What Teenagers Need From Parents: Care That Extends Beyond the Home
Recently TGC ran an article that caught our attention here at the Rooted blog. In What Teens Need from Parents: A Counselor’s Perspective, counselor Leia Joseph shares six insights she has received through working with teens in crisis. 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 our additional thoughts – are helpful to you as you love and lead your teenagers.
We moved into a new home several years ago, and as we walked around our neighborhood, we crossed paths with two neighbors. After exchanging some background stories, I found myself excited to get to know them better. But before we went our separate ways, one of the neighbors said, “Don’t expect to see us much. We have four kids, and our life is devoted to them.”
Not making our children our whole world can be difficult to do in a culture which is very child- centric. For most of America, Sunday is no longer a sabbath day of worship, but it’s become a “family day,” and for many, parenthood has been elevated to the status of religion.
Counselor Leia Joseph suggests that it is important for mom and dad to care deeply about their kids but to care about other things too:
“Your teens are growing more independent, and they know when they’re your whole world. They can tell if there is nothing else fueling excitement, creativity, and purpose in your life apart from them—and this brings related pressures and vices.”
Caring about our children is necessary and good but caring about other people and other aspects of life has its own unique significance even within the context of parenting. So, what are the Biblical principles that help us keep this balance?
We should applaud anyone who commends to parents the importance of caring deeply about our children. The Bible affirms this! James 1:17 reminds believers, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
God Himself is the giver of all things that are good, including our children. Like any precious gift we’re given, we have a responsibility to care for them tenderly and attentively. When our teens act out, talk back, roll their eyes (I could go on), they don’t suddenly morph into burdens; they remain treasured gifts that God has entrusted to us.
Give full focus to your teen to demonstrate your care. When they begin talking about life, put the phone away and listen. Affirm their gifts and show interest in their joys. It’s not always easy to care for our children in the way we should, but God is gracious, and in the second part of James 1:17, He reminds us that he is steadfast, and He is faithful. Ask God to give you the grace needed to enjoy and care for your child in the same way the Lord delights in us (Zephaniah 3:17).
But Care About Other Things Too
Our children are not the only aspect of life deserving our care and attention. Some may argue that shifting your focus away from your child will result in a broken or distant relationship, but giving your attention elsewhere can actually strengthen the bonds in your home.
As Joseph reminds us, if parents don’t have a purpose in life apart from their kids, they are setting their kids up for pressures and temptations.
The Pressures on our Children
When your social life is centered mostly around your child, there is underlying pressure for them to become more for a parent than what God meant them to be. My husband and I have counseled with kids who feel guilty about going away to college because they “feel bad” leaving their parents. There may be good reasons for a child to stay at home, but it shouldn’t be to fulfill the social or emotional needs of their parents. This is unwarranted pressure to put on a teen.
Though our motives may seem loving, excessive attention puts excessive pressure on our kids to perform to a level that brings happiness, success, and satisfaction not just to them but to you as a parent. If we goad our children into becoming successful because their accomplishments are our ultimate goal, that pressure will often cause our children to feel like they can’t measure up.
The temptation to idolize our children
I had coffee with a young mom not long ago, and as we talked about our struggles and faith, she said, “Really, the only thing that would make me lose my faith is if my child became deathly ill.”
I get it. Losing a child is one of my greatest fears too, so I understand her sentiment. But friends, if there is anything in this world that is more important to us than our relationship with Jesus Christ, then we are bowing a knee to an idol, which can even be in the form of a child.
Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
Have your children become more important to you than God? What our kids need more than anything are parents who care first and foremost about their relationship with Jesus. But when our lives become so child-centric that we neglect other important gifts from above, this becomes more and more difficult to do. Our primary purpose in life is to bring God glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), not to live for our children.
The temptation to live selfishly
A family that seeks to have the love of God present in their home should also be pouring out that love to others, whether it’s neighbors, friends, or church members.
My husband has pastored for nearly 25 years, and during his ministry, he has seen many couples struggle through the early years of being empty nesters mostly because they neglected relationships with others and with each other for the sake of focusing most of their energies on the kids. But kids grow and they leave the nest, as they should. If your care has not been invested elsewhere, the results can wear on the entire family.
When the Scripture exhorts us to care for the needy (Matt. 22:39) and to care for the body of Christ (Acts 20:28), it does not make an exception for parents simply because their calendars are filled with baseball games and other child-related activities. Missing a game, or even deciding against joining the club team that your child doesn’t love frees up time for other joys such as service, recreation, and friendships. These are all significant both for your own well-being, and for the growth of your child as they watch you model a balanced life.
Even when we fall into temptation, the Lord is so kind to redirect our hearts. He is leading as we seek to parent in a way that brings glory to Him. So, trust the Lord to give you the grace to care deeply about your child. And trust him to give you additional time, energy, and joy to care about other significant aspects of life, all of which are good gifts from our heavenly Father.