Can we be honest for a minute? Does anybody really know how to raise a teenager? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some kind of magic pill that we could give them on their thirteenth birthday? That’s an idea! Simply slip it under the icing of their birthday cake and once it hits their stomach…they are suddenly grown up and sane. It would be great! We could avoid the hormones, lashing out, midnight talks that drag out until sunrise and all the other assorted craziness of the teen years. If it were only that easy…Sigh.
I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I must admit that I am quite proud of her. Still, I really don’t understand her like I should. When I was a teenager, I would simply pick up the phone to talk with someone. My teenage girl doesn’t even consider that an option. She must, and I repeat, must text. She insists, “Talking on the phone is so caveman, Dad.” I don’t get it myself. It takes a lot more time and energy to text. You can accomplish more in less time by simply talking on the phone.
My daughter lives for Facebook. Her life is wrapped around her online persona. I asked her last night around 10 p.m., “Do you want to watch some TV honey?”
Her smile was a bit strained but polite. “No daddy, I need to go on the computer.” I sighed under my breath. I got it. Mom and dad were no longer the center of her universe. It was Facebook! She has more than 700 friends that she needs to keep up with. She would have more than 2,000 if we didn't "set our feet down."
I remember one of many times I set limitations for her. It wasn’t any fun. It happened last year after she met several boys at a swim meet and immediately wanted to add them to Facebook. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey honey, 'What you doin'?” I asked in my best teenage slang as I watched her typing away on the computer.
“Oh, nothing,” she responded.
I immediately translated. This meant, “Daddy, I’m busy in my world. When I’m ready let you in…I call you. Don’t call me!”
“Are you on Facebook again?” I asked as I glanced at the computer screen. A stony silence greeted my words.
I didn’t give up. “Are you adding those boys you JUST met?”
She glanced at me for a millisecond before she rolled her eyes in disbelief. "Dad, these are nice boys," she said.
“Oh, I’m sorry honey,” I lied as I glanced at the tattoo on one of their arms. (Yes…I know that was very judgmental. It's what's on the inside that counts.) “How long did you talk to them?”
Her fingers began to smack the keyboard with just a touch of violence. “Dad!”
I knew God didn’t want me to give in. A good parent is proactive but not suffocating with their teenagers. I gently but firmly said, “No.”
Christina batted her eyes in disbelief. “Huh?”
I took my hand and waved it in between her face and computer. “You don’t know those boys well enough to add them to your account.”
She jumped out of the seat to challenge my authority. “Dad! You’re so protective!”
I tried to cut her off with a dose of Daddy wisdom. “Honey, those boys…” was all I got out before she cut me off.
“I know, I know,” she ranted with as much respect as a teenage girl could conjure up. “Those boys could be ax murderers.” She closed the notebook computer with a thud and made a beeline for her room.
“I love you honey!” I shouted seconds before her door shut.
I’m certain this type of situation has never played out in your homes. I’m probably the odd-ball parent with the unreasonable teenager. Yes, the Cash household is the only dysfunctional family in Hampton Roads. Or…maybe we are the norm and we all struggle with those teenage years.
How much freedom do we give them? How many rules should they have? What kind of parents should we be? I don’t have all the answers but I do believe I’ve learned a few key points over the years from Bible study and hands-on-training.
1. Give them unconditional love. Teenagers want that from you.
2. Listen. Teenagers want you to listen to them even when they sound like crazy people. Don’t cut them off!
3. Give teenagers freedom to fail. This might be the best policy (within reason) to teach them life lessons that they would never accept from you.
4. Protect teenagers from others. This is paramount.
5. You can't always protect them from themselves. Those teaching moments can come from God. He’s much better at it anyway.
6. Live what your preach and preach what you live. Teenagers are watching every move we make. They can spot a hypocrite a mile away.
7. Don’t give them everything they want. You will spoil them. Teach them the difference between wants and needs.
8. Discipline with love. When you discipline them, do it out of love and not anger or vengeance. Even though they won’t admit it at the time, they know the difference.
9. Don’t be overbearing. Give them space to be themselves and find their own identity.
10. Be very patient. We are all a work in progress. God wants to make us like Him. It will take God a lifetime to make you that way. Don’t expect it to happen to your teenager in a few years.