Many parents shrug off apparent failures in their parenting, opting to “choose their battles” rather than dying on a hill that’s of less-than-primary importance. In some ways, this kind of logic makes sense; in other ways, it can communicate the same idea to a teen as waving the white flag of surrender. The effects can be devastating, both to you as the parent and to your teen.
Understanding why this kind of thinking can lead to failure is rooted in some key truths about your teen’s nature, Christ’s perspective, and maturity’s result.
The Nature of Teens
During the teen years, your child is maturing from a child who’s dependent on you for basic survival to an individual who can function independently in society. Part of that process includes testing out newly developing skills like questioning the status quo and determining new passions and goals.
Unfortunately, as teens grow in those areas, they can also skimp on meeting long-held expectations or ignore their responsibilities entirely. Tasks like cleaning their rooms or feeding the dog may seem too mundane and insignificant to them.
Another tendency can be to simply test the limits, especially when teens know that their offenses are fairly innocuous compared to sexually promiscuous or drug-dependent peers. While dirty laundry on the floor may not seem to matter much in the long run, both the irresponsible teen and the smug teen have distinct heart issues that need to be addressed.
The Perspective of Christ
Before your lips or mind starts forming the word “legalist,” let’s consider the perspective of our Lord. He was, after all, far less interested in outward actions than He was about the hearts of those around Him.
He didn’t say, “The law doesn’t matter anymore.” Instead, He intensifies (Matt. 5:27-29) the requirements of the law: a lustful heart is equivalent to adultery, and spiteful hatred is on par with murder.
What does this have to do with your teen’s maturity? Everything! Just as the Old Testament law is referred to as the “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ, teens need to realize their failure to meet realistic expectations. To ignore their shortcomings is to fail to show them their need for God’s grace and, ultimately, the gospel.
The Result of Maturity
Certainly, you shouldn’t have to prod your teen to fulfill reasonable obligations, but that doesn’t mean your teen should not be held to a standard. When small children lack the maturity to self-govern their behavior, we use external forces to motivate them. Both punitive and positive measures are both necessary during childhood, but the goal for the teen years should be internal motivation, not elimination of responsibility.
When you see the lack of internal motivation, there’s a clear character weakness that can and should be addressed. Failing to address your teen’s character weakness means encouraging those weaknesses to become failures, failures that will plague your child throughout adulthood.