“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,” says Solomon, and “the fruit of the womb a reward.” But to hear it from others, you might think those words don’t apply to teenagers. “Just wait until they’re sixteen,” you often hear older parents say, with a knowing look in their eye. “You think parenting is hard now? Just you wait.” Ever since our children were born—the boy to some degree, but even more so the girls—we’ve been warned about the teenage years, and we have approached them with some trepidation.
Now, with my youngest having just turned thirteen and my eldest not yet twenty, we are in a brief period where all we’ve got is teenagers. And I’m glad to report that those skeptics were wrong. These aren’t the worst years, but the best. I wouldn’t say they are the easiest years, but they’re undoubtedly the most joyful. I absolutely love parenting teenagers, and here are a few of the reasons why.
I love parenting teenagers because it means we’re mostly past the discipline stage. So much of the early days of parenting is trying to teach children not to grievously harm themselves or others. It’s trying to instill within them some basic human morality and some basic social skills. “Don’t touch that. Don’t bite him. Don’t say that word. Don’t go outside naked.” Children are born rebellious and foolish and the early years of parenting are spent convincing them to obey and be wise. These are precious years and often fun years, but it has been a joy to see them give way to another stage of parenting. Parenting teenagers involves a lot less discipline and a lot more persuasion, a lot less “obey me” and a lot more “well, what do you think?” I’ve loved seeing the discipline stage give way to the thinking and reasoning stage. I’ve loved seeing rote obedience give way to thoughtful wisdom.
I love parenting teenagers because we get to watch them profess and prove their faith. The great hope and prayer of every Christian parent is that they would have the joy of seeing their children become followers of Christ. And while many young children genuinely profess faith, it is in the teenage years that they begin to legitimize and prove those professions. As they become independent of mom and dad and as they have more opportunities to make their own choices, they prove that their faith isn’t merely meant to impress or mollify their parents, but that it’s a true faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There are few greater moments in the life of a parent than hearing their children profess faith and seeing them join into the community of Christians in a local church.
I love parenting teenagers because it gains me new friends. One of the great joys of parenting is finding the parent-child relationship evolving into a peer relationship. This unfolds over time, but really begins to take off in the teenage years. One day you look at your children and realize they aren’t just your kids anymore, but your friends. You realize you’d spend time with these people even if they weren’t related to you. You realize they contribute to your relationship, they speak into your life, in their own ways they model character and godliness to you just as you’ve modeled character and godliness to them. I used to spend time with my children because it was the right thing to do. Now I get to spend time with my children because it’s a joyful and beneficial thing to do.
I love parenting teenagers because we begin to see the fruit of our labor. We know before we set out that parenting will be difficult. We find that our parents weren’t lying when they said, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” We find that there’s real pain in seeing the foolishness deep in the hearts of our children and real pain in disciplining them toward wisdom. Yet as the years unfold and our children grow older, we begin to see the fruit of our labor. Our children begin to step into the wider world through education and vocation, and, lo and behold, they function as well-trained, contributing members of society. They begin to serve in the local church and to prove a blessing to others there. They begin to show love to us in new ways, and to show that at some point they will be able and willing to care for us in old age as we cared for them in childhood.
I love parenting teenagers because it forces us to keep growing. It isn’t too difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of young children, to expect one kind of behavior from them while permitting a very different kind of behavior from ourselves. But teenagers are finely-tuned hypocrisy detectors. They see where our walk doesn’t match our talk, where our expectations for ourselves are much lower than our expectations for them. We can’t get away with speaking words we’ve told them not to speak, with using tones we’ve told them not to use, with watching shows we’ve forbidden them from seeing. They begin to call us on it, and rightly so. Meanwhile, their questions grow deeper and their situations more complicated. We need much greater wisdom to lead five or six people than we need for only one or two. In this way, they push us to keep growing in character and godliness, to keep mining the depths of God’s Word and to keep faithfully applying it to our lives and their own.
I loved the baby stage. I loved the toddler stage. I loved the little kid stage. But I think I love the teenage stage even more. In fact, I expect it will be matched and surpassed only by being the parents of adults. In the meantime, I love having teenagers and am thrilled to parent them through these crucial years.