Parenting Teens through the Year
by Marti Pieper
“I’ll never have more than three teenagers at one time,” I told my friends. Nearly ten years separated my five children. And early on, I did the math. The looming teen years scared me. Normal, happy children turned into monsters as soon as they hit thirteen. Right? Arguments over toys seemed small compared to arguments about boys, girls, and dating. Toilet training was a cinch compared to driver’s training. Who wants a houseful of teenagers, anyway?
Now that I’m nearing the end of my time as a mother of teens, I can answer that question with a smile and a hearty “I do!” Yes, we’ve had our trials, tears, and moments (or months) of challenge. As a young mother, I wished I could skip over my children’s teen years. Now, I’m sad they’re drawing to a close.
So how did our decade-plus of raising teens change from dread to delight? And, with the new year stretching ahead, how can you and your teen navigate changing seasons and raging hormones in a way that allows you to finish well?
Being the mom of teens has taught me I don’t have all the answers. So pray, consider these ideas, and try them on for size. What works for one family and one season of life may prove a disaster for another. Feel free to take these as suggestions and ask God to help you customize them for your own family situation.
Beating Winter Woes: Faith First
“Family first” has become a popular mantra, but for the Christian family, faith takes priority. What’s that look like for those of us with teens? Our family has fewer rules than when our children were small, but one we’ve kept involves attendance at Sunday school (small group) and church. Many churches offer alternatives to the traditional Sunday-morning worship, allowing busy families to choose the option that works for them.
Our family also shares devotions and prayer each morning. Because we started this habit when our children were young, we’ve had little trouble extending it into the teen years. We mention concerns and prayer requests and have every family member pray in turn. Later, as we gather before bed, we ask a different family member to pray every night.
The bonus blessing for the long, dark days of winter? These devotional and prayer times serve as family connection time. Teens can drop in and out of the house faster than you can say, “Faith first.” But taking time to talk and pray together keeps us focused on each other and our shared faith in Christ. We’ve noticed our children pray more readily with others because they’re accustomed to praying with their family. And they come to Mom and Dad with prayer needs because they’ve observed our family conversations with God.
Fixing Spring’s Fever: Celebrate in Style
Spring’s warmer temperatures bring the opportunity for outdoor activities and end-of-the-school-year events like athletic competitions, dances, and graduations. But these positive experiences can also come with problems: the athlete who doesn’t make the team or the senior who lacks a prom date. The knee-jerk emotional responses that often accompany the teen years can magnify almost any situation, adding stress to the family and the teen involved.
Our family has one longtime habit that helps counteract the normal ups and downs of teenage life: celebration. We celebrate big events like graduating from high school and small ones like an A on a difficult test. Sometimes we celebrate made-up holidays like National Fifteen-Year-Old Day or New Driver’s License Day.
Consider planning your own celebrations to match the special events and accomplishments in your family. And don’t worry. Your parties don’t have to include elaborate decorations or expensive gifts. My teens take great joy in small surprises like a milkshake or movie rental. Sometimes we enjoy a favorite homemade meal and special dessert. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to tie the party with the focus of your honor, and teens will grasp the truth: you’re celebrating them.
Solving Summertime Blues: Multi-task, Mega-Communicate
Today’s world teaches teens to multitask. They can do their homework, listen to their iPod, and text a friend all at the same time. But without good communication, multitasking can lead to mega-problems.
With teens in the house, summertime blues can include the special challenges that come with the end of school. Opportunities for jobs and various leisure activities may create transportation challenges that affect the entire family. Or a teen can become so bogged down with work, volunteer activities, and fun outings with friends that little or no time for family remains. What’s a busy parent to do?
In our family, no teen makes a final decision about an outside activity—even a simple McDonald’s® run—without checking in with at least one parent first. My husband and I ask our teens to extend the same courtesy to us that we extend to one another. A simple, “I’d like to stop by the store on my way home” or “Would it be all right if Amber and I stayed to help clean up?” prevents disasters like missed appointments or a vehicle needed in two places at the same time.
Checking with a parent also helps prevent overscheduling. One of our daughters wanted to assist with some poolside Bible studies our youth pastor was conducting in various backyards around town. It seemed she was always at a Bible study and never home for family responsibilities (or fun). When we asked her to reevaluate, she came up with a workable plan that allowed her to attend most of the studies after finishing her chores for the day. Whenever we could, we protected Friday evenings—designated as family nights—to keep them free from outside activities, too.
When it comes to summertime scheduling, keep the talk going. That way, you won’t take an unexpected fall.
Fall-ing Forward: Forgiveness Matters
Parenting teens provides frequent opportunities for parents to extend grace. For families with teens, the rush of start-of-school activities can magnify the need for grace and mercy. Thoughtless words and actions can lead to repeated hurts and deep wounds.
One of the ways our family models grace comes through the simple act of asking forgiveness. Not long ago, my teens became preoccupied with outside activities. Their chores lagged, and one evening, I found myself alone in the kitchen cleaning up after everyone’s fun. Instead of requesting help, I exploded—and spewed my built-up anger all over my unsuspecting teens.
It only took moments for God to convict me, and a few more moments for me to repent. But the next step—asking forgiveness—is a critical one. As your teens see you model repentance and have the opportunity to extend grace, they become more likely to ask others to forgive them when they’re in the wrong. This sets a healthy pattern that helps avoid a lifetime of mistrust and broken relationships.
All Year: Take the Long Look
In the early days of parenting teens, I depended too much on my emotions. If my teens were in high spirits, I joined them on the mountaintop. But if one of them went down, I did, too. Once I asked God to remind me to keep my focus on Him and not the day’s feelings or experiences, my parenting journeys had far fewer ups and downs.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned is to look beyond the moment. Anyone can have a bad day, a tough week, or even a difficult year. “Love endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) means we must look past the problems to the person inside. Next, we look past the person to an all-loving, all-powerful God.
I’m grateful for the gift of parenting all five of my children through the various seasons of the year—and of their young lives, too. As I look ahead to the last few years I’ll spend as the mother of teens, I’m asking Him to allow me to finish well. Will you join me in a prayer?
Father, we thank You for the children You’ve given us. Help us respond as You would to the joys and trials their teen years bring to our family. Give us Your wisdom so we can love them in a way that brings honor and glory to You. Help us to finish well as we release them into adulthood and the mighty ways You desire to use them. Protect our family from the enemy and keep us in Your name, the name of Jesus in which we pray—AMEN.
Marti Pieper’s passion to read, write, and pray makes her life an adventure. A prayer project led her to help Brent and Deanna Higgins tell their son’s compelling story. I Would Die for You: One Student’s Story of Passion, Service, and Faith (Revell, 2008) became a YA bestseller and missions classic. Today, Marti continues as collaborative author and editor, sharing her love for teens through the pages of Sisterhood Magazine. Connect with Marti on Facebook, Twitter, and martipieper.com.