IMPARTING FAITH TO TEENS
The odds are that if you have young children, you are excited about the possibility of sharing faith with them as they grow up. Odds are that if you have teens instead of young children . . . you are a little less excited. The fact is that teens naturally begin to separate from their parents in their teen years. It is a normal part of growing up. Somewhere between 12 and 14-years-old, teens begin to seek more control over their lives. They will have friends that they want to spend time with that you have never met; this is normal. Some of their pursuit of control is healthy; however, some of it needs to be delayed a few years. As teens take control over their social life, school success, relationships, and extracurricular clubs/sports/activities, it is the parents’ job to help them take control over their own spiritual life. They may be more resistant to doing faith activities as a family in the later teen years. It is important to continue to do faith activities, but to pull back and give them more room to grow in their own relationship with God. Parents who recognize the change in their teens and allow them to take responsibility of their own spiritual life are the ones who are going to be successful in continuing faith activities throughout the teen years.
How do you adjust?
Take a minute to look ahead at the faith activies for 7th–12th graders. In 7th grade most teens are still completely dependent on parents. This is a great time to talk about dating and boundaries. For most teens it is in 8th and 9th grades that the biggest change in parenting occurs. This is why it is a great opportunity to teach 8th graders how to be a Christian on their own. This activity is still very much controlled by parents, but it should be casual by allowing 8th graders to joke, ask questions, or take the conversation off track. It is in 9th and 10th grades where parents must take their first full step back. For most 9th and 10th graders, having a regular prayer time is not too invasive. It should be brief and casual and it shouldn’t invade their space or much of their time. Allowing them to choose when, where, and how prayer time happens is important. For parents of 9th and 10th graders, it is also important to set an expectation for them to read their Bible and pray on their own. Hopefully you have been modeling this for them, but if not, it is not too late to start. Teens need to know what Christians do when they are not seen in public. By 11th and 12th grades, they should have gained most of the control over their lives and should know how to be Christians without the supervision of their family. Many 11th and12th graders love to be challenged by new and exciting things. Challenging them and yourself with spiritual disciplines is one of the best ways for them to continue to grow while allowing them to retain much of the control over their own spiritual lives.
Listen & Understand
The best advice in parenting teens is to listen and to try to understand. Teens are very reactive and typically don’t communicate very well. If they are resistant to something on a regular basis, that usually means you crossed a boundary line. Ask them how you can do faith things in a better way. Let them take control of your faith activities and conversations. Give them choices and listen to them when they speak. Teens change so rapidly that if you don’t spend most of your time listening they will feel like you don’t understand them anymore. If they sense you imposing your agenda on them, or expect criticism, they will not be open with you. This is not a time for lectures, this is a time of listening and growing together with God as the ultimate authority over your lives.
7TH GRADE: DATING AND BOUNDARIES
Why this is important:
It is extremely important to set expectations for your teen in dating, such as setting limitations for expressing physical affection and in communicating that sexual gratification is only appropriate in marriage. Understanding how to have a healthy relationship beyond friendship is an important and exciting part of growing up. If you don’t talk with teens about this, then the world, television, and their friends will set the expectations for dating and sex. The dating relationship that your teen has in high school can significantly affect the rest of his/her life. Sometimes a Christian teen brings a non-Christian teen to God, and even after they break up, the new Christian teen remains faithful. Unfortunately, far too many Christian teens are drawn away by their high school relationships and never return to faith. Oftentimes teens become too serious too soon and their lives become very complicated because of the decisions they make in their middle or high school relationships.
What to do:
Talk with teens about relationships. Share stories about the mistakes that you made and what you learned. Don’t forget to share the funny stories, too. This can bring you closer together. Say a prayer with them regularly for their future spouse. Ask them to think of the top five qualities they hope for in their future spouse. Have them write these down to compare the relationship they are in to what they hope to have in their marriage. Talk with them about boundaries (for example: physical and sexual limits, expectations for themselves and their girlfriend/boyfriend, time together, not sacrificing personal values for the sake of the relationship, or losing who you are in order to feel loved). Help them keep their boundaries by restricting the amount of time alone that they spend with their girlfriend/boyfriend. It is easy for teens to become obsessive about their dating relationships. Keep a close eye on this. Allow them more freedom as they show more responsibility. Keep an interest in their relationships. If you notice your teen spending all of his/her free time with a boyfriend/girlfriendto the exclusion of other friends, they are too close. If they break up, your teen will likely have a harder time dealing with it because of the loss of friend support prior to the relationship. Your teen may rush into another relationship to avoid feeling lonely. Let your teens know you want to hear about their lives and you will try your best not to judge or criticize. Dads especially tend to say things like “You aren’t allowed to date until you’re 30.” Although it is an obvious joke, this communicates to teens that they must keep their dating lives secret. Highlight the good choices they have made in their relationships before making any correcting comments. Continue these conversations as they mature in their dating relationships through middle and high school.
Other ideas: Read a book together about dating and boundaries. They won’t want to, but simply tell them that they aren’t allowed to date until they finish the book with you. That will motivate them! Check out The Ten Commandments of Dating: Student Edition, by Ben Young and Dr. Samuel Adams.
