Looking a teenager in the eyes for the first time? Never fear. Five Summitview couples offer wisdom for making the most of the teen years.
My daughter becomes a teenager this fall. The little girl who dressed up in princess outfits and danced through her days is now taller than I am and walks around in shoes a size bigger than mine. How did we get here so quickly?
I’ve gone from asking for advice about how to keep a busy toddler occupied, to questions about how to keep media in check, how to handle friendships and how to keep her heart close to home while encouraging her to pursue the things that God seems to have uniquely wired her for. Raising teens is a balancing act, entrusted to the love and wisdom of the One who created our kids.
One of the gifts of community is having others to ask questions of who have already walked through this season of life. In that spirit, ATN has asked a few parents who have either passed through that season or are in the midst of it to share a few pieces of wisdom they’ve gained along the way. We hope their answers will give you things to consider praying through and implementing with your spouse as you parent your teenage kids.
Their responses have been edited for clarity and length.
As you look back on your years parenting teenagers, what is one thing you did with them that made a positive difference in their life and faith?
Philippe and Jolie Dekleva: There are a handful of things—focusing on a Christian worldview, limiting time online, having meals together regularly, involving them with middle school and high school youth group activities, starting their days with reading the Bible (especially as pre-teens). We always communicated in an honest manner, not treating them as little kids all the time. As teenagers, we feel they can start handling responsibilities above and beyond household chores. If we want them to be responsible, we need to treat them as young adults and not coddle them.
Scott and Kathy Elder: Open communication was key. I (Kathy) never let a topic become something we just didn’t talk about. I checked in with our kids at night, just before bed, because it was usually quiet and they were thinking over the day. The car was also a great place to talk. Being “alongside” them in as many ways as we could also helped us know them well—volunteering at school events, sports, youth group, service projects. Parenting teens will deepen your own faith and show you your hypocrisies, which you must then show your teens you are tackling in faith. And the sage counsel and experience of parents with teens just a bit older than ours was indispensable.
Eric and Aimee Fuhrman: We were VERY protective when our kids were young, being really choosy about movies/TV/books and friends. Some people thought we were extreme, but we wanted to shelter them during their most formative years. Once they hit middle school, however, we systematically loosened the leash, teaching them how to make their own discerning choices, until we knew for sure that they could (and would) make them.
Jim and Jennifer Harrington: I think the main thing we do is try to get our kids to engage with us on real, complex issues and have real conversations as soon as they show interest. Sex, music, drugs and alcohol, gender confusion, homosexuality, living together outside marriage, economic imbalance, marriage roles, and work-life balance—we never want them to feel like they have to go somewhere else to hear a real discussion on tough issues. We also don’t shy away from them hearing other people with different views discuss similar issues, so long as they are legitimately thoughtful views. We don’t fear any real discussion on any topic. It is a privilege to discuss these things when our kids are young and they see us providing thoughtful answers to real life challenges.
Similarly, we weave Bible discussion into family gatherings whenever it makes sense. Rather than having a formal “devotional” time, we encourage the view that God joins us and has a voice in all our experiences and phases of life. He is present in our play, work, sadness and pain. We try to avoid compartmentalizing so that “church” times aren’t seen as the only time that God has a voice.
Another critical choice we made was not putting our kids in school in the middle school or high school years. Many of our friends and acquaintances chose to have their home school years end or taper out during this phase. We decided to double down and create opportunities for them to pursue passions that would help them find their unique path, rather than try to fit into the schooling paradigm. It is a real privilege to able to do this, and we have not regretted this decision at all.
Kurt and Andrea Kastein: As our kids became teens, then young adults, our approach toward correction sometimes had to change from one of discipline to one of reproof. We consider reproof with teens as a verbal discussion, more along the lines of, “I’d like to talk to you. Can I give you some advice about something I see in your life?” With younger kids, permission isn’t needed or granted, so it’s less about talking/advising and more about talking/correcting with some form of discipline included. Discipline for our teenagers was still needed (and sometimes worked) when rules were broken, tempers flared, disrespect was shown. But reproof was used to address longer-term patterns of wrong behavior.
We realized it was still our responsibility to recognize and call out areas that needed correction. But sometimes we didn’t have the ability or the responsibility to change the behavior. As our kids become teens who become adults, our responsibilities change. We needed to keep pouring wisdom and sound advice into their lives. Sometimes that was met with acceptance, sometimes with defiance. God helped us lay the groundwork when they were young, which helped our kids to accept our input more often than not. But we also understood that they would make their own choices.
The transition to being parents of young adults is hard. We want our kids to make all the right choices and follow God in every situation. We know that God wants their hearts and will work powerfully to get their attention. We’ll continue to look for ways to advise and sometimes reprove. But ultimately, we know the outcome is up to them and that they are in the hands of an all-loving, all-powerful God.
As you look back on your years parenting teenagers, what is one thing you would do differently? Why?
Philippe and Jolie: I (Philippe) would be more consistent leading the family spiritually. Leading means having consistent personal time with God, communicating with your wife about her quiet times, discussing what she thinks about specific parenting situations that need to be addressed, reading the Bible together as a family and discussing the Sunday sermon.
I have been lacking in prioritizing some or all of these because it is too easy to say, “It has been a long day at work, and I’m tired.” Life takes on a new level of busyness during this time. Aside from sports/music activities, social activities and increased schoolwork, their emotional needs are much greater now than when they were younger. (Many times, their needs come to light after you want to go to bed.) What works for an extrovert does not always work for an introvert. Some teenagers spill out their emotions with a simple, “How are you?” Others require interrogation techniques a police detective would be proud of. Also, kids are perceptive. The younger siblings can see what the parents do and say, and that may or may not affect their attitude as they become teenagers themselves.
Scott and Kathy: We would make some educational choices differently. Fort Collins has many options, and sorting through them is hard. We would also have sought out more Christian teaching from older people for our kids. Too many of the spiritual voices in their lives were skewed young (including ours), which meant a less-mature understanding of God and life.
Eric and Aimee: Spend even more time with them (especially one-on-one), hear their hearts, and understand who they are becoming.
Jim and Jennifer: With a large family, we have had to tell our kids that just because we chose to do one thing with one child, doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing with every kid. So we have done a lot of things differently as the younger ones have come up, learning from choices we made with older ones. But there are a couple of instances where we would go back and do things differently.
With several kids, we chose not to be a bigger voice in their lives at a few critical times as a way to allow friends and people in the church to become bigger voices. In general, we have regretted times where we backed off too soon and rarely regretted being too involved later in life. We have also regretted bowing to our peer pressure rather than sticking with what we think is the right thing to do.
At times I (Jim) have regretted spending too much time at work, though it is hard to know in any given instance when to back off, and in what cases sacrifices one way or the other are worth making. In the big picture, we have never regretted spending time with our kids, although I do regret times when they wanted me to be present and I couldn’t be.
Kurt and Andrea: We can always think of things we should have done differently—a much easier task. One example is that we could have been more active reaching out to the community around us and outside of Summitview. We participated in overseas mission trips but weren’t consistent as a family serving local needs. We could have stuck closer to home and developed a mission mindset that surfaced more than just once every two years in more “needy” places abroad. We could all work to have that heart.