Recently an old post (from 2010) called “Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make” started making the rounds on Facebook again. While I don’t know much about the author, I’m deeply interested in the subject matter. Encouraging parents as they raise faithful children is a passion, and I wrote the book on it. (Ok, a book. Ha!) One of the things that frustrated me about the “Top Ten Mistakes” post was the way it was all couched in negative terms. From the start it’s labeled as “top ten mistakes” and then each bullet lists something parents of teens aren’t doing right. I’m not the parent of a teen, but reading through the article left me feeling deflated, inadequate and hopeless. I thought of all the parents of all the teens who I’ve been privileged to work with as a youth pastor and pastor and all the stories I have heard as we’ve worked together to try and instill a sense of faith and wonder in their teens. I decided to write a post of Top Ten Things Parents of Teens Are Doing Well for all of them. I hope that all parents of teens find something useful here.
1. You love your teens. Deeply and insanely. Why don’t we start here? You, parents of teenagers (not just Christian parents… all parents…) really love your teenagers. It oozes out of your eyes and drips off of your lips. I feel how much you love them when you look down at my toddler boys and say “I remember when…” Or when you nudge your teenager in the side and say “Can you believe you used to be that tiny?” Your love for your teenagers is long and high and wide and deep.
2. You are praying for them. A lot. Here’s the thing: I know this because you ask me to pray for them too, and I do. You ask for prayers for your teens more than you ask for prayers for yourself. You worry about their health, their sanity, their pressure, their workloads. You want them to know God, you want them to be happy, you want them to succeed. I know you, moms and dads of Christian teens, and I know you pray.
3. You are working hard to provide for them. You’re juggling demanding jobs in business, education, law, medicine, retail, hospitality and a myriad of other industries. Some of you work the night shift so you can spend time with your teens during the day. Some of you work two jobs. I see where you spend your money: you spend it on them. If you can, you are saving it for college, using it to support extra curricular activities, making your home. I don’t see you spending money on lavish things for yourselves.
3. You brag about them. I read your Facebook posts and spy on your Instagram photos. I see you talking about that lunch you had with your teen and that touchdown he made. You’re proud of your kids and they know it.
4. You remember their past and envision their future. You tell me stories about what they were like when they were little and share your dreams of what you hope they will become. You’re thinking about these things, constantly. I know, because you tell me. You tell me how your little boy used to splash in the tub and you say things like “I know she’s going to make a difference in this life.” You can’t believe that they’ve grown up so fast and to you they are still so young, so little, so unprepared to step out in to the world. Yet, you bravely lead them there, to where they need to go, and you pray. A lot. (Remember #2?)
5. You support their interests and endeavors. I’m talking to you Mamas of Eagle Scouts and Papas of Viola champions. I see you in the grandstands and the ceremonies. You skip church meetings for their games and their practices, and I’m proud of you for that.
6. You are keeping track of “what’s next.” You missed church last Sunday because you were on a college tour, and your teen can’t come help at church activities on Saturday mornings because she’s got a college prep test, or school work, or other school activity. You’re working hard to make sure when your child graduates from High School she’s academically prepared for what is to come.
7. You care about their spiritual well-being. You manifest this care and concern in different ways. Some of you drag your teens to church by their ears when they don’t want to go. Some of you have deep, engaging conversations with your teens around the dinner table. Some of you feel at a loss for how to connect your kids with faith and belief, though it’s deeply important to you. Maybe I can help you or point you to resources that might be of assistance, but the last thing you need is a lecture that you’re not doing it right.
8. You are looking for help. You are reading parenting books, asking for parenting advice, seeking out communities that can share ideas. You aren’t satisfied with the status-quo; you want to be excellent. My pastor’s heart sometimes feels burdened for you, because I worry you’re not giving yourself enough credit. Parenting is hard. Parenting teens is really hard. You already know it, but it’s a good reminder — no book or blog post is going to give you everything you need.
9. You are helping them with moral and ethical decisions. When you come to me, the questions are usually complicated and the answers are not clear cut. You have to help your teen make choices about boundaries and sexuality and respect for their own lives and you also have to help them make sense of the brokenness and chaos of the world around them. It’s an impossible task, and you bravely take it on, because you know your teen needs you most of all.
10. You’re doing the best you can. Despite all of your efforts sometimes things don’t go smoothly. Your teens are sometimes in trouble, you are sometimes in trouble, and you almost always blame yourself when this happens. I wish you wouldn’t. It’s not that you are blameless (nobody is). It’s that in the overwhelming majority of cases you’re using every tool available to you. Maybe someone has some more tools they can share with you, but piling on guilt and feelings of inadequacy won’t help you to be a better parent. Be gentle with yourself, remember #1, and ask for help when you need it.
Good job, Mamas and Papas of teens! I’ll be giving you a call in about 12 years.