There's a teenager in your home

What are some helpful tips for parents with teenagers? There's a teenager in your home, maybe more than one. What is your household like? See if you can find some points of identification in George Barna's description of today's typical adolescent:

teenagecouple"Teenagers would like to have more structure provided, but without having their independence or their freedom to experiment impeded. They want to learn from the experiences and wisdom of their parents, but they're not willing to allow their elders the latitude to impart those lessons in a manner that fits parents' needs and styles.

"They struggle with the effects of stress, but they continue to book busy schedules. More time in intimate experiences with family would be appreciated, but they will neither push for nor create those opportunities. They are frightened by the potential consequences of many at-risk behaviors, yet they flirt with those dangers regularly" (Generation Next).

Does this description sound familiar? Many parents would like to borrow Winston Churchill's words for their teenagers--they're a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. With minds and bodies on the move, they careen through their up-and-down days with emotions running high. They're not children anymore, and they know it, but they're still searching for their grown-up identities.

Your teenager's search can be frightening, fun, exciting, and desperate all at the same time--and you as a parent are along for their ride. At times, you may feel as though you are fighting a losing battle. As your teen pushes for more independence, he begins a natural quest for acceptance by his peers.

As Barna discovered in his nationwide survey, most adolescents say they are influenced and motivated more by their friends than their families. He also found that teenagers today can be characterized as "good kids who make bad choices." He sees a "generation of young adults adrift amid a sea of appealing but harmful alternatives."

What makes the difference in your teenager's decision-making process?

Christian and secular psychologists and social workers agree on one primary point--parental love and direction.

Teenagers need a base of support in the home, even though they may never articulate this need or understand it themselves.

Walt Mueller explains in his book Understanding Today's Youth Culture: "Have there ever been moments when your children have been unlovable? I asked that question of a group of parents one time and one man shouted out, 'Yes, the time between ages twelve and twenty!' Sometimes it is difficult to love our children during the awkward years of adolescence because we may not get anything in return. But true love seeks no return. It just loves. And while your children may not say it or show it, they want and need your unconditional love."

A key problem for many adolescents is responding to your attempts at love and communication.

More than one parent has watched a sullen, silent fifteen-year-old drift into his room after school and close the door without so much as a word. "What happened to my sweet, talkative, fun-loving boy?" is a question of countless mothers and fathers. It seems the more you plead for conversation and involvement, the more he or she turns a deaf ear.

Even if you are blessed with a more even-tempered teenager or pre-teen right now, don't be surprised when rougher times come. Your child will experience common adolescent fears and insecurities and emotional imbalances, and he must adjust to these new feelings. One thing you can count on during the growth process: your teenager will not always handle these changes maturely or consistently. You as a parent are along for their ride.

A word of caution is necessary here, however. It is often difficult to discern what is "typical" teenage behavior, and what is a sign of a deeper problem, such as drug abuse or criminal and immoral activity. If you have reason to suspect such difficulty, immediately seek professional help and Christian counseling. You do not need to feel guilty or ashamed; your child is still responsible for his own choices. All that you can do is provide the opportunity for change and restoration, and you need the support of those with experience in these areas.

Parenting an adolescent is a demanding job, but it has great rewards. Understanding the importance of the teenage years is a first step to appreciating the value of your role. You are there to help them through the sorrows and share their joys as they move into confident adulthood.

Focus first on your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Kevin Huggins explains how vital your spiritual life is to being a solid parent in his book Parenting Adolescents: "In the parent-teen relationship, the focus of a disappointed parent too easily becomes that of changing or controlling his adolescent's outward behavior. This amounts to the same fundamental error that James warns against in 4:1-3. . . ."

"By continuing to focus on changing people or their behavior in the midst of pain, the [parent] comes to believe that controlling others is the solution to life's difficulties. This becomes a problematic way of thinking for two reasons: it focuses his attention on what can at best only temporarily lessen his pain, and it diverts him from giving attention to what would ultimately bring fulfillment in the midst of his pain (the deepening of his own relationship with Christ)."

What your teenager needs greatly, beyond the ability of words to express, is loving yet strong guidance that is grounded in the truth of God's Word.

Save your energy for life at home.

In his book Parenting Isn't For Cowards, Dr. James Dobson strongly recommends that parents conserve their energy when they have adolescents at home. You only have so much to give, and if your time is divided between work and personal social activities to the extent you have no time for family when you get home, you are headed for burnout and inability to cope with teenage stresses. He writes:

"Let me say it again. Raising boisterous teenagers is an exciting and rewarding but also a frustrating experience. Their radical highs and lows affect our moods. The noise, the messes, the complaints, the arguments, the sibling rivalry, the missed curfews, the paced floors, the wrecked car, the failed tests, the jilted lover, the wrong friends, the busy telephone, the pizza on the carpet, the ripped new blouse, the rebellion, the slammed doors, the mean words, the tears--it's enough to drive a rested mother crazy."

What parents often do not realize is that their greatest work is done just by being there. Teenagers need to feel a base of support in the home, even though they may never articulate this need or even understand it themselves. Your presence and availability are crucial to the adolescent's security. Teach your children to pray.