Now that you know what’s going on in your teenager's brain (see Danielle's earlier blog: "What’s Going On With My Teenager?), the question remains what do I do about it? How can I support my teen's development - even when it drives me crazy - and help set them up for spiritual transformation and personal growth?
Your teen needs age appropriate and productive ways of engaging in new experiences. Preparing your teen for experiences instead of restricting your teen from experiences is key. This requires being ahead of the curve. Looking into the future a bit and having conversations about what is coming up next sets parents up to be proactive instead of reactive. The more you can “act out” upcoming experiences in a genuine way and propose situations that may occur while allowing your teen to respond honestly the better. They won’t be caught off guard when temptations arise- they will be prepared and know who to call if they get themselves in trouble.
Spiritually, it is important to realize that biblical Christianity is anything but safe. The father of our faith Abraham was instructed to leave his home and go to a place he did not know. God asked him to trust by being willing to sacrifice his own son Isacc. Esther went before the King and petitioned on behalf of the Hebrew people. Rahab left a cord for the spies. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea. The disciples left their known profession as fishermen to follow Jesus. The rich young ruler was commanded to sell everything he owned. After Jesus left, the disciples went all over the world proclaiming the good news and most were martyred for him. Knowing these stories, teaching these stories, and modeling obedience by taking the risks God is instructing you to take is vital for your teen. Their brain is telling them to take risks because they will have to in order follow all of Christ’s commands.
- Encourage them to try out for the thing they have never done before
- Introduce them to a culture other than your own
- Plan a trip to a theme park
- Be invested in their ideas and interests and do what you can to facilitate experiences around those things
- Share the risk-taking stories of the Bible
- Take some risks for Christ yourself
Your teen needs social connections especially peer relationships. I know it can feel strange that they seem not to want you anymore. The thing is that most teenagers do want Mommy and Daddy they just want them in a different way. Teens can feel tricky because one moment they want independence and the next minute they won’t be satisfied until they have your full attention. The truth is they want both, and it is good for them to have both. Being able to have friendships, relationships, and experiences outside of you while still being able to have you and other adults’ support, guidance, and discipline is healthy.
Spiritually, Christianity is a communal faith. The top two commands are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. We are instructed to confess our sins to one another so we may be healed. We are to encourage and build one another up, and also we are commanded to go to one another and resolve conflicts before heading to the altar to pray. Your teen’s brain is telling them that relationships are vital to a healthy life because spiritually God has designed us not just for relationship with him but others. Your teen is expanding beyond you because God has a plan for them to be used greatly in His body- the church and to minister who he is to the world.
- Have your teen’s friends over and get to know them
- Find and encourage positive social activities your teen enjoys (clubs, sports, church, etc.)
- Encourage connection to extended family members and your friends
- Educate teen on social media/technology and talk about what is appropriate for your family
- Model confessing sin (as appropriate)
- Model encouragement
Emotions Running Wild
Your teen needs to be allowed to feel. Emotions are not the bad guy- the urges and impulses that turn into destructive behavior are. The more emotions are allowed to be expressed healthily and talked about honestly the better. Being able to name the emotion helps to tame it. Look up a list of emotion words and print it out- increase your vocabulary and help your child to do so as well. When your teen knows that all their emotions are welcome, they will be less likely to hide things from you and engage in unhealthy behaviors.
I have heard numerous times in my life that people do not believe in God because they have never felt him. What if the emotional time your teen is going through is an invitation from their creator to feel God and to know that he feels all their pain, sadness, happiness, and joy? Have you ever read through the Psalms? David was an emotional rollercoaster. He was able to write freely and commune with God deeply because he knew the acceptance and forgiveness of the Father. It is only when we are in touch with our emotional experience, that we can feel God. Your teen's emotions are an opportunity for connection with God and others.
- Increase you and your teen’s emotional vocabulary
- Don’t force them to talk
- Be open to the midnight conversations your teen wants to have with you
- Have family dinners with your teen and have a ritual to discuss highlights and hardships of everyone’s day with the family
- Set clear expectations of what the teen is to contribute to the family
- Have a weekly flow so that your teen generally knows what is expected of them each day
- Read through the Psalms
- Pray as a family where you express your emotions to God
- Remember the Gospel that Jesus bore all of our pain
Novel and Contradictory Perspectives and Ideas
Your teen needs to be able to express themselves. For example, that crazy dream about moving cross country with no money- doesn’t need to be shut down immediately but engaged with curiosity. Indulge your teen. If they are serious, you then have an opportunity to engage in a positive conversation about all the sides of what it would really take to do so. When your child pushes back against the way you want them to do something, listen. You may hear something that makes sense, or it may be complete nonsense. If it is nonsense let them know you hear what they are saying, they are welcome to do things their way when they move out and pay their bills, but for today they are still in your house, and that you still carry responsibility for them, therefore, you have the final say.
In Genesis, God created humanity with dominion over the world. God created the animals, yet he gave Adam the freedom to name them however he saw fit. God gave humanity dominion over every living thing. God created us to walk in responsibility and creativity for how we take care of things on earth. The emergence of new ideas in your teen is preparing your teen spiritually to be able to take care of all God has given them and is going to give them in the future. It is important for them to have the opportunity to explore what works for them and at the same time honors God. Your teen’s ideas could very well be pointing to how God desires to use them now and in the future.
- Be willing to listen to the message behind their pushback
- Affirm with what you agree with
- Be open to changing some things
- Respectfully disagree
- Be clear about what is still required in your home
- Encourage them to come up with ideas on how to accomplish daily tasks
- Encourage them to dream about how they can make a difference in the world
Risk taking, socializing, intense emotions and coming up with new ideas are all beautiful things about adolescence. Although its not always easy, if you're able to be flexible, stay connected and try some new things during this season, you can help your teen make the most of the exciting neurological and personal changes happening for them.