Raising Teens

I expect most have heard that a child will go through a rebellious stage in their teen years. If that is true, have you ever wondered how God could require in 1 Timothy 3:4 that a church elder, “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity”? It hardly seems fair for God to require this as a qualification, and then put in human nature the flaw that causes all teenagers to go through rebellion.

It is just like God to require a man to know how to shepherd his family well in order to be entrusted with a position of authority in the church. Since it is a requirement for serving in the church, we can be sure that a rebellious teen is the responsibility of the parent.

How can we avoid rebellion from happening in our families? Most of us know someone we respect who has had a rebellious child. They seem to be a good parent; they seem to love and serve the Lord, yet the child is a rebel. How can this be?

As we read that section in 1 Timothy 3, we see many tests for the would-be elder. What sort of reputation does he have? Is he the husband of one wife? Does he keep himself from alcohol? Does he know the Scriptures? Is he hospitable? Is he gentle and not quarrelsome? Does he love money? These all address his character. He is to be above reproach in his private life, and that is a qualification for church leadership. As listed earlier, even the behavior of his children are part of his credentials. So we see that his example in the home is critical and a litmus test of whether he is good for the church.

I believe the father’s example and leadership are the first two legs of a three-legged stool that are necessary in raising children who will not rebel. They are vital in the home. Interestingly, I think these two legs are easier than the third leg, even though the third leg is unbelievably easy. However, that third essential aspect is often neglected and left on the shelf. It is available to every Christian and will not cost us a cent. When a crisis comes, it is one of the first things used. Unfortunately, due to it not being used consistently, it is often quite ineffective. It is possibly the greatest true measure of a Christian. Do you know what it is? It’s prayer.

You see, Jesus Christ changes lives. Prayer will, somehow, bring the power of the Lord Jesus into a person’s life to change his heart, as nothing else can. We read in Matthew 17 that when the disciples could not cast out a demon, Jesus said, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). I’m not saying that a rebel has a demon, but I believe this verse teaches that prayer and fasting must be used when the heart is not changing. Whether it is our children or our spouse, Jesus Christ works in hearts.

Years ago I was very troubled over how our sons’ participation in team sports was stealing our family time. I finally told Teri we needed to quit team sports after the season was over. Teri and I both loved to watch the boys play ball, as they were very good. She just couldn’t agree to it. I decided that I would begin to cry out to the Lord to change her heart. Notice I wasn’t asking God to change her heart due to a selfish motive. I wanted to allow more time so we could be in the Bible in the evenings. In a very short amount of time, God changed her heart and the rest is history!

Earnest, intense, ongoing, sincere prayer is, I believe, the missing weapon of many fathers. I think that if our prayer life is what it should be, God will likely reveal problems early enough that they may be “nipped in the bud.”

Dads, do we pray? Do we cry out to the Lord on behalf of our children and wives? Do we know how to pray? Do we love prayer? Can we afford not to?

I believe this “three-legged stool” is why God justly requires obedient children as a qualification for being an elder.

Child Training

“Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Does this characterize your children and your home? I must admit that there are times my children do not give me rest or delight my soul. When this happens, my first reaction is to groan inside with the thoughts, “Oh no, not again!” If my children are not delighting my soul or giving me rest, I have come to realize that the issue can fall back on me. I have become lax in discipline. I don’t like this responsibility. I would rather have gentle reminders bring about results. “A servant will not be corrected by words: for though he understand he will not answer” (Proverbs 29:19). This can characterize my children.

Sometimes there are days when the constancy of my children’s infractions has worn me out. I can become very discouraged by it. Considering our younger children, we have several we are working on such basics as: closing the bathroom door when they enter, flushing the toilet and washing hands, putting shoes or jackets in the closet when removed, brushing teeth without reminders, chewing with their mouth closed, and others. Since we begin teaching the children proper behavior in these areas as soon as a child is capable, one might think these habits would be developed by now. There is good news. These are not areas we are working on with our older children, so consistency does pay off!

I have come to see that the big picture can be overwhelming to me. By big picture, I mean tackling all the problems at once. However, if I focus in on one particular area, we often will achieve success. For example, four-year-old Anna was not putting her shoes in her bedroom when she took them off. She did this several times a day. This not only cluttered the living room and caused others to stumble over them, but sometimes it made us all have to go on a hunt for the shoes when they could not be found. We decided she needed to learn to take her shoes and socks to her bedroom and place them beside her bed whenever she took them off. First, we discussed this with her, and I showed her what I wanted her to do. Then for a few days, I would remind her if she forgot. “Oh, Anna, I am sure you are not planning to leave your shoes and socks in the living room, are you?”

I also looked for a creative consequence for failure. If I have too many creative consequences for different areas we are working on, I forget them! So again, I try to have one major focus at a time. The consequence in this case was to be practice. After the teaching and reminding, I would quietly call her back to the living room if she left her shoes there. In a sad voice, I would say, “Anna, I am so sorry you did not put your shoes where they belong. I want you to take them now and put them by your bed. Then come back and tell Mommy.” When she returned I would ask her to go get the shoes and bring them back again. Next I would say, “Anna, you did not remember to put your shoes by your bed when you took them off, so I want you to practice by taking them and putting them there again. Report to me when you are done.” I would have her do this two or three times.

It was amazing how much that little girl could dislike practicing putting her shoes away! I also highly praised her when she remembered to make that trip down the hallway to her bedroom. I would report her success to the other family members in front of her. She did learn to carry the shoes to her room when she took them off, although, as I write this, I think I have seen them out again lately. Maybe it is time to “practice” again.

Often to help me avoid getting frustrated over some of these discipline areas, I will write them on a list or on the whiteboard. Sometimes I do not have time to address a problem. If I write it down, I know I will not forget it, and I remember to deal with it later. For instance, when I go downstairs to put Jesse down for his nap, I might see clothes out in the bedroom or toys that have not been put away. Calling one of the three boys who share this bedroom to come pick up, when it is time for Jesse to get to sleep, is not a good option. I make a mental note about the problem and write a physical note when I get upstairs so that it can be corrected after naptime.

Another reason writing down the problem helps is that with a little time it may not be as emotional or upsetting to me. I might realize I was making a mountain out of a molehill. It will also give me time to pray and ask the Lord what to do about the situation. Sometimes frustration comes because I know we have a problem, but I am not doing anything about it. Maybe I don’t know what to do. I simply need time to pray about it. With it written down, it won’t be forgotten if it is important enough to need attention that can’t be given or figured out at that moment.

Working on one problem area at a time helps me, too, because in order to be consistent, I must be the one who is trained. Once I made a list on the white board that said, “Train Mom to: send children to wash hands before meals and after meals, ask if they flushed the toilet, turned the light off. . . .” When we decided it would be a good idea for our children to respond to us with a, “Yes, Mom,” or, “Yes, Dad,” I would say something to a child and get no response. I would then say, “Yes, Mom,” for that child. I laughed with Steve at how well I was trained in saying, “Yes, Mom.” If I can remember to work in the weak area, or to check on it, we will usually have some measure of success. That is why keeping the number of things to focus on small helps me to be consistent. If there are too many, they all slip away from me.

Evaluate your home life for areas where peace is lacking. Do not be discouraged! Instead, be committed to working toward peace by tackling one area at a time that needs attention. Teach your children with a meek and quiet spirit. Be positive. Praise them for little successes. Look for creative, reasonable discipline for failure. God’s Word is always true, “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17).