I must admit that the teenage years have, in the past, been something that I have worried about. The classic ‘Kevin’ overnight change as they turn 13, the potential rebellion, the secrecy of choices that could be life affecting. A good friend with grown up kids was recently recounting about the joy that these years had been to them. It gave me hope that these years don’t have to be difficult and troubled. With the right strategy and tactics the teenage years can be a time of great joy as the investment you have made in the previous years starts to reap its reward: our children can become healthy, independent, and mature young adults that make good choices.
Just to recap – we have been looking at how Jesus’ model of leadership (the Square) can be a tool we can use in our parenting. In the last post we looked at how the first two seasons of his leadership (L1 and L2) had built the culture and demonstrated the vision. He had given them grace and encouragement when they felt like they were failing in fear. He was very much taking the lead in the last season. But as the disciples matured, his tactics changed. The next stages of the square (L3 and L4), which are relevant to parenting teenagers, involved a transition for the disciples. It’s no longer a directive leader approach. Instead, it has become more relational; more like friendship.
Now remember – without the first two stages this would have been impossible. Without establishing his vision and his ways as their foundation, it would have been too easy for them to just run off and do their own thing! This season of his leadership is marked by the phase “you do it and I will help”.
As this friendship has grown, they have loved to hang out together. But before long, he drops the bombshell that he will be leaving them. Although they are unsure about this, deep down they have been prepared and grown in confidence. They are ready. It’s still a stretch, but it’s the right time for this challenge to continue to represent him without his physical presence there.
As my own children haven’t yet entered this season, I had the privilege of interviewing some parents who have been through this part of the journey and were happy to share their findings:
“Firstly we realised early on that we needed to eliminate the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ outcomes from conversations with the children. We realised that this kind of highly directional approach with older children can just breed potential rebellion. If I end up saying ‘do this’, they either comply (but inwardly resent not understanding why you have asked that) or they say ‘no’ and we end up in a conflict situation.
We started with the scenarios where there would be consequences, but not life changing ones. We gave opportunity to learn from the little daily situations that can inform the bigger more serious ones. Bed times were a prime example of this. For example, if we were leaving them with a babysitter we would often be asked the question “what time shall I go to bed tonight?” We would use this as an opportunity to say “well what do you think? What kind of day is it? Do you have school tomorrow?” We enabled them to see that they could make a joint decision. That they could weigh up potential consequences and form a decision based on the potential outcomes.
The questions would change over time and the scenarios would involve more responsibility. There were times where they wanted to attend late night parties. We would engage with them on what circumstances they might face there and process with them how they would respond. It was a lot of discussion and reflection. We had to create time, as they consistently needed us to be highly accessible – not just available every now and again. This stage was crucial to them forming reasoning and independence.
We can’t assume that our kids know how to handle certain situations; we need to discuss out loud and look at scenarios and consequences as part of their formation into adulthood.
It’s also helpful to recognise both your natural tenancies in how you lead and parent, and your child’s natural tendencies in how they follow. Every child is different. One of ours is more naturally independent and wants to rush ahead into life and therefore meets situations where we have to give really clear boundaries. Extended family has been key for this child. Having a place she can process outside of her parents, usually with a cool young adult, saying the same things as us but without the emotion of the parental/child relationship. Another one of our children is more naturally willing to sit back, so we have to push her to help her take steps towards independence.
We have found the teenage years to be a time of teaching them continuous processing through their circumstances, fears, peer pressures, and opportunities. They tend to swing back and forth from feeling increasing confidence and stepping out, back to feeling insecure and unsure. In order to get them to a place of healthy independence (L4) – which should be our greatest desire as parents – we need to maintain a strong connection and keep giving them opportunities to process things well. We need to become a place in their lives that, no matter what choices they have made, they are received with love and given grace.”
When Jesus ascended he left 12 rough and ready disciples. They were barely adolescents in their faith. But he knew it was time for him to commission them in to their next phase of discipleship. He had created a culture and shown them the pattern to follow. He had released them and enabled them. He had given them all they needed to take the next steps. And his Holy Spirit was poured out for them to know they were never alone.
In the same way that Jesus never stops discipling us, we never stop being parents to our children. It’s just the how that changes. Knowing the ‘season’ of parenting we are in helps us to learn from Jesus and parent like he would.
Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (11), Toby (9) and Elly (6)