Do you remember when your teenager was a toddler? Although your teen would cringe at the comparison, there are a lot of similarities between these two life stages and the parental tendencies and necessities of both. As we keep in mind the biblical and natural expectation of preparing our children to go out in the world and live their own independent lives as responsible adults, we can probably learn a bit from our mistakes as well as our successes during those toddler years.
Do you remember “babyproofing” your home, only to find your child able to reach new surfaces and dangers? Just like parenting toddlers, parenting teens requires flexibility. Teens tend to re-invent themselves and experiment with a variety of images before they settle on just one: The 15-year-old makeup artist who can’t get enough glitter may hardly resemble the 14-year-old tomboy you delighted with a trip to the rodeo last year. While you certainly don’t want to change your stances on core principles or priorities, you will need to re-evaluate the ways that you communicate and show grace to your teen.
A Quest for Independence
You can probably remember the lisped words often escaping from behind pinch-worthy cheeks: “I do it myself!” At times, you may have had to insist that your little one hold your hand — such as when you crossed a busy street. However, other times, you probably let him have his way and suffer the natural consequences. Seeing him wear his T-shirt inside out or backwards might have been funny, but seeing him fall off his tricycle — not so much. As you vigilantly oversaw each new independent activity, you determined whether the results of failure were too much for him to handle, and then you later re-evaluated and let him try “all by himself.”
With teens, the same principle applies. Parents don’t want to handicap their kids by doing everything for them, yet they have a responsibility to protect them by withholding privileges until readiness is clear. For each family and individual child, these determinations will be different, but they need to be carefully decided with a parent’s job in mind.
As much as you anticipated your baby’s first steps, perhaps like me, you had no clue how soon after she learned to walk, she’d be running and climbing and getting into everything! What were we thinking?! And then she started talking. Hearing her say “dada” for the first time was exhilarating, but when she started asking “why?” about everything, you probably wished she’d regress a bit.
While toddlers can prompt physical exhaustion, teens often contribute to parental exhaustion of another variety—emotional exhaustion. Suddenly, questions like “Why is the sky blue?” seem simple. Like all of life’s challenges (see James 1), this stage of parenting is part of your sanctification, the process God intends to use to draw you closer to Himself. As you ask God for wisdom and submit to His plan for this phase of life, He will equip you and your teen for what lies ahead.