What Teenagers Need From Parents: Trust that God’s Plan Is Better Than Yours

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Recently TGC ran an article that caught our attention at the Rooted blog. “What Teens Need from Parents: A Counselor’s Perspective” suggests six insights counselor Leia Joseph has received through working with teens and families. We liked her list so much we decided to explore each point separately, and we’ll add a couple of ideas of our own. We hope Joseph’s guidance – and ours – is helpful to you as you love and lead your teenagers. 

Trust that God’s plan outshines your dreams. 

When I married my widowed husband ten years ago, his children were 10, 15, and 17 years old. I didn’t have the privilege of watching them when they were little and dreaming of what they might become years later. That didn’t mean I didn’t try to make plans for their lives. When the 17 year old began her senior year by stating she wasn’t all that interested in touring schools and might not go to college, I was aghast. I’d never considered the possibility that any child in my family wouldn’t pursue a university education. 

She eventually decided to apply and then enroll at a university she’d never visited, and after a winding path that included an extended break from school, earned her diploma. She’s now employed in a skilled profession that has little to do with what she studied in college, and she and her newly married husband are using their gifts and serving the Lord in a city far from us. 

Had God handed me the magic pen we parents sometimes think we’re given with our children, the story of her past decade is not what I would have written – and it’s probably not all she would have planned, either. But that’s the point – their stories are not for us to plan, and yet not actually for our children to plan, either. 

Yes, our children can set goals and make decisions that move them in a particular direction – but contrary to the prevailing message often declared in our world, it’s not actually up to each of them to be master of his or her own destiny. And it’s certainly not up to us as their parents. 

It’s remarkable how our daughter trusts, sometimes more than I do, just what the Psalmist cried to God: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7).

While we’ve always been just a phone call away, there are many places she’s been without us. Wherever she goes, however, He is with her. Through all the beauty and pain of her life, she knows that it is ultimately God – not us – who holds her. 

This is helpful to recall as I care for every need of my almost two-year-old foster daughter, whom we will soon adopt into our family. I’m slowly allowing myself to think one, two, five years ahead – and some days I dare to dream of when she is 17 years old.

As she runs and dances in her awkward toddler fashion, I find myself wondering if in fifteen years I’ll be cheering for her at track meets or dance recitals. I hope she will no longer be tackling her brother to the floor but rather helping him tackle his math homework. Funny enough, I don’t worry about whether the two of them will be applying to college or not. That detail doesn’t carry the weight it did ten years ago, as the Lord is helping me see differently. 

I’m much more concerned about whether or not she will still unleash her lovely gap-toothed grin when she looks in the mirror, even more aware at the age of 17 of how she reflects the image of God. I’m hopeful that she’ll care more about serving those on the margins than she does about accruing volunteer hours to beef up her resume. If she plays sports, I pray she’ll do so with joy and gusto, trusting she has nothing to lose because in Christ she’s gained all that she needs. 

And I know that when she is down on herself or serving selfish gains or competing just to win, perhaps even seeking to flee far from His presence, I’ll need to be reminded that God – in His perpetual patience – is still writing her story and working all things for good. Instead of anxiously forcing my hand on her life to try and will an outcome that is outside my control, I hope I will instead rest in the promises of the Father and pray the same be true for my child. 

It feels impossible here not to reference the oft-quoted lines of Jeremiah 29:11, but we often forget to mention that these “plans for welfare and not for evil” follow God’s proclamation that his people will live as exiles in Babylon for seventy years. Only “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (29:12-13). It is usually what’s not in our plan that ends up drawing us and our children most deeply into the heart of God. 

In the end, it will matter much more how our children (and we) were be-ing while we went about what we were do-ing. Jesus didn’t seem to ask people what they were up to, but what it was that they wanted – knowing that he was the answer to this question. In John 1:38, Jesus calls his first disciples by asking, “What are you seeking?” After they reply and inquire where he is staying, Jesus simply says, “Come and you will see” (1:39). It’s an open-ended command and kind invitation to let go of their plans and follow him, trusting that his way would be better. Anyone who’s read the Gospels knows what a beautiful, painful, and winding road lay before them – and how all of it brings glory to God. 

While sometimes difficult to believe, God’s plan is always Plan A. The best-laid and most heart-felt plans for our children are rubbish in comparison to what God has in store in order to draw each of His children to Him. Let us pray for help in letting go of the plans we have for our children so that they are free to faithfully follow Jesus. 

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