Our teens a facing a different world from the one their parents lived. Teen suicide, cyberbullying, easy access internet porn, a violent culture which has their peers going on shooting sprees, and addictive video games. Add to that depressive disorders (11% of teens affected), and drug and alcohol use.
When Emily was a preteen we vacationed in Colorado. She grew up on Whit's End Corner, and was excited to see what she had spent hours listening to. During our tour at Focus on the Family, a man asked if he could interview her for an upcoming article. One of the questions was, "When was the last time you had alcohol?" When Emily said she had never had any, he grinned and said, "Forget that your parents are sitting here, and answer the question." He could not believe a child her age had never tried alcohol. She did get a great "behind the scenes" tour of the Odyssey broadcast rooms, but I'm not sure he ever believed her.
Even with all that faces our teens, it is possible to let them live in the world, with a heart for God. Here's 7 ways to help your kids through the minefield we call the teen years.
1. Monitor Friendships: We wanted our daughters to be friendly with all, yet their soul friends should love God, too. We encouraged friendships with parents who had our values. That way we didn't need to worry when they were together. Encourage your children to pray for good friends. Emily's best friend prayed that God would send her a friend. From the first time they met, a friendship was born that continues to this day. I never had to worry when they were together.
2. Saturate them with God's Word: When they have questions, find the answers in the Word of God. The girls were learning verses when they were barely talking. They may not have understood the depth of the content, but there it was, hidden in their hearts, ready to be used when temptations were whispered by the enemy.
3. Keep them talking: One of my mentors told me the most important thing I could do is get the girls used to telling me -- when they were little -- all about their day, what they were thinking, and their hopes for the future. Then, when they are teenagers, it's automatic. When Melanie was a teenager, she was with a youth group and was being urged to do something wrong. "Come on, your mom will never know." Her response? "Yes, she would, because I would tell her."
4. Expect much: Too often we set our kids up for failure. Don't nag your kids about their homework. Expect them to do it. I never asked the girls if they needed homework slips signed. They brought them to me. They packed their own backpacks and gym bags. Chores were accomplished on their own. Although my girls tell me (now) that when the tablecloth was dirty, they often turned it over. That makes me laugh. I can't believe I never noticed.
5. Model the joy of service: Whatever we were doing, our children were involved. They took part in our ministries, learning to encourage others. Instead of taking part in bullying, they will find ways to encourage fellow students, even in spite of social standing or the cliques they are or are not a part of.
6. Be the parent: You often have to do the hard thing and set boundaries, say no, and punish misbehavior. Know where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with. Our girls didn't "cruise the downtown square," or roam the mall without supervision. Everybody may be doing it, but we're not.
7. Encourage each other's teens: Do you know of a teen who is struggling? Reach out with a note, small gift, a gift card to Starbucks or iTunes. Praise their talents, attend their games, recitals, and school dramas. I was so blessed with my girls to have others who encouraged them. Mom can brag on them, but "you say that because you're my mom." However, when someone else brags on them, the words seem to hold more validity. Pray consistently consistently for them, too. I always knew Eleanor was praying for Emily as much as I prayed for her girls.
I wasn't the perfect mother. I've yet to see a mother who is. Yet God honors our efforts. And when the enemy pulls our children the wrong way, intercede in prayer, and fill them up with love. It's natural to want to show a constant disapproval, but model God's love for us, "In that when were were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Make 2016-2017 a good school year for your teens. And if your children are grown, pick one to encourage. You'll be surprised what a blessing these teens will be to you.