9-10TH GRADE: DEVOTIONS 2.0
Why this is important:
This may be one of the last consistent and dedicated times you have with your teens. Starting in 8th grade, your teens will begin to have a life apart from you as they are drawn to spend more time with friends and want to be involved in sports or other activities away from home. This is tough for a lot of parents. It is a natural time for teens to begin to break away and become more independent, but it is hard to compete for your teen’s time when you brought them into this world and raised them since birth. At some point you want your teen to move on and gain independence in a responsible way. Defining the path for teenagers to properly gain more freedom will be an important conversation for you to have. Since your teens are becoming more independent and will be out on their own more, it is important to start talking together about practical Christian living: the character and actions of Christians when no one else is looking and when they encounter difficult decisions in the face of increasing peer pressure and personal pressure to fit in and feel accepted.
What to do:
Set a time to have a short devotional with your teen each week. Some families may want to do this together; others may prefer one-on-one time with their teen. Decide what works for your situation. Keep the lessons short (15 minutes or less). You don’t want your teens to dread this time. Try to pick a time when they aren’t going to want to do other things. Before bedtime might be the most natural time unless your teen typically works on homework up until bedtime. Set limits with your teen that this time should not include texting or calls from friends.
Suggested things to study:
Galatians 5:13-22- This scripture talks about the contrast between a sinful life and a spirit-filled life.
James- James is the most practical book on Christian living.
John or Mark- If your teen would like to get some of the teaching of Jesus, John is better. Mark is the easiest to read and is more action packed.
Philippians- It is a short, encouraging book you can read in one night, but you can also spend more time talking about it with your teen.
You may consider picking a Christian book to read. This can be a good way for questions and discussion to come up naturally. Make sure you choose one that is easy to read and related to the things your teen may want to talk about. You could go to a bookstore together or look online for books. Your teens will be more interested if they are part of this decision. Investigate some Christian recording artists that they may like as well and have a devotional based on the song.
11TH GRADE: PRAYER 2.0
Why this is important:
Our prayers should change as we get older. Childlike prayers are some of the sweetest things, but it is important for teens to know how to pray as adults. It shows growth and maturity in their faith. It is important for them to know how to talk to God about their lives, both the good and the bad. The best way for them to experience real prayer is to experience prayer with someone who opens up to God.
What to do:
Have a prayer time with your teen a few times a week. Set regular days, but be flexible if necessary. Come to the prayer time with praise, thanks, personal prayers, and prayers for people you know. Set the expectation that your teen will do the same. The goal here is to pray about life and its struggles and obstacles. It may take a little while for you to get there with your teen. Prayers of thanks and praise may be a good start until teenagers are ready to open up a little more. They may be reluctant to share and that’s okay. Pray for each other. Keep it relatively short. Don’t set a time limit; just finish when it feels like you have expressed what you both needed to say to God. As the parent, you are modeling how to talk to God. If this does not come naturally to you, you may want to talk with your spouse or a trusted adult about how to become more comfortable with the process. Also, ask God to help you be a positive example to your teen.
You can expect to have many obstacles along the way. The simple fact that teens are hormonal and their lives are becoming more and more complicated doesn’t help. If they don’t want to share, don’t make them. Just patiently share with them, encourage them, and stay consistent even if the time is discouraging to you. Listen well! This is the time to share with God. Don’t go into lecture mode during this time if your teen isn’t doing something you like. Save those necessary lectures for another time.
Are you or your teen not comfortable praying aloud? That’s okay for a while; just share what you want to share with God to each other first and then pray silently together. Give your teen time to get comfortable with this for a few months, and then set the expectation that you want to be able to pray with each other aloud. Compliment him/her for any genuine efforts, whether it is sharing prayer requests or the prayer itself.
12TH GRADE: SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Why this is important:
Spiritual discipline sounds like someone is getting a spanking, but the simplest definition is to practice being like Jesus. No one expects to be the world’s best football player the first time they step on the field. Likewise, no one expects to be the greatest trumpet player with only a few hours of practice a week. Why is it that we expect to act just like Jesus in His great inspirational moments when we don’t do the things that He did in His quiet moments? Sometimes we want the wisdom of Jesus without the work. Spiritual disciplines are practice that connect us with God and make us stronger spiritually.14We have provided a list of spiritual disciplines in the chart on page 44. Pick one to focus on for a month or two. Have your teen do the same. Talk weekly about how it is going. Ask questions such as: Is it going well? What is working best for you? What is hard about it? Does it help you focus spiritually? Why? This faith activity is a little different than the others. You are, in some ways, cutting some of the dependence that your teenagers have on you spiritually by allowing them to grow on their own, while you grow too. In this stage of their spiritual life, you will be more of a supporter by checking in and talking about how it is going very casually when it seems like they are open to conversation. Every few months pick new disciplines to focus on together.
MAKE THE MOST:
Build your teen up each morning with encouraging words. Schedule time each week to eat and talk together. Adjust your plans and show up when your child needs you.
Want to know more about the disciplines? There are two fantastic books about this: The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Your 11th or 12th grader may be too busy or unwilling to read these books. Reading these is not required to be successful in practicing thespiritual disciplines. You may want to read parts of these books and highlight portions that you find interesting to share with your teen. A good process would be to read at least the first few chapters of The Spirit of the Disciplines and treat Celebration of the Disciplines as a reference book to explore the details as you practice a particular discipline.
There are many other disciplines. Most of them are mentioned in Celebration of Discipline. Make sure that you stay committed to your disciplines of choice for the amount of time that you designate. If you start strong and fade out, then your teen will also. Make sure that you keep up with your discipline even if your teen is struggling to keep up with his/hers. Don’t guilt your teen into doing it, but continue to share what rewards you are gaining from your focused time.