Calling all teenagers . . .
normal, healthy, smart, beautiful, talented, needed, wonderful . . .
hey, I’m talking to you!
Tandy was twelve years old when the first boy gave her “the look” that sent a thrill right down her backbone. Her eyes sparkled, her skin glowed, and she felt beautiful from head to toe. David was a friend of her big brother, and she only saw him once a year when they traveled as a family to attend a homeschool conference. He seemed like a good guy—as good as her brother. He liked her, and that made him all right. She tried to curb her loud laughter into a girlish giggle and to be a little more helpless and feminine. Her brother noticed the change and looked at her like she’d turned into a two-headed lizard. When David joined them for the noon picnic, Mom noticed the change in Tandy as well.
Mom saw the nervous, compulsive glances David kept shooting at her innocent young daughter. Mom scowled and ran the boys off to play. While Mom and Tandy repacked the picnic leftovers, Mom was irritable and critical, treating Tandy as if she were six years old, ordering her around like she didn’t have a brain at all. Tandy didn’t know that her mom was remembering her own misspent youth and realizing suddenly that her firstborn daughter was on the brink of awakened sexuality. Tandy seethed at the unfairness. She felt like an intelligent individual with her own talents, gifts, and potential.
Why is Mom trying to cram me back down into childhood? I haven’t done anything wrong. Tandy thought about “the look” her brother’s friend had given her and smiled. David knew she was growing up, and he admired her. He was more perceptive than her own mom. The thrill and excitement of that glance was as wonderful as anything she’d ever known. She wished she could tell somebody about it . . . someone who could confirm to her what she had seen in that glance—that she was indeed becoming a beautiful, attractive young lady. She needed somebody who could clue her in on what she should do about David’s attention. She glanced at her mom. No way. She still thinks I’m six years old. She’d never understand. Daddy might. Tandy looked at her Dad. I might try him later . . . something subtle, to see if he’s noticed. I’ll remind him that I’m almost thirteen years old. See what he says . . . if he says he’s noticed that I’m growing up lately, then maybe . . . .
Tandy was once a little girl who babbled on and on about every single thing that crossed her mind. About the time she turned eight years old her questions became more artful, less frequent, and were replaced with listening ears and watchful eyes. At eleven years of age, she began to keep a diary. It is locked up somewhere in her room, a record of secrets, questions, and hopes. Now Mom and Dad have no idea what their daughter really thinks. It’s not that Tandy doesn’t want to talk anymore. She still needs answers, maybe more than ever before. Many of her questions are answered by her parents’ actions, and depending on the wisdom of their actions, that may be enough to see her safely into the adult world. However, open conversation would give Tandy an advantage most teens don’t have. The experience and maturity of her parents could become her own if they learn how to make themselves a safe and available source of wisdom.
I asked myself this question: Who do I go to for answers?
(1) A friend who likes me, because they have taken the time to get to know me.
Many parents try to elicit a response from their unresponsive teenagers by overstating criticisms thoughtlessly: “You will never be a good man like your daddy if you do that.” “You will be a lousy mother if you don’t learn to . . . .” Your teenager ignores you completely or gives you the deadpan, I-don’t-care glazed eyes. That look covers a world of hurt. He/she will remember every single word you say. To your teen, those desperate attempts to elicit a response sound like, “I don’t like you, I don’t love you, and I don’t care who you are.” You may be able to reverse the damage done, but it will take a lot of patience and involvement; a lot of genuine, positive conversations.
It’s easier to start at the beginning. From the time your little boy is born you begin to realize what an individual he is. You see talents and abilities in your two-year-old that you know he didn’t get from you. Talking to your child about what he likes, what he thinks, and what he hopes for is a sure way to keep his heart. He knows that you know him. You know him because you’ve asked and listened. You’ve catered to his healthy interests by adding to his education and experience in the areas where he excels, even when it’s beyond your own understanding. You have always talked to your son as though he were a friend that you like: someone you admire who has abilities that you don’t have and talents that you haven’t acquired. He knows he is someone unique, gifted, and great.
