Recently my teenager was asked the question, “Do you get along with your parents?”
So she asked me, “Do we get along?” Good question!
I’ve heard many parents of adult children tell me that there was a time when they didn’t get along with their child, but that it got better into adulthood. But isn’t there a way to get along now?
I love the story of the monk who attempted to save a scorpion who was struggling in water. Each time the monk brought the scorpion to safety, it stung him. A man watching nearby asked why the monk would go to the trouble of helping the scorpion, knowing that it would sting him each time. The monk replied, “Just as it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, so it is my nature to save.”
Did I just compare teenagers to scorpions? Yes. Yes I did.
You see, God created teenagers to grow into mature self-reliant adults and to leave their parents behind. Which is, seemingly, a direct contradiction to our nature as parents to control our children.
So what happens when we try to overrule our teenager’s nature? Well, we get stung.
So what can we do to help them in their purpose and get along with them through it all?
As parents, we are supposed to model Christ for our children, a lofty goal. I think the best example of Christ that we can model (because their is no way we can model his perfection!) is to model his grace. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; he knows it’s not even possible, yet our culture puts this expectation on our teenagers. Somehow we think that they are capable of making perfect choices, never experiencing negative consequences. When they fail, we end up wondering where we went wrong and if they will ever survive.
However, knowing right out of the gate that your teenager (whose frontal lobe is not fully developed) is going to screw up is an important reality to prepare for. Being prepared for failure, and knowing how to handle it when it appears, helps you remain calm and supportive as your teenager figures out how to pick up the pieces and move forward. Navigating failure and learning to accept grace at home will help them as they move toward adulthood and replace your leadership with God’s and their employer’s.
Another great way to relate to your teen is to get to know them as an individual. I’m sure there are those people who have teenagers who share all of their parents’ interests and never have conflict when it comes to understanding each other, but for the rest of us, we’re going to have to put in a lot of effort.
Temple Grandin, an autistic woman with a doctoral degree in animal science, says that you should encourage kids in their interests because you never know if they might lead to a career. Now, Temple was speaking of non-autistic teens, but I believe the same holds true for the general teen population, and that it also extends into their personal ministry as well. That guitar phase of your son could lead to him being on the worship team at a church later in life. Your daughter’s love for drawing could lead to graphic design work for a non-profit. Perhaps you have a really great teen babysitter; you could encourage them to throw in some teaching along in with their babysitting and they could excel in children’s ministry!
But what if my teen is into weird things? Believe me, I know. My teen is in a manga/anime (traditionally Asian originated books and movies) phase. She reads them, writes them, watches them, draws them, and animates them. It’s all-encompassing. But I’ve gone to great lengths to encourage her in her artistic expression, found her a mentor to help her focus in areas I’m unfamiliar with, listened to her stories, and asked meaningful questions to show I support her interests.
Do I enjoy manga and anime? No. But she does and if it’s important to her it should also be important to me.
I’d love to hear some ideas that you have for relating your teenagers! Give us your suggestions in the comments below.