Summers often pass in a blur, and each family prepareds for the busyness of fall. There are school clothes to buy and perhaps final occasions for short vacations, picnics or other leisure activities. Let me take this opportunity to talk briefly to moms and dads about their adolescent sons and daughters. We’ll call this letter a “brief refresher course” drawn from my book, Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, which I hope you will find helpful and enjoyable.
To help parents cope with these special stresses of the adolescent years, let me offer three suggestions that have been beneficial to others, as follows:
Boredom is Dangerous to Energetic Teenagers, Keep Them Moving
The strong-willed adolescent simply must not be given large quantities of unstructured time. He will probably find destructive ways to use such moments. My advice is to get him involved in the very best church youth program you can find. If you're sitting on a keg of dynamite, you have to find ways to keep the powder dry! Not only can this be done through church activities, but also by involvement with athletics, music, horses or other animals, and part-time jobs. You must keep that strong-willed kid's scrawny legs churning!
Don't Rock the Boat
Another piece of advice I have for parents of teenagers is: "Get 'em through it." That may not sound like such a stunning idea, but I believe it has merit for most families—especially those with one or more tough-minded kids. The concept is a bit obscure, so I will resort to a couple of pictures to illustrate my point.
When parents of strong-willed children look ahead to the adolescent river, they often perceive it to be like this:
In other words, they expect the early encounter with rapids to give way to swirling currents and life-threatening turbulence. If that doesn't turn over their teenager's boat, they seem destined to drown farther downstream when they plunge over the falls. Fortunately, the typical journey is much safer than anticipated. Most often it flows like this:
What I'm saying is that the river usually descends not into the falls but into smooth water once more. Even though your teenager may be splashing and thrashing and gasping for air, it is not likely that his boat will capsize. It is more buoyant than you might think. Yes, a few individuals do go over the falls, usually because of drug abuse. Even some of them climb back in the canoe and paddle on down the river. In fact, the greatest danger of sinking the boat could come from... you!
You have to pick and choose what is worth fighting for and settle for something less than perfection on issues that don't really matter. Just get them through it!
What does this mean in practical terms? It may indicate a willingness to let her room look like a junkyard for awhile. Does that surprise you? I don't like lazy, sloppy, undisciplined kids any more than you do, but given the possibilities for chaos that this individual might precipitate, spit-shined rooms may not be all that important.
You might also compromise somewhat regarding the music you let him or her hear. I'm not condoning music that is saturated with explicit and illicit sex and violence. But neither can you ask this on-the-go teenager to listen to your "elevator music." Perhaps a compromise can be reached. Unfortunately, the popular music of the day is the rallying cry for rebellious teenagers. If you try to deny it altogether to a strong-willed kid, you just might make it worse. You have to ask yourself this question: "Is it worth risking everything of value to enforce a particular standard upon this son or daughter?" If the issue is important enough to defend at all costs, then brace yourself and make your stand. But think through those intractable matters in advance and plan your defense of them thoroughly.
It is simply not prudent to write off a son or daughter, no matter how foolish, irritating, selfish or insane a child may seem to be. You need to be there, not only while their canoe is bouncing precariously, but after the river runs smooth again. You have the remainder of your life to reconstruct the relationship that is now in jeopardy. Don't let anger fester for too long. Make the first move toward reconciliation. And try hard not to hassle your kids. They hate to be nagged. If you follow them around with one complaint after another, they are almost forced to protect themselves by appearing deaf. And finally, continue to treat them with respect, even when punishment or restrictions are necessary. Occasionally, you may even need to say, "I'm sorry!"
The Desperate Need for Fathers
It is stating the obvious, I suppose, to say that fathers of rebellious teenagers are desperately needed at home during those years. In their absence, mothers are left to handle disciplinary problems alone. This is occurring in millions of families headed by single mothers today, and I know how tough their task has become. Not only are they doing a job that should have been shouldered by two; they must also deal with behavioral problems that fathers are more ideally suited to handle. It is generally understood that a man's larger size, deeper voice and masculine demeanor make it easier for him to deal with defiance in the younger generation. Likewise, I believe the exercise of authority is a mantle ascribed to him by the Creator.
Not only are fathers needed to provide leadership and discipline during the adolescent years, but they can be highly influential on their sons during this period of instability. If a dad and his son can develop hobbies together or other common interests, the rebellious years can pass in relative tranquility. What they experience may be remembered for a lifetime.
Let's also talk about fathers and daughters. Most psychologists believe, and I am one of them, that girls need fathers as much as boys do. All future romantic relationships to occur in a girl's life will be influenced positively or negatively by the way she perceives and interacts with her dad. If he is an alcoholic and a bum, she will spend her life trying to replace him in her heart. If he is warm and nurturing, she will look for a lover to equal him. If he thinks she is beautiful, worthy and feminine, she will be inclined to see herself that way. But if he rejects her as unattractive and uninteresting, she is likely to carry self-esteem problems into her adult years.
I have also observed that a woman's willingness to accept the loving leadership of her husband is significantly influenced by the way she perceived the authority of her father. If he was overbearing, uncaring or capricious during her developmental years, she may later play power games with her future husband. But if dad blended love and discipline in a way that conveyed strength, she will be more willing to yield to the confident leadership of her husband.
None of these tendencies or trends is absolute, of course. Individual differences can always produce exceptions and contradictions. But this statement will be hard to refute: a good father will leave his imprint on his daughter for the rest of her life.
Many fathers are also called upon to perform another vitally important role during the adolescent years. It occurs when tension begins to develop between mothers and teenage girls. That conflict is very common among the ladies of the house. Several years may pass when they don't even like each other very much. Something else may be going on. Because women are tending to marry later in life, they are sometimes experiencing the upheaval of menopause at the same time their daughters are going through puberty and PMS. That is a volatile cocktail, to be sure.
In that setting, fathers are desperately needed as peacemakers and mediators. I have found that teenagers who are greatly irritated with one parent will sometimes seek to preserve their relationship with the other.It's like a country at war in search of supportive allies. If fathers are chosen in that triangle, they can use the opportunity to settle their daughters and "interpret" their mothers in a more favorable light. They may also be able to help their wives ventilate their anger and understand their role in perpetuating the conflict. Without this masculine influence, routine skirmishes can turn into World War III.
In conclusion, I have this recurring message for today's fathers—especially to those who have a teenager at home: don't let these years get away from you. Your contributions to your kids could rank as your greatest accomplishments in life—or your most regretted failures. Getting a young person through this time of transition to adulthood is doable. I hope, moms and dads, that you will be of good courage and stay on your knees in prayer for all your children. Remember that God loves them even more than you do, and He is faithful and good. Someday you will realize it is “A-Okay” again.