I was asked: "How do I parent my teenagers so they turn out to be good people?"
My first thought, unspoken: "You are too late."
Teenagers are not good people. Even though we have taught this generation they all deserve a trophy, teenagers are just like their parents: imperfect. How do imperfect parents produce perfect kids? They don't.
We put onto our children hopes and dreams. By the time they hit middle school, it becomes obvious they will not be star athletes; nor are they the smartest kid in the room; nor are they going to be Miss South Carolina. At this point, some parents keep pushing. The parents want the children to fill their dreams. The kids rebel. Tension rises. Parents get rigid. The battle is joined.
Sometimes the story goes like this: Mom and Dad divorce. One of the children is expected to fill the role of confidant. The child becomes the replacement spouse, the holder of family anger, the keeper of family secrets. At about 15, the child gets tired of this role. They rebel. They drink. They become sexually active. They are defiant. Then Mom or Dad ask the pastor, "How do I parent my teenagers so they turn out to be good people?"
To be a good parent, you must deal in soul reality. Soul reality is the truth about a person's entire being. This is the truth about all of us, parent and teenager: We make bad decisions; we don't think straight; we have mixed up emotions; our bodies keep changing and we don't know how to manage the change; and relationships are hard. This is the reality of our souls.
If you start with soul realities, you understand: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). The precious baby of 15 years ago was born into failure. Every parent was born into failure too.
Once you accept the basic soul reality of sin, you know you need help. This is God's great offer to sinners: He wants to help you. He wants to forgive you. He wants to give you a new path to follow. He offers you a different soul reality.
So how does this work when you parent teenagers?
You start by confessing your own sins to God. You are appropriately upfront with your sins with kids. That means when you lose your temper, you tell your kids you blew it and you are sorry. You admit the reality of your own soul so you can help your kids accept the reality of their souls.
You ask God for wisdom. That means you spend time with Him. You let your kids know you are praying for them and asking God to help you be a better parent. You ask God to guide you to a new soul reality.
You ask God for strength. Even though you are imperfect, God called you to parent this child. That's right: Parenting is a calling. Your call is not to be a best friend or to have your children approve of you. Your calling is to love, forgive, to set boundaries, to let there be consequences, to give grace. You adjust the your soul values to God's new reality.
To be a good parent, you need a perfect role model. That's why parents should get as close to God as they possibly can. He's the perfect parent. He loves his children. He gives them grace. He guides them. He lets his children make wrong choices and suffer consequences so they learn. His hope for his children is not for them to succeed, but for his children to be with him. God will reshape your soul into a new reality.
So how do you parent your teenager so they become good people? You don't. You parent your teenager the same way your Heavenly Father parents you: you deal with soul realities. Our souls are a mess; God, our Father, offers you a new soul reality. In that new reality, you give your teenager the same things your Heavenly Father offers your: grace, love, guidance, and strength. A new soul reality is born.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church, Sumter.