I had the joy of serving for twelve years as a youth pastor in the local church. During those twelve years, I heard a consistent concern from parents: “I dread the teenage years.”
As a parent of three beautiful children, my interactions with other parents often leads to this familiar sentiment: “I dread the teenage years.”
Social media has created a space for parents to share a variety of thoughts on family life. One of those recurring thoughts: “I dread the teenage years.”
My intent here is not to suggest that the “teenage years” will always be a smooth experience. No doubt, the privilege of investing in our children’s lives during the ages of 13-19 will, at times, be accompanied by tears, heartache, confusion, anger, and disappointment. But I want to suggest that our dread should transform into delight. We should anticipate the teenage years with thanksgiving and we should stop modeling negative feelings toward our children as they develop into these wonderful years of their lives. Here are three reasons why.
1. God’s Miraculous Method
We all marvel at the birth of our children. Followers of Jesus Christ who have been in a hospital room when the miracle of childbirth takes place usually say the same thing – “this is all the proof I need for the existence of God.” The arrival of a baby is breathtaking.But it is just as overwhelming to watch a baby begin to grow. We take photos of our babies on their monthly anniversaries and post them to social media. We jot down memories of the first time they turn over, crawl, walk, and speak. Under the creative power of God, the stages of development come just at the right time to sustain life and to mature into adulthood.
What I’m suggesting is that we correctly and naturally understand the beauty and joy of development. It is a miracle to watch. It points to the goodness of God to not only create us, but also to develop us. God designs us and intimately engages with us for the purpose of bringing our bodies and minds to a place where we can know him, worship him, study him, and share him with the world.
So, think about how strange it is for parents to naturally delight in the development of our babies only to express dread for what is the most profound stage of development. The teenage years represent the time when our children’s minds are being molded and fine-tuned by God in such a way where they begin to understand not only who they are, but also who he is and how he can be glorified. We get excited about the “independence” of our babies when they walk on their own for the first time. But how much greater is the development of their independence when they are searching for answers to life’s most essential questions? Teenagers are ready to start thinking for themselves and are ready to find the path God has prepared for them. What excitement awaits!
But, danger also awaits. When my daughter, Callie Grace, reached the development stage of walking, we were so excited. We applauded and videotaped her and told all our friends. But we also did something else. We purchased a special foam padding that was designed to place around our brick fireplace landing. We were terrified that she might fall and crack her head on the sharp fireplace. You see, with every stage of development, there is an accompanying presence of danger. But the possibility of her falling and hurting herself did not cause us to dread the walking stage. We celebrated it! Laughed with her! Made her feel good about her accomplishment, even with the new danger at hand.
Yes, the teenage years will bring danger. The freedom of our children’s minds will lead to wrong interpretations. It will lead to poor choices. It will lead to stubbornness and disagreements. But goodness, the beauty of what we are seeing in our children through God’s ongoing developmental power is worth it. God is turning them into young adults and that must be celebrated. We are called to congratulate our teenagers on what God is doing with them, even as we pay attention to the sharp brick fireplace. The act of dreading the teenage years is usually a confession of our own selfishness. What we dread most is the disruption to our lives.
Thus, the first way to stop dreading the teenage years is to ask God to help you see them through his own master plan of development. Your child is becoming a fully developed person who is poised to make their own decisions and experience greater freedoms. We must allow them to keep learning how to walk.
2. The Power of a Parent’s Words
Most of us would agree that it would be verbal abuse if parents consistently spoke to our children by saying “you are a loser and will never amount to everything.” That kind of language will create untold harm for the foreseeable future. Words have consequences. Words matter.
Our children pick up on “just joking” words with other adults. They see our social media posts. They notice our eyes roll. We might laugh off our dialogue concerning the teenage years, but our children aren’t laughing. From their perspective, if we are so worried and dread so much the time of their becoming a teenager, how much more terrifying must it be to actually become a teenager? We set up our children to dread, hate, and expect pain as a teenager. This is an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy and the harm is significant.Parents, let’s stop with the language of dread about our children. If there is genuine fear or concern, then find a close Christian friend and talk over a cup of coffee. Speak to your pastor about your concerns. But public anguish over our children developing into teens needs to end.
3. Oh, The Conversations We Will Have!
The Waffle House. That was the place where my father and I had some of our most important, life-shaping conversations. It was our place. As I was developing during my teen years, he would speak to me in ways that affirmed my growth. Our conversations were not one-sided lectures on how I might mess everything up as a teenager, but rather we had adult conversations about life, consequences, integrity, and faith. My mom and dad did not treat the teenage years of their children as potential trainwrecks that we must avoid at all costs. They treated us as growing persons who can handle (and enjoy) real conversations.
How can we not long for that? I have a long list of books to read with Callie, Justus, and Eli as they enter into the life of a teenager. I can’t wait to share some of my own struggles with them and I can’t wait to hear about what they are experiencing. In the process, they are going to make mistakes. They are going to sin. I’ll have some long nights of weeping, no doubt. But these are my kids growing into adults! May I never dread it! May I never wish it to be over!
There is nothing wrong with being concerned or afraid of what the next developmental stage of our children might bring. There is no shame in feelings of inadequacy as a parent. But let’s address those fears in ways that appropriately honor our children and show thanksgiving to God’s developmental design. Teenagers are amazing. Pass it on.