I think anyone that's a parent - on any level - will unashamedly admit that it's hard. With that being said, I want to "show my cards." I'm not raising teenagers. I have a five-year-old and a one-year-old at home. However, I've been serving (in some capacity) in student ministry for over 11 years and have walked through some tough times with teenagers and their families. I'm not parenting a teenager, but I've seen (and see) the tough parts and have reaped a lot of knowledge from walking through those tough times with the ones parenting teenagers.
With my honesty on the table, I want to share an observation and then do some pleading.
There's a parenting style that focuses on giving our kids slack or freedom. I think freedom is a good thing, but only when it's appropriate. I've heard parents say that they were going to give their teenager enough slack (freedom) on their proverbial leash until they reach the end, and then they'll have to jerk them back. As if to say, "they have tons of freedom to go and do until they mess up and once they do, I'll pull them back in."
This is dangerous.
Look at it this way, since I mentioned leashes: dogs on a leash are not protected from outside elements or danger; especially those dogs that are tied up. They're exposed to whatever wants to approach them. On the other hand, dogs that are in a fenced-in enclosure are protected from outside danger. Their "habitat" is safe. The fence provides a boundary from danger and keeps them accountable because they can't go beyond that fence (yes, there are some escape artists, but that's a different discussion). The same goes for our kids, especially teenagers.
Boundaries are key. We can't keep our kids in an enclosure forever, but we can help them create boundaries.
In Proverbs 22:6, it says, "Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it." Now, I definitely know that our kids make their own decisions and with that can come heartache and mistakes. But, those boundaries that I'm speaking of originate from us - the parents. As the ones that are helping mold and shape their worldview, we teach them about having a growing relationship with God, about marriage and sex, about morals, about relationships, about serving, about work ethic, etc., etc... The list could go on and on.
Where do we begin?
We begin by being the example for our kids - in all things. This can be hard. It can mean owning up to mistakes that were made by us and heartache that was caused by us. When we walk the path that we expect our kids to walk down, we have way more credibility and a deeper relationship with them.
We begin by setting them up for success. I'm not talking about a business model or financial plan. I'm talking about teaching them how to handle life stresses and obstacles that will most definitely arise in their life. It's okay to tell them "no." It's okay to ask a million questions about where they're going, who they're hanging out with, and to keep a tab on where they are. It's not invasive - even if they think that it is.
We begin by being the bad guy. Okay, I admit that this isn't really the most popular part of parenting because we all want our kids to like us all the time. But, it's one of the most important parts. We have to be okay with disappointing our kids when we tell them that they can't go to this party or go hang-out with those friends or be out after this time. Their frustration, disappointment, and anger won't last forever.
Now for the pleading.
Freedom is a good thing, but too much is not. I think some of us can look back on the amount of freedom we had and the trouble we found because of it. We've got to take the role of leading our kids - in every way - incredibly serious. The worldview that our kids are being exposed to (whether we want to admit it or not) is so far from the Christian worldview we long for them to have. Parents, we've got to be willing to be the example for our kids. We've got to be willing to live our faith out loud. We've got to be willing.