Teen Challenges

August 5, 2010

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? 

According to Tripp:

We want to see our teens internalize the gospel of Jesus Christ as their own living faith. We want to see them get a hold of the truth and embrace it in such a way that if you, the parent, walked away from the faith, they would continue to be faithful. In order to do that, we need to nurture their interaction with the truth of the Word of God. Too often, we use our own words when we ought to use the words of the Bible.

To effectively achieve this overarching goal, Tripp suggestests that parents need to: “Shepherd Teens Through Periods of Doubt“. 

This is an important insight.

First, let’s note Tripp does not suggest that teens from godly homes won’t have doubts. He implies that it is not uncommon for teens, even from tremendous families, to experience doubts.

I wish more parents would take this to heart.

As a pastor I have seen a number of God-fearing parents become disheartened and heard them confess feeling like failures as parents because their teenagers were questioning Christianity. 

When talking to discouraged parents I often try to quiet fears and feelings of failure. I usually offer two refrains:

1. While we are called to faithfulness in parenting and raising our children “in the fear and admonition of the Lord”, if our children’s eternal destiny depended upon our error-free parenting ALL our children are up a creek!  Certainly we all make mistakes in our parenting, often being either too firm or too lax. 

2. Salvation belongs to our God. Faith is a gift that comes from God. While there is benefit in being raised in a godly household, many a Believer grew up absent of that benefit.  God regenerates in his time, not ours.  While we are called to faithfulness, we cannot move God to act any faster than He has determined to act in granting salvation to our children.  (It’s the Doctrine of Election in practice.

But Tripp offers words offer even greater reassurance to perplexed parents: 

The teenage years are often times of wrestling with questions of faith. This is even true for teens raised in Christian homes. When they are little children, they believe everything you tell them about Jesus, His miracles, and more. They believe it because Mom and Dad say it is true. But as they get older they discover that some intelligent people out there don’t believe the things you believe. They wrestle with the question, “Do I believe these things because I have been taught them or do I really believe them for myself?” You come to grown-up faith only by facing grown-up questions.

Shepherd your teens through those inevitable periods of doubt. Don’t challenge, “How could you question the being and existence of God after all we taught you?” Rather say, “What are your questions? Let’s talk about them.”  Help your teen think through these things.

Anyone who knows me and my family knows I have not perfected any of this. I am a fellow sojourner praying that God will be gracious to my children despite my sin and mistakes.  That’s the reason I am drawn to wisdom such as Tedd Tripp offers in this article.

3 Responses to “Teen Challenges”

  1. Kerry Doyal Says:

    A good word, my friend. thank you

  2. David Alexander Says:

    Another great Post Dennis. I think Tripp points out some great principles. I know a lot of teen parents try to instill values in doing right things in right ways and thats good. But dealing with teens is not the time to start building principles. Big difference in building Biblical principles and building doing right. Principle building starts very young. Like children modeling Mom and Dads behavior. Quick example: Little Sue helps Mom by setting the table but because she’s very young doesn’t do well. Mom has a choice. To correct her job or build Grace into little Sue by telling her what a wonderful servant she is becomming. Point is building into little Sue the principle of servanthood. By majoring on principles, & reenforcing them by the time little Sue becomes a teen Mom & Dad can start to see the fruit of principle building vice a right / wrong type approach. I know this is a simple example and it’s far more complex than I have the time to write here. Issue for teens and parents…major on Biblical principle down play the right & wrong if it makes sense to do so.

  3. Cindy Tucker Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Dennis! Great summary and commentary- and it gave me a much needed lift today.


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