Parenting Adolescents

Parenting Adolescents

As parents of four young daughters, I can’t tell you how many times we heard this:  “Oh, you might be enjoying them now, but just wait until they become teenagers.  Then the nightmare begins.”

And sadly for many families and teens,  the adolescent years are a nightmare, or at least very painful years for parents and their teens.   Living in cross cultural spaces and reading history (also cross cultural in some ways) has convinced me that the teen years don’t have to be a nightmare.  Why so many horror stories of parenting the teen years? Perhaps it’s because some cultures create a separate teen culture of irresponsibility, expect nothing but trouble from those adolescent years, and so the nightmares come just as prophesied and sometimes even worse than expected.   Even to suggest that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way is to risk scorn and derision from those living out the predictable horrors of parenting teens.  And for many, those years of adolescence can be very painful years for parents and for teens.

But this post is not about teens. They don’t read this blog, at least not many, I assume. This post is an encouragement for parents to be reflective, intentional parents rather than reactionary parents.  It’s a suggestion that parents who are intentional about learning about themselves and their own parenting styles might actually learn during these “nightmare years”  how to love their teens better and how to relate more lovingly in general.  In other words, parents of adolescents have a lot to learn themselves, if they choose to reflect, debrief their parenting styles and choose to change… rather than making it their goal to protect themselves from pain and disappointment.

Parenting adolescents can get emotionally painful and it’s tempting for parents to react in ways that really have the goal of pain management for themselves.   I  read Kevin Huggins’ book Parenting Adolescents back in the 80s, long before I was a parent.  It’s a great book because it addresses the parents’ need to change and parent intentionally and purposefully and reflectively.  It’s really a book whose principles apply well  in cross cultural spaces.   This is some of what he has to say:

Parents tend to be non-reflective about their parenting styles; that is, they allow their way of relating to kids to be determined by internal and external forces of which they have little conscious awareness. Consequently, the parents’ underlying problems in thinking go unchallenged, and the resulting problems in relating go unchanged.
(Parenting Adolescents, p 95).

When parents do not reflect upon their motives and thought patterns in relating to their teens, they do not grow as parents.  Huggins’ book is about helping the parents of teens grow in wisdom and put away foolishness.   He urges parents to consider ways of relating to teens that promote wisdom rather than reinforcing foolish living and choices.  Teenagers have a way of pushing parents’ buttons, and a reasonably wise woman can end up playing the fool as she relates to her teenage son or daughter.  A capable man whose wisdom at work earns him promotions can be downright foolish when talking to his teen. When the teen succeeds in getting the parents to respond foolishly, then the nightmare just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it?

And as Huggins points out, the relational style of many parents actually reinforces teen rebellion and foolishness, but those same parents refuse to reflect upon their own parenting failures.   There is a lot of finger pointing and blaming, which is itself a kind of foolishness.  In order to love their teens better, all parents will need to grow in their desire and ability to relate lovingly, rather than seeking to protect themselves from further pain and disappointment.

Huggins says all this and more, and he says it much better than I can.

For a brief but useful summary of Parenting Adolescents and another book by Paul Tripp Age of Opportunity, download (save this link) this pdf.

But if you’re really serious about parenting your teen well, I mean being a wise parent who reflects on his or her parental failures and successes and seeks to grow, then get the Huggins book and read it through.  Read it through with some other parents.  Encourage each other to grow wiser, reflect on parenting styles and learn better what it means to really love your teens.

13 thoughts on “Parenting Adolescents”

  • Being that we already seem to be sharing factors regarding Parenting Adolescents On Life As You Go, Good parenting can not be clearly defined, as it is very frequently a subjective idea. One parent’s definition of excellent parenting may be another’s definition of poor judgment.

  • It is difficult to define good parenting. Certainly good parenting doesn’t guarantee good children. Yet, I’m not convinced that good parenting is a purely subjective matter. There is, of course, a great deal of judgment involved in all parenting. But given our children and our particular context, some judgments might be better than others. Reflecting upon one’s judgment and debriefing one’s parenting approaches and default habits and responses can be a very helpful way to become a better parent. Every parent makes mistakes. It takes courage to look at those mistakes and learn from them. It takes courage to ask a child’s forgiveness when as parents we fail our children. Helping our children learn self control is a good thing for parents to do and parents who help their children learn self control are being good parents, at least in that one area. How to help our children learn anything…this involves the matter of parental judgment. But I don’t see how that makes it impossible to define good parenting approaches, skills, habits and attitudes. But then again, I write as a Christ Follower and believe that God has given people a conscience that functions like a referee of sorts but that conscience needs informing by God who has communicated to us through the Bible. Proverbs, for example has much to say about good parenting.
    The New Testament teaches us that when we are harsh with our children that is not good parenting. There are many other examples.

  • Constructive Parenting…I like the way that sounds. I’m all about positive outcomes, just not sure that good parenting can always guarantee them for our children. But aiming for those outcomes and parenting in such a way as to achieve those outcomes is a wonderful goal!

  • Having had two of your four daughters during different school years and through different online school systems, I just want to say THANK YOU for parenting them. They are two of the most delightful, articulate, respectful, intelligent, diligent, beautiful, and godly young women that I have ever had the privilege to work with. And to think, I don’t even know what they look like.

    My own three teens are currently finishing up at the local Community College. I attribute part of their success to having lived several years in cross cultural spaces where the expectation for virtuous teenage behavior did not fall to the lowest common peer, going through the “rebellious years”. But mostly, by God’s grace, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

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