Teenage years are times of transition which lead to a perfectly natural independence of thought and action, but this growth in independence needs regulating.

The teen ages are times when spurts of growth occur and changes happen quickly, with a dramatic loss of interest in previous pursuits and a taking on of new activities and roles. The changes can be unsettling as children-turning-adults need to construct new personal identities and direction. There can be significant swings back and forth between acting as children and acting as adults. Some mature mentally and/or physically quicker than their peers, and some more slowly.

These things are perfectly normal, but lack of a moral background and stability amongst the world’s parents and teenagers have made the changes unsettling. The growing independence of thought often turns into a complete rejection of the old in favour of the new. Parents lack strong arguments as to why behaviour should be controlled and so they become discredited as moral guides. Any wisdom of the previous generation is rejected as irrelevant and teenagers of the world quickly learn to do their own thing and make their own choices.

Independence of transport enables independence of activity and parents may never know where their teenagers have been at night.

Of all people, teenagers by their nature find it most difficult to act differently and suffer ridicule. So peer pressure is a strong influence on language, behaviour and dress. The media and the music industry create unhealthy role models.

Boredom, particularly amongst the unemployed, leads to marginal or worse activities.

The Impact on You as a Parent

 Peer pressure from outside on your teenager can easily cause tensions in his/her relationship with you. The pressure from outside is to discredit what you stand for and insist upon.

Logical answers are sought and must be given. Challenges to the very foundations of the Truth may be laid before you as your child checks the firmness of your basis in life. The temptation may be to brush these challenges aside as unreasonable or unimportant, but the wise parent listens carefully and answers fully. No longer can you command respect and expect an automatic response. Children come from a starting position of acceptance of your word; teenagers may come from a starting point of questioning your word.

Any discrepancy between your words and actions in the Truth impacts upon your teenager’s thinking. Any shortfall in your commitment to the Truth undermines your influence upon your teenager.

Despite the natural desire to be more independent, underneath it all the teenager appreciates a solid base. The firmness of the Truth as a basis for life needs to be talked about, and kept on being talked about. Keep talking and keep listening.

Within the same family, there will be different reactions between different children. Some will be compliant, but maybe not always. Some may be moody, defiant, unreasonable. What has worked for one child may not achieve the right results in another.

There may be ongoing “battles” over what can be worn, what activities are acceptable, which places teenagers can go to, the extent of freedom. The borders between “yes” and “no” are up for challenge. Calmness and reason and patience are required, despite your frustration. Little issues of minor importance may upset you, but do not unduly join battle with all of these. Concentrate and be firm on the “big” issues instead and in time the others will pass and the “war” will be won. Being unreasonable, or unreasoning, may create an unhealthy backlash.

There is a challenge, too, at the speed with which you relinquish the apron strings and allow increasing independence. Encourage responsibility and give it room to develop, but keep it in the bounds set by the Truth which need to be spelled out clearly.

Some Practical Suggestions

 Teenagers need to feel genuinely loved, wanted and accepted by their parents. They are, however, children in transition rather than young adults and consequently their needs for feeling acceptance are childlike. Parents fulfil many needs like shelter, protection, education and so on, but often find it difficult to show their love and affection.

Teenagers are like mirrors; they generally reflect love rather than initiate it. If affection is given they return it. If none is given, there is none to return. A teenager will (like a child) return to his/her parents for reassurance. If we are constantly negative about them they will seek reassurance elsewhere, generally from peers.

  • Evidence suggests that the home is still the greatest single influence in shaping attitudes. Hence provide a stable and happy home
  • Ensure that the marital bond is one of stability, respect, love and good communication
  • Initiate affection for them by — praising their good points — expressing your feelings for them — speaking about inappropriate behaviour in a rational and calm way, without extreme anger, yelling, name calling or verbal attacks — sharing your day’s experiences with them
  • Give them your undivided attention in such a way that he/she feels that they are valuable enough to warrant your love. Favours and gifts are no substitute
  • Be a good listener and answer any questions (despite the fact that they may border on the unreasonable) in a mature and calm way
  • When you speak with them maintain eye contact and make physical contact in a natural and comfortable way (like a reassuring squeeze of the shoulder, etc)
  • Spend time with them in their activities and involve them in your activities
  • If they are non-communicative, or experience great mood swings, maintain your self control, be pleasant and wait a little while until their defences have been lowered, and then speak to them about the causes and effects of this behaviour.

Disciplining teenagers is different from disciplining young children. We tend to use more physical means with younger children in accordance with the instruction of Scripture. With teenagers this is not always possible or desirable. Furthermore teenagers react differently to punishment and discipline compared with children. They might procrastinate, rebel, deliberately become stubborn, lash out in a hurtful way or maintain a campaign of wilful defiance. Hence the possibility of conflict looms on a much larger scale.

Parents cannot afford to ignore discipline for fear of these immature reactions. If we turn the whole episode around and view every conflict as an opportunity to educate in Godly things, instead of perceiving their reaction as a mark of disrespect, we will more readily be able to handle their inappropriate behaviour. Discipline should not become an opportunity to unleash our anger; it should become an opportunity to positively reinforce our values.

How can we effectively discipline our teenagers?

First Time Offence

  • We approach them in a calm and self-controlled way
  • We tell them what they have done wrong and outline the consequences of their action (the effect it has had on other people and how it may be a transgression against Scriptural principles)
  • We instruct them as to how they should have reacted and what they should have done instead and the benefits of this kind of behaviour.
  • We ask them if they understand our reasons and how we feel
  • We encourage them to recognise their fault • We determine some form of discipline : — if they have offended someone, to apologise — if they have damaged things, to make restitution — if they have broken a family rule, to make amends — if they have been rude and abusive, to apologise, buy a small gift, etc
  • We ask them not to repeat it or we may have to withdraw some privileges.

Subsequent Offence

  • In the same reasonable way, we remind them of our previous conversation and the way in which they have betrayed our trust
  • We determine some form of discipline (in addition to that which we administered on the first occasion) by withdrawing privileges. This may be : — preventing them from going to some young people’s function — withholding pocket money — preventing them from having friends around or from going out — increasing the household chores, etc

Inevitably there will be negative reactions to any form of discipline. We should ensure that we do not deviate from our word. Typical reactions are sullenness, unreasonableness or even outright anger. We need to be able to handle this by coming back to their reaction later and reinforcing the point that God expects humility and contrition as the acceptable reaction to discipline. We cannot afford to react to their unreasonableness with shouting and yelling. If we lose control, we end up losing the respect of our child.

Have a pro-active plan of approach rather than a reactive one. This might include some of the following suggestions :

  • Have regular family nights around some Scriptural project (study weekend subjects, Bible marking, etc). If you feel that you are not equipped to do this, invite a family around who can help you
  • Begin with restrictive privileges based on a trust relationship. You can always withdraw them if they are abused
  • Protect your teenager from the evil of the world by insisting that you know and approve of who they are accompanying, where they are going and what they are doing. Make the point that it is not lack of trust, it is a desire to make them grow up into responsible adults. Explain that you want to make them independent and this is the best way of doing exit. In other words, it is a partnership arrangement
  • Encourage good friendships with other young people
  • Encourage attendance at youth activities, but make the point that attendance is a privilege not a right
  • Make a point of regularly discussing the events of the day with your teenager
  • Be open and honest.