As a young parent, I remember being warned about the teen years. The warnings, often tongue-in-cheek yet still sufficiently foreboding, were typically accompanied by an eyeroll and a short, “Good luck.” What I learned in the years that followed is that yes, navigating the teen years can be tricky, but if we embrace them rather than fear them, God will reveal amazing things to us about our teens we may never have discovered otherwise.
This Christmas season try not to get too bent out of shape if your teen doesn’t display the selflessness you think he should. Most teens simply aren’t there yet, and given the attention many of us shower over our children as we raise them, perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’ll get there. While God’s working to develop your teen’s sense of selflessness, you and I get to continue to focus on our patience.
Start by remembering that your teen is experiencing a lot of “already but not yet” milestones. She’s old enough to hold a job, but not old enough to live on her own. She can drive and may even have her own car, but she still has a curfew. It’s a fun but frustrating season all at once. One of the best ways you can help your teen manage it is to be sure you stay connected. Advent offers the perfect opportunity as you journey through this season of anticipation and hope together.
Start by taking stock of what’s important to your teen. Some of the best counsel I can remember as a parent came from a university career counselor. As our 17-year-old daughter was trying to decide what career she wanted to pursue, this counselor encouraged her to pay attention to the things that moved her, inspired her, and even the things that frustrated her. Be it a knee-jerk reaction to a specific act of injustice, a strong feeling of empathy for pain others experience, or a sense of urgency to enact change in her school, town, community, or perhaps even the world.
As you begin this process, keep the following in mind:
Teens Are Uniquely Equipped.
Even in the midst of disagreements over some of the “already but not yet” frustrations each of you are wading through, keep a healthy perspective of what your teen means to God and His kingdom.
“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’ … They reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed.”
– Luke 2:8-11,17-18
The shepherds weren’t pastors, they weren’t civic leaders, they weren’t deacons, and they weren’t valedictorians (as far as we know). It’s important for each of us to understand that there are no qualifications we can earn before we’ll be worthy of sharing God’s message. It is something each individual is uniquely equipped for, and your teen may be in the midst of discovering this for himself.
Set an example.
Expectations often influence reality, and you can’t always expect your teen to engage in work that you aren’t willing to do yourself. Encourage her to live with purpose and meaning every day by setting that example for her.
“So then, let us not sleep like the rest, but let us stay awake and be self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled and put on the armor of faith and love, and a helmet of the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.”
-1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Kindle your teen’s emerging gifts and ideas. Help her channel her thoughts, even if they seem a little off base at first. Validate effort. Self-discovery can be difficult for anyone to navigate, and with big decisions on the horizon your teen will benefit from your guidance.
Kindle the flame.
Identify injustices your teen feels strongly about and join him in addressing those. In Matthew 2 we read that King Herod issued an order to kill all the boys under two years old. How does this passage sit with your teen? His generation is far from indifferent to the injustices around them. But it’s still up to us to help kindle the flame that can lead to real change. Rest assured, your teen will have a voice of influence in his lifetime.
After this past year of change and hardship borne from a global pandemic, let’s do our best to keep our focus on the anticipation and hope the Advent season brings. Remember that Immanuel means, simply, “God with us.” The presence of hardship does not mean the absence of God. Fear doesn’t get to win against hope.
This season, join your teen in displaying the hope of Jesus to others who haven’t been able to see much reason to hope during 2020.
Three ways to display hope together
1. Serve together: Even if you can’t physically serve meals at a shelter, see what you can do to pack individual lunches or prepare take-home meals or other provisions for those who need them this season. Many small businesses have had a difficult year. Pick one of your teen’s local favorites and surprise the staff by providing breakfast or lunch one day. A small effort can make a big difference, and this is a great opportunity for your teen to see firsthand her actions matter.
2. Pray together: This takes more effort than we typically acknowledge. Establishing a daily rhythm of prayer requires commitment. Be an accountability partner for your teen over the next 30 days. If you need a jumpstart, pick up a 30-day devotional you can read through together at LifeWay.com/Students. Know you’re not alone if this seems really awkward in the beginning. It most certainly will. But it’ll give your teen a foundation of strength he’ll build on for a lifetime.
3. Give together: In lieu of another gift for your teen, make a donation in her name to an organization or charity of her choice. Invite her to find and research an organization that works for a cause she’s passionate about. The important thing is that she gets to experience the joy of giving and making a difference.
Finally, a word to all of us. We celebrate Advent because of the birth of Christ. Jesus is the ultimate gift God has given each of us and at great cost. Let’s receive the gift of Christ well this season.