When the girls start casting glances at him, he knows why. He knows he is becoming a man who will be capable of caring for a woman. He feels the responsibility of becoming a wise and strong protector. He knows that you trust him to make wise choices, because you’ve practiced decision making with him from the time he was quite small. You’ve discussed the quality and price of everything from pocket knives to potential wives. This wise young man would rather receive advice from you than anyone else because you know him better than anyone else does. And you like him.
(2) Someone who can give me useful, thoughtful answers that may solve my problem.
If your teenage daughter wants to talk to you about her friend’s crush on the boy at church, listen. She is really asking you what she is supposed to do about her own feelings and her own crush. “How should I think about that boy at church? How should I act about the way I feel?” Ask her what she thinks about her friend’s crush. Let her verbally come to a place of accountability and responsibility in her own mind. Talk to her without silencing her with your preaching.
Talk about feelings and physical attraction with respect, even if they are immature feelings and attractions. Explain the wealth of wonder and delight she (or her friend) can keep for herself by saving her emotions and body for the man she’ll marry someday. Tell her that she should look at every boy that attracts her with these thoughts in mind: “Would I want to be married to that guy? Is he the best there is? Is it time yet?” When those questions are answered, your teenager will be released from the questions. The need to “find out” will be satisfied by you, her parent, and she’ll be able to go on to the next question and the next step to maturity.
(3) Someone who will regard their private knowledge of me with respect.
It only takes one comment, one veiled reference, or one teasing joke linked to a private conversation and a question asked in earnest to lose the confidence of your teenager. This seems overly sensitive and ridiculous. It is. But you won’t force your teenager into maturity by pointing out the fact that his treasure is actually trash. He might laugh at your joke and pretend not to care, but he won’t talk to you again. If you like to tease and joke a lot, tease and joke when you are hanging out together, doing things that he enjoys, without others around to laugh at your joke, which is told at your teen’s expense. When they are in the in-between phase of child-becoming-adult, their self-image is as awkward as their body. A fourteen-year-old boy doesn’t know who he is; he has no adult experience by which to define himself. He hates himself violently every time he does or says something stupid because every word and action is so foundational and defining to the adult he is becoming.
Girls keep their diaries locked up and stamped with a big, red PRIVATE, KEEP OUT because the diary is their confidante. It can’t answer their questions, but it won’t ever scorn, manipulate, or shame them. A mother or a father who could answer a teen’s most serious questions without creating new rules to squelch the questions, or shaming the questioner by being horrified, would be a godsend.
The Answer to the Question
It seems to me that parents fall into one of three categories when it comes to answering their teenager’s questions:
1. No Answer
Either the parent is fearful of failing and gives no answer at all by saying “I don’t know” or “Read this book,” or adds a new rule or restriction to thrust the Questioner back into childhood so that the question is merely postponed.
The parent is joking, teasing, and gives a flippant answer that leaves the teenager fearful of being mocked or shamed. This also prevents a solid relationship that could meet later needs.
The parent responds with thoughtful consideration, giving the best answer they have—which may or may not be the right answer—and respects the confidence of their teenager by dropping the subject when the teen is ready to drop it, and does not reveal the conversation to anyone else.
If you were a teenager, which response would you prefer?
Tandy’s Scared Parents
Cheri was raised in a regular American home. Her mom had divorced and remarried a man who was not her father. When Cheri was about twelve years old, her friends began to date and boys began to notice her. In twelve years of life, Cheri had acquired the habit of doing whatever “felt good.” She had learned to go with the flow, to take the easy road and hope everything turned out all right. Cheri was not a bad kid, just an unprepared and undisciplined kid. When the hormones and sexual drives of puberty hit, Cheri’s responses were consistent with her “training” up until that point. She knew certain things were wrong but had no experience with weighing right and wrong and making decisions that were contrary to her flesh. She had no strength to fight the indefinite, vague battle of virginity. It wasn’t a matter of pursuing sin—the world offered a smorgasbord of fleshly satisfaction. There simply wasn’t a good reason, or a good habit, to keep her from making the wrong choice.
