Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. (Proverbs 22:6)
While rearing teens has never been easy, it seems that each year it becomes harder and harder. And as our society becomes more high-tech and information is nearly instantaneous, many of the difficulties that used to begin in the teenage years are now starting in the pre-teen or middle school years. Kids have access to things that they simply aren’t ready to handle. So they struggle to appear to be in control, they make bad decisions and act out.
I was a teacher and a coach for nearly 40 years and a youth pastor for 20 years and I thought I had faced most of the issues of drugs, smoking, drinking, sex, pornography, divorce, abuse, eating disorders, run-aways, suicide and general rebellion. My wife and I counseled individual teens and teen groups, biological children and adopted children, parents and families, churched and un-churched. It was never easy. But most of the time I felt like we accomplished something–that there was a chance that we might have made a difference. Yet right now, I know that there are many parents–even among my family and close friends who are at their wit’s end, wondering what they should do about their son or daughter.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4) One of the difficulties is that children have no patience and do not want to be rewarded later for good behavior. They want what they want now, with no consequences. And many of them spend most of their “family” time looking for the ways to irritate Mom and Dad so that they (Mom and Dad) can provoke them (the child) to anger,..or sullenness,..or cutting,..or swearing,.. or running away–you probably can plug in the behavior(s) from your own child or from a child of someone close to you. Suddenly, they are getting the attention they crave, though all for the wrong reasons.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know a couple of things. The first is that when all is said and done, your child is responsible for his/her own behavior. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child–both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. (Ezekiel 18:4) You can explain godly living and live the example for them; but you can’t make them apply it to their lives. They have to do that themselves.
One other thing I have noticed is that children can almost always outlast their parents when it comes to giving in on something. They are younger, have more energy, and always believe that they are 100% right. As a parent, you cannot win all the battles. Pick the important ones and don’t give in. Let the little ones go. If they want to dress like something between a street bum and a Halloween character, so what? If they want to chew gum like a cow chewing grass, let them. Sooner or later, someone other than you will make a comment that will cause them to rethink how they look or act. Though they are still children, they are struggling to enter adulthood. Give them some slack in the non-essential areas.
Is it easy? Absolutely not! You must constantly be praying for and showing the fruit of the spirit. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Remember that God made you the parents. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. (Colossians 3:12-15)
So while you are not responsible for your child’s decisions or the consequences of those decisions, you are responsible for being the example that God wants you to be. And He’s always there to help you become that example. Don’t let the acting out behaviors become a distraction to your own walk with God.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. (Psalm 100:3-10)
Mark Twain once said, “The older I get, the smarter my parents were.” This is how it was for me. Fortunately, I discovered this at a relatively young age and was able to enjoy some quality time with my Dad. Someday our kids may feel the same way. In the meantime, we just have to hang on and have faith.
Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:19)