Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Taming the Monster

The following is an article I wrote which was published in P31 Woman Magazine in February 2007.

When my children were little, it seemed like every parent my age was dreading the day their children would become teenagers. We all knew horror stories of sweet children who did the Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde thing upon hitting adolescence, turning into almost unrecognizable monsters. In our minds, adolescence was certain to be the end of family peace and happiness as we knew it. I was dreading it more than most, since my children were very close in age. We would have four children in high school simultaneously. We were doomed.

That dreaded season in our lives was soon upon us. To my amazement, those fast paced and crazy years were among the best in our lives. Our children entertained us with their wonderful humor, broke our hearts with their struggles, and encouraged us by their fledgling commitment to the Lord. I don’t mean to give you the impression that life was perfect, or that my teens did not present huge challenges to my husband and me. Those years kept us on our knees as we watched our children begin to spread their wings. There was never a dull moment in the Coleman household.

Now that my children are in college and beyond and living for the Lord, many parents of younger children have come to us to obtain advice on raising children. Of course, children are unique, and not every strategy works for every child. However, there are some general principles that we found to be true as we went through the years of raising our teenagers.

1. Live out your faith like you mean it. No one can smell a phony like a teenager. If you want your children to have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, then model what it looks like for them on a daily basis. Children will define our genuineness by the fruit we bear. Our lives should be marked with love, forgiveness, humility and grace. Be real. Don’t be afraid to show them you are struggling with a spiritual issue. They will learn more from how you deal with conflict and involve the Lord in the process than any words you can say.

2. Make your home a safe and comfortable place. Teens need to know they are significant in your life and home. Home should be a refuge for your teenager. Make it a point to stop what you are doing when your teen comes in the door and ask about their day, activities, or time with friends.

No one wants to come home to nagging and tension. Adolescents are an easy target for this, since they can be irresponsible, thoughtless, and self-centered. There is so much to nag about! Let your teenager know you like them and are happy they are there at home. Of course, household rules and standards need to be upheld. Just be sure your positive comments far outweigh the negative ones you make.

3. Pick your battles. I have a friend whose teenage son left the house in tattered and garish clothing she felt was very inappropriate for him to wear in public. As she complained to her husband, he helped her keep perspective with this question: “Is it sin?” That became the quote my husband and I would repeat as we faced issues like piercing, clothing, and hairstyle. Is it sin? We decided early on that outward appearances would change with the times, and we were more interested with what would last for eternity: their commitment to Christ. Major on the major issues, and let the minor ones die.

4. Be available. Unfortunately, many parents think that once their kids clear elementary or middle school, it is safe to extend working hours or involvement outside the home. I found that it was the exact opposite with my own family. As their lives became the focus of our household, I dropped many of my own activities and spent a lot of time just hanging around the house. As the kids felt the need to share a problem or discuss an issue, I was ready and available. When I sensed they needed some time, I would stop what I was doing and give them my complete attention. It always seemed that my kids would be in the mood to talk when I was in my nightgown, turning off lights and heading for bed. “Mom, do you have a minute?” I would inwardly sigh and know I would be staying up late again. Those late night talks became the backbone of our relationship as deep thoughts were shared and heart to heart communication took place.

Take advantage of every opportunity you have to know about your teenager’s world. Go to parent-teacher conferences and open houses. You will be demonstrating your interest in what is important to them with your physical presence. Get to know the leaders in your child’s life: their teachers, coaches, youth leaders, etc. Offer help when you can. Sew costumes, stuff envelopes, or be a driver to events. You will get to know other parents as well as your teens’ friends.

5. Don’t be afraid to touch. Most of my children went through an “anti-touch” phase in their lives during their middle school years. I knew they were not interested in or were embarrassed to be hugged and kissed, so instead I would rub their shoulder or smooth their hair. Find some way to keep physical contact alive. Teenagers need human contact as much as the rest of us. As they matured through adolescence, eventually even my most resistant child began hugging me once more.

In summary, loving your child takes on a different slant when you are dealing with the adolescent years, because his needs have changed. Though they are outwardly becoming more independent, they still need your interest, involvement, and godly guidance. Your acceptance and appreciation means so much to them. Give them opportunities to see that you care. The bond that you nurture will be a blessing for the rest of your lives.

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