“Mum, we are happy to be home,” Anna explains on the first day home after schools are closed down. Her elder teenage brother continues, “Quarantine life is the best.” Their mother thinks, ‘This will finally help us to bond as a family.’ If only this was the case. Depending on the relationship you have with your teenager, many previously hidden issues may now be coming to light. Given this situation, I suspect that many who parent teens are feeling anxious, exasperated and hopeless.
Under lockdown many previously hidden issues may now be coming to light.
Despite many churches not gathering, we have heard much helpful advice for churches and Christian leaders. Yet with most youth ministries also temporarily going on hold, few leaders have encouraged the primary ministers of teenagers: parents. As a youth pastor, my heart goes out to young people. In these times, the best way to encourage parents is to empathise with and empower them with tools for the new normal. The Scriptures are able to lighten the load and help parents to face this dark shadow with the light of Christ. Here are three thoughts for those who parent teens:
1. COVID-19 is God’s Instrument to Shepherd Your Heart and Your Teen’s
Paul Tripp is one of my favourite authors because of his wide-ranging pastoral wisdom. He expertly applies the gospel to marriage and family life. In his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tripp proposes that the primary aim of parenting is to shepherd your child’s heart. Yet shepherding another person’s heart implies familiarity with your own. In these times, it may be tempting to watch just one more COVID-19 update, to become even more absorbed in the crisis. But these actions can lead to two negative outcomes.
Firstly, you may portray anxiety to your children. Secondly, you may show that your ultimate confidence is in man and not God. In reality the current pandemic points to the often forgotten reality that God is the ultimate Sovereign (Isaiah 45:7-9). Rather than focusing on the news, parents can focus on the Word of God and the promises we find there.
Truths to Reflect on:
- God is the creator of the world and the sustainer of all of the world’s happenings (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:1-4)
- He often works through unexpected ways, for instance through this time of suffering (Job 42:1-2; Philippians 1:12-18)
- God is the stronghold and security of our lives (Psalm 27:1)
These truths will help parents fix their eyes on God and not be bogged down by worry and fear in these trying times. To make it practical, every time you sense anxiety, treat it as an opportunity to meditate on one of the above promises. You can also pray that God opens your eyes to his daily leading and provision. Ask him to help you rest in his faithfulness today rather than being crushed by tomorrow’s uncertainty. And as you do this, you will be able to model faith and confidence to your teenager.
2. Social Distancing is an Opening for Family Discipleship
The Bible makes the point that parents are the primary disciplers of teens (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 145:4-7; 2 Timothy 1:5-6; 3:15-17). Although the concept of ‘teenagehood’ is seen by some as a modern day phenomenon, the faith formation of teenagers is effectively developed within the confines of the home. Practical theologians and scholars who study youth ministry support this biblical mandate. And although many modern day parents have abandoned their duties, in the name of making a better living, while becoming over-dependent on youth workers, COVID-19 provides an opportunity to reconsider family worship.
the family is a little church.
This has been the general view of Christian families in history. That the family is a little church. I have observed that many young people who have a deep walk with God have benefitted from Christian discipleship at home. Therefore family discipleship has an eternal impact in the next generations. So COVID-19 is an opportunity for parents to seize the vision of family worship. Although it may seem like a daunting task for the parent who has never tried it, it is not as difficult as it seems.
Practical Tips for Family Worship:
- Begin with a word of prayer, to communicate your total dependence on God.
- Read the Bible. You might go through a book in the Bible, a chapter a day. Share the reading duties among your family members, to both involve and keep actively engaged.
- Interpret and apply the Scripture. This should be guided by the parents, but invite children to participate.
- Close with a song and/or prayer. This can help with applying the truths to the heart.
Family worship is the God-ordained means for ordinary Christian families to focus on their extraordinary God. This is especially needed in these days. Again, I can testify to this truth in my own testimony: the truths shared through family worship eventually tore into the rebellious heart of a university student. So, dear parent, take heart. God has given you this opportunity, together with your teenager, to experience him afresh.
3. The Unknown Future is an Opportunity to Commend the Eternal Gospel
Imagine yourself staring into the bright flashlight of your phone camera indoors. Chances are that when you go outside, that screen light doesn’t compare to the sun’s rays. Likewise, the darkness of the present time commends the light of the gospel of Christ. It is likely that chasing our ‘African dreams‘ of nice cars, good schooling and better jobs has been wounded by the pandemic. Thus COVID-19 is forcing us to examine our allegiances, our securities and our trusts. This is good, because in these times the gospel truly shines forth and helps us to consider:
- the fragility of human life (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3)
- our hope in Christ (Hebrews 6:19; 1 Peter 1:3-4)
- the value of an eternity with God in the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 22:1-5)
Parenting Teens Through Transition
The teen years have been seen by some as the transition into adulthood. This transition is usually accompanied by many changes in brain function and cognition, emotional understanding and expression as well as spirituality and faith formation. Given the ongoing complexities in culture, some have even suggested that ‘teenagehood’ begins earlier, from around 9 years old, and extends later, into the mid-twenties. This has lead to the concept of emerging adulthood. An example of this extended transition can be seen in the average marriage age. Accepting responsibilities is delayed. That is why when teenagers face questions of identity and intimacy, many tend to experiment and to be idealistic in their conceptualisation of life.
The darkness of the present time commends the light of the gospel of Christ
COVID-19 is an opportunity for you to help them question some of their strongly held assumptions. Our unknown future can be an opportunity for you to commend the eternal gospel. Practically, you can do this through engaging the many questions that your teenager may be wrestling with or asking. Don’t push them or their questions away. For example, when they are concerned about not meeting with friends, this can be an opportunity to teach them about the eternal intimacy of Jesus. When your teenager is concerned about the shaky foundations of their life, this is an opportunity to teach them about the sure foundation of eternity. COVID-19 will either shake your teenager’s idealism or cause increased anxiety. In fact, it may do both. So this is an opportunity to use everyday conversations to teach concepts that undergird the concept of eternity.
Dear parent, take heart. God is shepherding both you and your child’s heart. Secondly, social distancing is an opportunity for communicate biblical truths and model godliness through family discipleship. Third, the uncertainty of the future is an opportunity to commend the eternal gospel. God is still wisely directing all things to their proper end. This includes your concerns and those of your children. Where fathers and mothers may be out of their wits, God the Father is still sovereignly in control. Ground yourself in these truths, which can in turn help you to parent well in this season.