Cheri grew up and heard about Christ. She found forgiveness at the cross and left her past behind. She met and married a good Christian man. Cheri and her husband had children of their own. They read a good book about child training and were consistent in following the biblical principles of parenting. Cheri’s daughters were raised in a completely different set of circumstances than those in which Cheri grew up. They learned discipline and wisdom, a strong work ethic, and common sense from the way of life their parents had chosen. Then Cheri’s daughter Tandy turned twelve years old. The first time Cheri saw her daughter flirting shyly with a boy, all the memories and confusion of her youth came rushing back to fill her with despair and anguish. It had begun.
WAIT, Cheri! Your daughter isn’t you. She wasn’t raised like you were raised. She has an advantage you didn’t have. Don’t confuse the hormones and the desires with the bad decisions and the sin. The desire and the hormones are natural, God-created functions, and the choices made at this point in your daughter’s life are not arbitrary choices.
As a matter of fact, because of good training and disciplined habits, she can—and will—make any choice she wants. Tandy will choose what seems best to her because she has the strength of character to do so. Unlike a child who has been trained only by their desires, your daughter has the wherewithal to stand up under pressure in order to get what she wants. This doesn’t mean she’ll choose the right thing, it just means she is capable (more capable than you were) of weighing her options and making decisions based on what she wants, rather than what feels good. Now she needs to decide what she wants, and why.
This is why Tandy needs good advice. Due to your own history, you may feel poorly equipped to give good advice. And you may be poorly equipped. That’s all right. Tell her, “I’m not sure what to tell you. But don’t just do what’s easiest; think ahead. Think of what you really want in life and wait for it. God will show you if you ask Him.”
I would suggest studying good men. It may sound funny, but I’m quite serious. Research good men of history, men and women in the Bible, and those in our present day. Take your daughter to places where there will be a lot of righteous young men. She’ll recognize quality when she sees it compared with cheap goods, and her tastes will mature accordingly.
The Untrained Teen
If you have not trained your daughter, if your daughter is actually a young Cheri, then you do have cause to fear. It is too late to “train up your child” at this point. You don’t have a child anymore. Now you must befriend a budding adult. However, every teenager wants the strength of character to walk past lust and reach an admired goal. Your untrained daughter really does want to make decisions that will pay off even though she doesn’t have the discipline to make it happen. If you befriend her, you may be able to lead her down that safe path by offering “self-improvement” through character-demanding activities. I suggest a sport, or some art form that takes a lot of discipline and focus—something your teen is interested in. Then pour yourself into keeping her immersed in the discipline, the practice, the preparation of becoming the best athlete, dancer, musician, engineer, etc. possible. Meanwhile, pray a lot (God does do miracles) and be her friend—her confidante if possible. If you can win her confidence, she will value your advice, and your love and friendship will give her the strength to make the right choices.
If your teen is into some form of harmful deviation that will affect younger siblings (pornography, sexual activity, drug or alcohol abuse) you will need to take action as well as listen and give advice. All things can and must be done in love in order to be useful. You can lovingly give your teenager advice and at the same time lay down an ultimatum: “If you want to live in this house you will abide by these rules. Let’s you and I get some counseling or find some way to work this out . . . in any case I must separate you from the other kids.”
Having the wisdom and advice of an adult who loves you is of great worth. It offers such safety and strength in a world where the questions are getting tougher by the day. I know that many of you parents grew up in terrible homes where there was only scorn and apathy. The teenager in you never grew up, and you feel just as scared of rejection as your kids do. The Bible says: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And again, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
Your kids are your mission field. Hear the call to lay down your life for them. Get on that altar, take a deep breath, light that match and toss it in the tinder. Be vulnerable regardless of how critical they may be . . . and give your life for your teenager.
Rebekah is the firstborn child of Michael and Debi Pearl, happily married, and the very busy mother of a growing brood. She is also an accomplished writer of four books, which you can order at Amazon.com.