“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”1 —Ann Landers
As a parent, my two main goals have been that my daughters would love and follow Jesus and that they would be able to live and survive on their own. I love the above quote by Ann Landers. It has been a constant reminder of my goals as a parent of three daughters. I’ve also learned that parenting was a season until my girls were eighteen to twenty years old. Now that they are ages twenty, twenty-four, and twenty-six, I’ve discovered that being a parent is for a lifetime.
Parenting teens through important life decisions has its challenges. The teenage years can be some of the best and hardest years in a person’s life. I can’t imagine being a teenager these days. There is so much more to deal with compared to when I was a teenage student. Students face more difficult situations and struggle to make healthy and safe choices. It is challenging for parents to protect their kids and create independence at the same time. But one of the best things we can do for our teenage kids is to step away from maintaining our control and move into a role of guidance and influence for our teens.
Here are some tips to help parents provide support while allowing the teen to make his/her own decisions:
- Be available. Provide a solid foundation of trust and love that allows for open dialogue. You still influence your children regardless of their ages. Begin by allowing them to be involved in decisions that affect the entire family. Wherever you are, find a way to keep the conversation going. Use time in the car or a favorite place at home where you might avoid interruptions. Don’t look at your phone. Focus on your students. Always let them know that they are important to you and you are available to talk anytime.
- Be open. It is normal for teens to challenge their parents’ values, beliefs, and practices. They need to develop their own autonomy. They need to make their faith their own. Allow your teens to voice their personal opinions and/or wrestle with a variety of opinions to find their voices. Avoid becoming defensive or taking their comments personally. Let them know that even if you do not agree on everything, you will always love them. Listen to your students’ feelings in the situation. And help them learn not to base all decisions on feelings in the moment but to work through them in a healthy way.
- Be a listener. Be open and understanding whenever your teens need someone to listen. Allow them to describe the problem or situation in their own words. Do not interrupt or try to fill the space when they are looking for the right words. Be still. Be quiet. Let them know you hear them and are truly listening. Put yourself in your children’s places as you think about the problem, issue, or decision. Repeat their words back to them for clarity. Ask probing and thoughtful questions. But most of all, allow them to talk and voice all that they’re thinking and feeling while processing the decision.
- Be a scale. In other words, help your children weigh their options. Talk with them about the choices and help identify and compare the possible consequences and solutions. It is sometimes easy to focus on the bad decisions that are being made by your students. But both good and bad decisions need to be discussed and learned from for growth. Start early with your children by having open and honest conversations about decision-making. Help them to learn early how to weigh options and possible outcomes.
- Be supportive. When your teens have finished wrestling with each decision, allow them to make the choice. If needed, help your children to set realistic goals. Show faith in their abilities to reach those goals. Be supportive when they make a decision and then make mistakes. Don’t fill in the gap or try to carry out their decisions but ask how things are going and how they see success in the decision. Reinforce that they made a good decision even when things are not perfect. Remind your teen that they’re on the right track.
One of the best things I learned early on as a parent is that no parent is perfect. So I need to make sure I’m pointing my kids to the One who is Perfect. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 served as my guide and reminder to point my daughters to God daily as we went on our way or out of our way. In the normal rhythms of life, these verses reminded me to listen, to remember, and to repeat with my daughters the truth and ways of God. As believers, we made some decisions and taught our kids to make decisions based on God’s principles in Scripture. Sometimes our decisions were very different from those of other parents or students. However, I also learned that I have no obligation to others or need to defend my parenting to anyone. It was actually freeing when I knew I only needed to please and honor God with my parenting.
Letting go is hard, but we need to help our kids learn how to make important life decisions on their own. As much as we hate to admit it, we will not always be there to make the decisions for them. We need to point them in the right direction and provide guidance to help them develop the decision-making skills that will last a lifetime.
What are some difficult decisions you’ve walked through with your teens? How do you parent your teens through important life decisions?
Michelle Hicks is the managing editor for Journey devotional magazine with LifeWay Women. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to LifeWay. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
1. Ann Landers, Ann Landers Says: Truth Is Stranger (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 21.