(Whether a parent yourself, or a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a neighbor, a teacher, a scout leader, or whatever your role in the lives of the children around you, this important series will give you valuable tips on how to influence those kids for the Lord! To access the entire “Bringing up Kids God’s Way” mini-series, please click here.)
Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.
How often I heard this when my boys were little, but I didn’t understand it until they became teenagers.
Some say it’s easier to parent younger children than it is to parent teens. After all, little children from relatively stable, non-abusive homes, generally think of dad as their “hero”, they see mom as someone who can fix all their problems and stop all their hurts, grandparents are those wonderful people who loves them unconditionally, and aunts and uncles are sources of gifts. We, as the adults in the lives of these kids, don’t have to work at making them like us. It just happens naturally!
But when those same kids hit adolescence, the years of bliss screech to a halt. Suddenly you are no longer the most important person in their lives. You can no longer fix every problem, and strangely, you don’t know everything anymore. And then you learn that your advice is no longer good enough, and that instead of turning to you for guidance, your kids are turning to their peers!
Many reasons, and many of these have to do with the fact that it is normal for kids, when they reach adolescence, to broaden their horizons. It’s part of the plan!
But in many cases, there is more to it than this. Because we don’t have to work at being heroes for our kids when they are little, we often don’t. We don’t stop, look or listen, and the groundwork for good communication and for trust is never laid. We fail to realize during those “easy” years that the strong relationships that will become so vital during adolescence must be begun early on! That the prerequisites for getting through the teen years must be deeply rooted in the pre-teen years! That we need to start working on that relationship at day “one”!
For many of you are reading this series, the children in your lives have already hit those “terrible teens”. Some of you have put into practice the advice given in previous devotionals, but some of you may not have. What then?
Does that mean it’s too late???
No, never. It’s never too late to start!
A local teen counselor once confessed to a group of parents that he was heavily into drugs as a teen. He attributes his changed life to the fact that his mother decided it wasn’t too late to try and begin a relationship with him. The two of them began going out on weekly “dates”. The focus of these “dates” was not on drugs or drug rehabilitation, it was on being together. On building trust. On showing love and acceptance. But once this vital groundwork was laid, it led to freedom from drugs. The point is this: Whether you have or haven’t pursued a relationship with your kids in their childhood, it becomes vital to pursue one in the teenage years!
It won’t be an easy road. Those of you who had good relationships with your children in the past will find that despite this, you will have to make a concerted effort to continue that relationship with them through adolescence; but those of you who may not have had the opportunity to have a good relationship with your kids as children will find that it takes even more work. But don’t despair. It isn’t too late to help your teen!
You may not realize this (and neither may your child!), but your teen hungers and thirsts for this relationship.
In previous devotionals in this series, I introduced you to a boy named “James”, a friend of my boys. At 16, James is now well into his adolescent years. Before his mother went back to work, he had maintained a wonderful relationship with her. However, he never had a good relationship with his dad. In conversations with James’ father, I have learned that he deeply desires to have a relationship with his son. He has simply never taken the “Stop, Look, and Listen” idea to heart. And though James’ words say differently, I can also see a hunger in James to be with his dad and to be accepted and loved by him. The odd time his dad does do something with him, a light comes into James’ eyes and his spirit lifts. Though he doesn’t consciously realize it, James longs for that time with his dad!
Your teen is no different. Though outward signs shout a different message, he or she also longs for love and acceptance–From you!
So where do you begin?
It likely won’t surprise you when I say that you begin with prayer. Lots of it. And then you “stop” pursuing your own interests long enough to make time for them, you “look” and see what interests, fears, insecurities and problems your teen is facing, and then you learn to “listen” to them!
I realize that this sounds a bit simplistic, so let’s put it into more practical terms.
Every week my husband plans a “date” with one or both of our boys. Sometimes they go geocaching, sometimes they go for a walk, but mostly they go out for a donut, or if it’s a really special time, they go out for ice cream. I never cease to be amazed at how these few moments alone with their dad improve their relationship with him. I have no idea what they talk about, but after each “date”, both of them have so much more respect for what he has to say.
I used to have plenty of relationship-building time built into each day, but since beginning to work full-time, it’s been harder to maintain this and I have had to make time. We have started running together, for one thing, and I have also starting taking riding lessons with them. When they take their leased horses out for a ride, I try to go with them, and we have changed “stall-mucking” days to the weekend, so I can help them out. During these times, I encourage my boys to talk to me about what they are going through, the challenges they are facing, their frustrations, etc. I won’t kid you by saying that my advice is perceived as being as “golden”, as it once was, but my boys do listen, and there is always evidence that they take what I tell them into consideration as they face the challenges of their lives.
If the child doesn’t actually live in your home, there are still many things you can do. My mother has been actively involved in babysitting for my boys since birth, but now that they are in school, she is no longer such a big part of their lives. So she comes by once in awhile and takes one or both of them out for lunch. Or she brings them a donut. Or she invites them for a sleepover at her house. Or she plans a movie night with them. Special times, enjoyed by both, that go miles towards building that vital relationship.
Long-distance relationships pose different problems, but these too can be overcome. My mother-in-law lives in Belgium and my boys haven’t seen her in 6 years. Before she got sick, she would call every Saturday morning and talk to each of them on the phone. She never failed to ask them about their riding, about their birds, about all the other things that she knew were important to them. And when she learned that my younger son had an interest in cooking, she started preparing a recipe to share with him every week.
These are just little things, but these little things give a vital message to your child. They say, “you are loved and accepted, and someone cares enough to spend time with you!” Kids crave this, and when they get it, they become much more inclined to follow your advice. And perhaps most importantly, if they love the one who shares Him with them, they will be much more inclined to love your God!
In summary, I want to take a moment to wrap up this series by saying this: The kids in your lives have been placed them by God for a reason, and you are the only one who can fill the spot God has placed in their heart for you! You are the only one who can influence them in your special way! I pray that this series has been helpful to you, and I pray that it has given you some ideas on how to be a more positive influence in the lives of those God has placed under your care. May God bless each of you abundantly as you seek to guide the kids in your lives in the ways of the Lord!
In His love,
(To access the entire “Bringing up Kids God’s Way” mini-series, please click here.)