Teen Challenges

Does this description sound familiar:

Teens are unstable emotionally. One minute they feel wonderfully happy. The next minute they feel like the world has come to an end again for the third time that day. Their lives are emotional roller coasters. Solid ground is hard to find.

As the parent of three, relatively well-adjusted, teenagers, I recognize the description. As a former teenager myself – albeit long, long, ago – I remember this to be an apt portrayal. 

This is just one paragraph from an excellent article by Tedd Tripp that appeared in CCEF‘s Journal of Biblical Counseling: Communicate With Teens.

In this article Tripp not only describes the all too common symptoms of the teenager, but he lays out the foundational issues, identifies common pitfalls that we parents fall into, and offers some insightful goals for parenting through the teen years.

What are the foundational issues? 

Tripp observes three, taken from Proverbs 1:

  1. Need for Fear of the Lord. (Proverbs 1.7)
  2. Need to Remember Parents’ Words (Proverbs 1.8)
  3. Need to Dissociate from Wickedness (Proverbs 1.10)

As parents we need to be aware that the problems of the teenage years are not one-sided.  Tripp cites five common errors.  We need to honestly assess ourselves in light of them.  To what degree am I guilty of:

1. Spy vs. Spy. 

Teens often try to get away with as much as they can. Parents often try to catch them by spying on them. Sometimes the teens try to catch the parents trying to catch them…  Tripp says it becomes “a cat and mouse game”.

2. Disengaging.

Parents give up trying to be a nurturing influence in their teens’ lives. They limit their engagement to giving curfews and consequences. The result: Teens are more influenced by their friends than by their parents.

Parents often think, They don’t care about me and what I think. One word from me and they go in the other direction anyway. Instead of being in the thick of the battle in the most important time for teens, parents give up trying to have any influence on them at all.

3. Authoritarianism vs. influence.

By authoritarianism Tripp does not mean the proper exercise of authority. Instead he is referring to the practice of being overly tough: “You can’t get away with anything with me. I’ll stay one step ahead of you. I’ll make the punishment more onerous.”

“Rather than becoming a bigger authority”, says Tripp, “we need to come alongside our teens as bigger positive influences. We need to be someone who has their ear, who shows them love, who helps them be successful in the things they want to accomplish, and who gains the right to speak to them.  We want to become people who have influence with our teens. We want them to be willing to listen to what we say. In the years from infancy to adulthood, authority diminishes, but our influence should increase.”

4. Reckless words.

Reckless words, the proverb says, “wound like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

5. Majoring on the minors.

Parents tend to focus on matters of taste and style. But we must carefully choose our battles. We need to focus on things that have moral significance, with biblical truths at stake.

And so what is the overarching goal? 

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