Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parenting Teens: Age of Opportunity

So many parenting resources are such a waste of time, but this series is so good that I think that even the very best parents would learn something from it and truly be challenged. Each week I walk away armed with so much truth. The last session was on teens.

Paul Tripp has a book named Age of Opportunity on parenting teens. The reason he named it that is because teens get into a lot of trouble. But it is in this trouble where tremendous opportunities for teaching lie. If parents are looking ahead at the teen years with this perspective, expecting trouble but prepared to tackle it, this can be an amazing time of spiritual growth for your children.

Karis is only ten, but I know that these next three years will go by fast. I don’t think you can start too early being prepared, so I was all ears.

Paul Tripp’s main objective in the video was to get across how important it is for parents to clearly understand their role in their teen’s life. If it is foggy in our minds as to how we are to help our teens, our actions are sure to be ineffective.

I don’t have the notes in front of me so I’m just going to have to write down what I took away from it. The Bible does in fact have a manual on raising teens: it’s called the book of Proverbs. There are many principles in this book that teach us what a “youth” or a teen needs to learn. Paul Tripp pressed home the point that we must be keenly aware of the snares and temptations that teens in general are prone to, and the temptations that our own teen is especially drawn to.

I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first it is important to understand what Proverbs has to say to parents. Proverbs has much to say about what a fool is:
The vexation of a fool is known at once. Proverbs 12:16

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. Proverbs 29:11

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:2
Whenever we as parents act like fools: when we are quick to show our frustration with them when they have a problem, when we don’t try to understand them but just want to express our own opinion, when we give full vent to our spirit, we are alienating them and losing our ability to effectively instruct them. But that’s what they desperately need: parenting. You can sometimes get away with acting like a fool when a child is younger and obtain a sort of obedience through intimidation. But acting foolish to your teen will only produce sour fruit.

On a side note, when Paul Tripp says “trouble,” he wasn’t meaning that all teens are going to do drugs, have sex, drive drunk, and whatnot. He was not advocating a kind of parenting that expects them to rebel and become hellions while we roll our eyes and say “that’s what teens do.” He was talking primarily about things like procrastinating, stretching the rules, etc. It is important that we do not approach the teen years with a defeatist attitude.

Back to our attitude as parents. Tripp said, imagine it’s ten o’clock at night, you are just about to climb into bed when your teenager comes to you and says he needs help on his science project that is due tomorrow but he hasn’t started yet. Now you know that this science project was assigned seven years ago. How are you going to react?

You could:

Fly into rage and rant about how when you were his age you never procrastinated about science projects. In fact, you finished the science project the day it was assigned and it waited in your closet for 7 years until it was due. You sometimes even anticipated that your teacher was going to assign one and finished it before it was even assigned. You have no idea how someone could possibly be so foolish as to wait till the night before to start a project!

So that is playing the part of the fool. If we are honest, we all struggle with procrastination even as adults. We also struggled with it as a teenagers. For us to act like we can’t possibly understand how our children can do such things is to be acting like we are not sinners too and our above our children. God will not bless such a false attitude. Also, it is to act like God should have given us sanctified children. He gave them to us imperfect with the expectation that we would train them and teach them. We shouldn’t act resentful when we have to perform our God-given duties as a parent. This was convicting to me because I find myself sometimes saying that to my kids: I can’t believe that you would ... (be so mean to your sister, etc.) It makes perfect sense—they’re sinners.

The right approach:

First, we need to put aside our personal offenses: you’re interrupting my sleep schedule, you’re going to make me look bad as a parent if you fail science class, I’m offended that you didn’t tell me about this project coming up, etc. All that is beside the point. The real issue is helping the teen understand that bigger ramifications of his sin. Help him to see that the most important thing here isn’t the science project, but an issue of character. If procrastination is to become a way of life for him, what is that going to look like down the road. What does a family look like when a father procrastinates about disciplining his toddler. “Maybe next time he yells no to his mother I’ll deal with it.” What happens when people procrastinate about paying off bills, repairing their house, etc. Proverbs has so much to say about that. We need to pray with them that the Lord will help them to become disciplined, hard-working adults. We need to give them examples of how hard work always pays off in the end. Encourage them from the scriptures that when we admit our helplessness to do this as God requires, that he will help us. This is so much bigger than a dinky science project—this is a future man or woman. This is our grandchild’s mother or father.

Sowing and Reaping

Teens tend to be stuck in the NOW. It is our job as parents to help them to understand that every day is a sowing day and every day is a reaping day. They desperately need our help in this.

Sowing: Help your teen to think through how the choices he’s making today are going to affect his life one month, one year, ten years from now. This is especially true in the category of sexual purity. It comes as a surprise to no one that teens are very prone to sexual temptation. One way to help them battle this is to help them have a long term perspective about love and marriage. Every girl your son encounters he needs to treat as someone else’s future wife. Tell him: your future wife is out there somewhere. How are you hoping the boys she encounters are treating her?

Reaping: Help them to see how the things that happen to them everyday are the outcome of choices they made in the past. Are they down in the dumps because of their grades? What choices did they make to lead them to this point and how can they change today to start sowing different seeds?

In Summary:

Each time our teen runs into trouble, we need to thank the Lord for the opportunity that we still have to turn it into a teaching moment. Our number one concern always needs to be their good and their welfare and their spiritual growth. We should always address the heart issues of sin and not the outward behavior. All correction must be done in love with our own anger and frustration put to death. If we are willing to parent in this way, there is no need for us to cower in fear at the teen years and expect the worst. If we are not willing to be obedient parents we should be preparing for the worst.

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