I believe if we understand the Bucket, the Brain, and Bucking the System, we can have a decent starting point for loving our teens to life. Otherwise, we may experience this time of life as a curse, when God intended it to be a time of great blessing.
One of my youth pastors, years ago, described adolescence in an accurately frustrating way. She told me:
Raising a child is like walking along the beach with your child, picking up rocks, shells, and shiny things to place in their bucket. Each one is like a life lesson or memory you both cherish. Then that child hits adolescence around 6-ish grade. Then, to your dismay, they look at you and pour everything out of that bucket onto the ground. Your child then proceeds to shuffle through the mess of a pile and determine which items they want to keep and which items they want to discard. If we are wise, instead of getting angry with them, we kneel down and help them choose to keep the right things.
The shock of finding out your child has a mind and life of their own can be staggering and chaotic to a parent. Especially if we don’t expect it or if it happens in a way that challenges our own values. We are often tempted to respond one of three unhelpful ways: freak out, clamp down on rules, or lay off and be permissive. All three responses can push our teen into a place of mistrust. However, they need answers and guidance, so if we become an unhelpful or unwelcome voice to provide the help they need in reorganizing their bucket, other voices will eagerly meet that need. Google, peers, or media can quickly fill that spot with a non-judgmental and supportive tone, which is not good because some ideas and behavior should not be supported.
So, how should we respond when we see our children dump their buckets?
You can spell love like this: “L-I-S-T-E-N.” Parenting a teen requires you to listen to two voices: the Holy Spirit’s voice and your child’s voice. God provides all the wisdom, power, hope, and insight we will need to raise our children. He is the one that determined you to be the right fit for your child, so listen as He leads you! And your child’s voice will direct you to their needs, challenges, and struggles. Be present, ask questions, listen before you try and fix a problem they are not asking you to fix, and work on your poker face. If you freak out, yell, or back off, then you may risk becoming an unsafe person to speak with. Be open when you don’t have answers and pray with your teen. My mother used to say God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. The apostle James seems to agree (James 1:19). Try it out, don’t fill the awkward silence and wait for them!
2: Choose Faith
Parent out of faith, not fear. As a parent, we can often try to get good fruit with bad seed. What I mean is, parenting that is done out of fear will only yield fruit of the flesh and frustration. If you make decisions because you are afraid they will get stuck in what you did as a teen, or because you saw a news article on this new craze… you become defensive, reactionary, and fearful. Parenting out of faith takes a different approach. Faith sees a positive, blessed, godly outcome and pushes your child towards that end. One way aims to prevent bad things from happening, seeing only doom and gloom while the other sees God’s promises and encourages and equips our children to achieve those goals instead. This doesn’t mean we ignore the real dangers out there, but we choose to start from a place of hope and faith.
3: Don’t Do It Alone
If you’re doing it alone, you are probably doing it wrong. Parenting is a group project. You need support, so find friends or family, a small group or a leader who can support you and keep you in prayer. Additionally, your child needs people in their lives who will support them. Point them towards adults who love Jesus, who are caring and willing to listen. You can find them in your family, our church, our youth ministry, and small groups – you just have to look! Sometimes the thing you have been saying for years needs to come from another voice for them to get it. Don’t ask me why… that’s just what happens sometimes.
Understanding this helps us get to the next part – the “why” behind their “weird”.