Parenting teens feels like there is a daily life altering decision being made. It’s not like deciding smashed peas or sweet potatoes for lunch. These decisions seem like they have the potential to shift the entire trajectory of their future. That’s probably extreme. Especially as a person of faith. But since the world opened back up, our home has been faced with: What church do we attend? What schools should we go to? What sports will we play? And who are our friends? With new options and a different perspective after a global pandemic, we have faced big choices as we have re-entered. I would like to bring attention to the “we” in these questions. The only one I actually participate in, is the church. Momming in the middle of not toddlers yet not quite adults leaves me in a space where parenting requires less of a commander and more of a guide. Which leads me to my first thought on ways we have been making these decisions with our teens.
1. Provide Guidance.
One of the effective ways we have helped our teenagers make the best decisions is by providing plenty of guidance, but without overdoing it. We have shared our thoughts on the situation and then stood back in surrender. This is hard. But parenting from fear with a heavy hand didn’t work. Stepping back and allowing them to process and choose (with guardrails) has been a pleasant surprise. A couple times I have been unsure that what they chose was going to work out. But we all learn from making mistakes.
2. Be there.
A pastor in my life used to always say, “Jesus is just a half turn away.” In difficult times or times when I feel like I’ve failed or even a little lost, that knowledge has brought me so much comfort. I’ve tried to be that hand for my teens in this season where the leash has been loosened. In no way am I attempting to replace Jesus, in fact my goal is to point them to Him. But being right there, just a half turn away in their decision making, has been assuring for them and enabled security in their growing independence.
3. Name the options.
My son is almost 14 and loves a good pros and cons list. In our recent decision for him to change schools, we applied this method. We talked about the options and then named the ups and downs of each choice. After processing through, it was pretty clear the wise choice for him. He just needed to hear it and even see what it looked like on paper. I want to add that sometimes one side of the list may weigh heavier but you choose the opposite. That’s because all things are equal. There might be a lot of great external positives but if the one negative clearly does not align with your values, then the choice is clear. Keep in mind this is just a tool to help your teen process and see the decision from a visual vantage point.
4. Discuss emotion.
With my teens, this is both the least favorite but most popular way to decide. Naming how they feel is not the easiest. I mean, it’s difficult for adults. But normalizing this earlier in life is setting them up for great success as they enter the world of making decisions on their own. We can help our kids make good choices by helping them understand how emotion plays a big part in decision-making. For example, fear may prevent them from trying something new, while zeal may cause them to underestimate the real risks.
5. Go with your "GUT"
This is all good practice. But at the end of the day, we submit our own will and simply go with our “Gut”. That’s the supernatural blessing of following Jesus and making choices with Him first.
"And whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: "This is the way, walk in it." Isaiah 30:21
These five simple exercises have helped us navigate a year full of transitions and new choices. I am happy to report that while it has sometimes felt like bowling with the bumpers up pinging a bit back and forth, we have eventually hit the pins and even scored a few strikes. I hope this helps those of you who are in the “tweening” and "teening" phase of parenting. Letting go a little, but still charged with holding them tight.
I heard God tell me years ago, in one of my hardest seasons of momming, that if I invested first in my home, everything else would flow from that. Ever since, I've focused on building our Tribe around what matters most and we're sharing that experience on the podcast this summer. We kicked off our Tribe series last week with our first, special guest Piper Jones, the baby of our family. Listen to her experience here about God delivering on His promises and the hope we can all apply to our own homes.