can be difficult, especially if the chatty child suddenly turns into a silent teen. You may have to learn more about their interests to engender and sustain this ongoing communication.
Second, since they so easily forget the Lord, talk to your children about God. Find creative opportunities to do this: on walks, in the car, on the way home from a sports event or movie. God’s people are to include God in whatever they are doing (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). There will be new adult areas of conversation to discuss from a Christian perspective.
Be explicit in your advice. Every parent of teenagers should make a close study of Proverbs chapters 1-7, where we find Solomon giving explicit advice on everything from gangs to sexual temptation.
Parent, you have the experience your child lacks; share it with them freely! Take special note of the tender and intimate way Solomon shares his wisdom: ‘Listen, my son…’ (1:8).
If you leave a vacuum on tricky subjects, be sure the gap will be filled by the world, and most probably filled with evil.
Give good and sound reasons for the ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’ of belief and behaviour, since teens are now reasoning for themselves. And remember, while they may not seem to be listening, they are!
Teach them to protect themselves online.There is no greater source of danger in a teenager’s life today than the Internet, now available by all kinds of device. Parents, wake up to the danger!
According to the Christian software protection website ‘Covenant Eyes’, 68 per cent of young men and 18 per cent of young women view pornography online every week. In other words, pornography is becoming a normal part of youth culture.
For younger teens, cyber bullying is commonplace. Did you know that the information young people put out on social media about themselves may stay there for ever, jeopardising their future careers? Talk about these dangers openly with your children. Break the taboo of silence.
Use an Internet Service Provider (ISP) which blocks evil at source. Encourage your teens to use software that logs every internet site, establishes accountability partners and alerts those partners immediately if some dodgy website has been accessed. (Of course, parents must have this sort of accountability in place themselves before they encourage their children to use it.)
Two helpful Christian accountability software companies are ‘Covenant Eyes’ and ‘Accountable2you’.
If you do not take action to protect your children from material on the internet, they are in danger of being corrupted. That is how serious the situation is today. Dear parents, you have been warned!
Let them go!
Finally, after doing your best, under the Lord, to bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, learn to let them go. As they develop, give them more rope; don’t tie them to your apron strings. We need strong young men and women of God, not perpetual babies.
The prodigal’s father did not try to manipulate his son when the son left home (‘I’ll be so lonely without you’; ‘You’re really letting me down’; etc.). And that’s why, in his hour of greatest need, the son returned freely. For no child willingly returns to a manipulative parent.
‘Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck’ (Proverbs 1:8-9).
Roy Summers is pastor of Manor Park Church, Worcester