Recently we received this question from a parent:
Q: How should we respond to our children (middle school, high school and college) who insist there is no God?
My first impulse in responding to people who “insist there is no God” is to show them how wrong they are to hold that belief. I mean, look around, right? It takes a lot of faith to believe everything came from nothing. But “people” denying God’s existence is much different than MY KIDS denying that God exists and turning from their (our) faith. That creates sleepless nights, desperate pleas and crying out to God. It also tends to lead parents into anxious lobbying for their point of view when in fact, there is probably very little new that parents can say.
Aside from the conventional wisdom about this (which we fully embrace) to pray, to speak truth, and to love them, here are some less common ideas that have been shown to have powerful influence with children over time.
© 2009 anthony kelly, Flickr
Deep inside most parents is a strong urge to control their children. It may seem beneficial or even “work” for a few years, but there are diminishing returns if the goal of control is not given up significantly by the teen years (probably earlier than that).
When we take control of our kids’ lives we often end up making decisions for them that they are capable of making on their own. But maybe even worse, when we take control away from our kids we deprive them of learning that they are capable of making choices and living with the consequences whether positive, negative, or neutral. When we micromanage our kids’ lives they learn that we are responsible for their life, not them.
Charles was almost sure his pre-teen daughter Sara knew she was loved even when she misbehaved. But he wanted his “almost” to be an “absolutely,” so he asked her: “Honey, do you know that you are loved, even when you misbehave?”
Sara answered quickly. “No.” She didn’t justify her answer.
Charles was shocked. After all, he is a loving and thoughtful dad who has worked hard to communicate his love. Yet Sara not only didn’t know it, she was quick in her answer. She decisively declared that she often didn’t feel loved when misbehaving.
The fact that Sara — parented by thoughtful, loving parents — did not always feel loved when she misbehaved is an indication that there are probably lots of kids like her. Unfortunately, even though parents almost unanimously say that they love their kids unconditionally, many of their kids doubt that they are loved unconditionally.
15 year old Dave (not his real name) ended up in my office because he’d been repeatedly caught viewing online pornography. His parents had “done everything we know how to do” and still the relationship was eroding. We often like to work with parents at times like this, but in this case, since Dave was willing to come (teens often are not willing), I agreed to see him.
I quickly heard from Dave what I hear from many teens in trouble with their parents:
I just watched a video from a youth ministry leader. He intentionally stated one reason it’s so hard to relate to teens, and unintentionally stated the real reason.
His intended explanation is that teens are hard to relate to because of the big relational changes that happen as kids move toward independence. The authoritative style of parenting — “you say no and the child doesn’t argue”– used with young kids no longer works, so a new form of relational influence must be learned. More listening and negotiation is needed to empower teens toward independence.
He’s right to say that the authoritative parenting used with young kids contributes to the problem. But he’s wrong to brush over it as if it’s expected to be this sort of parent with young kids.
He’s right about the importance of relational influence. But he’s wrong to say that we should wait until kids are teens to learn to have relational influence.
In our work coaching hundreds of parents of teens over the years, we’ve hit on six themes that draw the parent-child relationship closer. Read through and let us know in the comments below which of the tips you want to implement in your family.
When people steal, disobey, defy, cheat, lash out, or otherwise sin, in their hearts they leave. They leave the safety of trustworthy relationships. They leave the purposes for which God created them.
The way people are treated when they sin determines whether or not they’ll feel safe to return.
At the teen outreach where I served for 12 years, the teens’ participation was voluntary. If these kids didn’t like how they were treated they would literally leave, never to be heard from again. Our own kids may not physically leave, but they leave relationally when they don’t feel safe.
For parents of older teens, the thought of releasing our kids into the world can be frightening, particularly if they have shown very few signs that they will be able to handle “real life” once they leave our care. If this is the case, you are probably scared and hurt from the conflicts with your child.
When feeling this way, parents often respond one of two ways: either they throw their hands up in exasperation and leave the child to her own devices, or they anxiously go “all in” with lectures and consequences intended to motivate their child. I have found that both ends of the spectrum are unhelpful and create large relational craters.
Simply stated, it’s tough to parent effectively if managing our hurt or fear is our main goal.
I recently received an email that was sent out to a large number of parents from a teacher at my daughter’s high school. Her main goal was to let folks know she wouldn’t be available for conferences; however, she offered some parenting advice as well. One line jumped out to me: “The teenage brain is one that rebels against parents and places their friends as the most important factor in their life.”
Knowing the teacher, I am sure it was meant as an encouragement somehow, but I’m guessing it caused a wide range of emotional reactions from the readers. Encouragement would probably be low on the list!
In essence, the teacher’s comment suggests that we ought to expect our teenagers to rebel, and that their rebellion is inevitable. However, in my practice, I have found the opposite to be true: that teenaged rebellion is not inevitable, and that one of the biggest predictors of teen rebellion is the expectation that it will happen.
I’ve blown it many times. But the following event stands out as an example of both failure to live by the stuff I teach, and the power of the teaching. Upon reflection, it’s a tale of battling giants.
One warm afternoon my blooming adolescent son Daniel pushed me beyond my limit. We’d been arguing and the basic conclusion was, “Son, you’re going to do this because I’m the dad!” He didn’t like my conclusion. So he kept arguing. I tend to like when my kids stand up for their beliefs when dealing with others. But not with me.