"Parenting teenagers" my brother once said "Is God's way of helping parents prepare for the empty nest.... because you start to long for the nest to be empty!" I'm not sure this is entirely true, but I do know that parenting teenagers effectively requires patience, firmness and grace all mixed together. Although adolescence is a relatively brief period of time, it often evokes an extreme combination of emotions including excitement, anxiety, hope, elation, frustration and despair (and that's just for the parent!).
Every teen, in the span of a few short years, needs to successfully transition from childhood to young adulthood. Where else in one's life is so much expected in such a short time? With great challenges come great stressors, and the potential for even greater mistakes. Everyone knows of a teen (usually of several teens) who, when faced with this pressure, made unwise decisions that led to crushing heartbreak. There are, however, ways to minimize the chance that one will suffer these sorts of setbacks. If a teen will follow the five rules set out below, really take them to heart and apply them consistently, adolescence will be a time of healthy growth, strength, and yes, even wonder.
One: Find trusted mentors.
The few short years it takes to travel between the eastern shores of childhood and the western shores of young adulthood are a time of both great excitement and confusion. It is not unlike trying to take a boat across the Colorado River, going from one side to the other. Exhilarating and frightening. The main thing is to cross safely, to get to the other side. If you do so without too many bumps and bruises, you’ll come away stronger.
But how to do so? Just as one would when navigating the Colorado River rapids, so too one must when navigating adolescence: rely on those who have previously made the crossing. Who would these be? Adults. Best of all trusted adults. Parents, teachers, youth ministers, the parents of friends, etc. No matter their age these adults remember well the trials of this crossing. The one’s you want to trust are those that are sympathetic to the challenges you face, confident in your ability to succeed, and excited for the journey upon which you have embarked. It may not be ‘cool’ to lean in on adults, these experienced river guides, but it is wise.
Two: Resist peer pressure.
The temptation to follow the crowd will be particularly great during adolescence. Resist with all your might. Most of the pressure, nearly all of it, is applied by young people who are feeling even more insecure than you. By giving in you momentarily win the approval of your peers (or at least avoid their disapproval), but you lose a little bit of yourself. How so? If by following peer pressure you turn your back on what you hold to be right and true, then you’ve turned your back on an essential part of who you are… your ideals. So, hang on more tightly to your ideals than to acceptance by peers.
Three: Be a person of high principle.
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out the advice given in number two above, the following should help. Your happiness in life will largely depend on what you hold to be fundamentally true:
- Is there a God and if so what is he like?
- What are the highest expressions of love?
- Are honesty, courage, compassion, loyalty and other virtues required of me, or simply qualities that might be good to cultivate?
Now it’s perfectly true that knowing what is good and beautiful will not guarantee a happy life, but it’s also true that if one is unable to recognize the good, unable to identify genuine beauty, and confused about what are good values versus bad, then he or she has little hope of achieving a deeply happy life. This is no different than expecting that someone who could not recognize gold would become a successful gold miner. So spend some time reflecting on the higher things in life, determining what is good, and what is worth investing the capital of your energies and passions pursuing. Then think back to peer pressure and read again that advice. It may make more sense.
Four: Don’t let the trials and tribulations of this brief time in your life cause you to doubt yourself.
Everyone who crosses the rapids of adolescence has moments of doubt, fatigue, and fear. That’s to be expected, but these states of mind need not take root. The anecdote is to keep close to those who believe in you and care for you most deeply. Be they family or friends, keep these supports near – don’t push them away when tempted to do so (and there will be times when you are tempted to do just that). Develop habits, or routines, that include meaningful time together with those who support you. Whether this includes regular coffee dates, ‘friends only Fridays’, or whatever you wish, keep them close and let them know when you need support. And if you are a believer, then obviously the one you need to keep closest to is Christ. He would let you know that “Life is tough, and the teen years are difficult, but you’re just great by me.”
Five: Have fun.
In fact, have a blast. Sure, be responsible, be smart, follow the rules, and so forth…. But enjoy yourself. Don’t get so focused on how rough the water is, how fast the current runs, and how far the shore looks from where you sit that you lose the capacity to enjoy the ride. Trust me, you’ll eventually paddle into the eddies on the shores of young adulthood, staggering out of the boat exhausted, relieved, and wobbly legged, but you’ll get there and a new adventure will stretch out before you. But before that time, while still in the rapids, enjoy the ride.