This is the final installment in a three-part series on parenting, outlining three phases of discipleship in our children.
- PLANT THE SEEDS: Discipleship by Planting Seeds of Stability
- PROVIDE FOR THE PLANT: Discipleship by Supportive Relationships & Training
- PROTECT THE FUTURE: Discipleship by Influence
In the first article, I described the first stage of parenting, planting the seeds, which is generally the first five years of a child’s life. During this stage, we would do well to tend our marriage, establish a family identity, and train our children to obedience.
In the second article, I wrote about the second stage of parenting, providing for the plant. This is generally during the elementary years (ages 6-12). During this stage, parents are providing lots of training so that their children know and understand Scripture. (Don’t know Scripture very well yourself? Now is a great time to learn alongside your children)! The principles found in Scripture will illuminate the character training and competence in life skills that need work during this stage.
But what about the teen years? Continuing with the gardening analogy, once seedlings have sprouted through the soil and developed a good root system, and once you’ve provided stability for those little plants through catechism, character, and competence training, you are ready to protect your teen’s future by asking, assessing, and allowing.
PROTECT THE FUTURE: Teens aged 13-18
Protect the future. After the grapevine has been planted, trained to grow upward, and pruned, gardeners focus on ensuring that the root system of the grapevine grows strong and that the trunk grows straight and secure. As you probably know, a strong plant is better able to fend off disease. To protect the plant for the future, the gardener is supposed to remove any rotting or shriveled fruits and dead leaves from the vines and dispose of them. This clean-up reduces the need for pesticides and fungicides in the spring.
To use the grapevine analogy, you want to determine what dead fruit or leaves need removing in your teen’s life. This is a critical stage for the “root system” of your teen’s worldview to grow stronger so that the visible “trunk” of their character grows straight and secure. To protect your teens for their future out on their own, you ask questions, assess ideas, and allow them to move toward independence.
Why ask a question? Good questions give you all kinds of helpful information. They keep you from lecturing or preaching. You go on the offensive in an inoffensive way when you ask carefully selected questions that advance the conversation. Questions also give you information and buy valuable time to think about where you want to go next.
Asking questions will help you measure the progress your child has made in catechism (aka a Christian worldview), character, and competence.
Catechism skills: Can they explain the gospel to you in a simple and straightforward way? Do they understand the big-picture story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration found in the Bible? Are they characterized by daily quiet time with God without reminding? How is their prayer life? Would they like someone to mentor them in a particular spiritual discipline? Are they gaining mastery over their besetting sin?
Character skills: Do they show respect for authority, parents, and peers? How do they talk about their teachers and coaches? Do they follow through on household chores? Do they take care of their property like a bedroom or a car? How is their sense of family identity? Are they a team player? What causes them to be impatient or lose their temper? Why?
Competence skills: How is their work ethic? Can they make their own appointments for things like the doctor or dentist? Do they know how to cook a simple meal and do their own laundry? How do they steward money? Can they balance their checking account?
Asking these kinds of questions to yourself and your teen will help clarify your focus in discipleship in these final years at home.
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is constantly reminding his podcast listeners that “Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims.” This is a simple way of noting that aligning your life with wrong ideas can cause great harm.
Cultural lies about what is good, true, and beautiful can creep in and create “rot” during the teen years. One of the most helpful things we can do for our teens at this stage is to help them identify bad ideas and replace them with good ones.
I recommend continually discussing YouTube videos, friends’ decisions, books they’re reading, music lyrics that are popular, and anything else. You want to see if they can identify the message or idea being promoted. Like asking questions, assessing ideas should be very much a back-and-forth conversation.
Not sure you can identify the bad ideas in culture yourself? Here are some core questions that John Stonestreet suggests you ask to clarify the worldview message being promoted in a movie, song, book, TV show, news article, and more:
Origin: Where does this person believe everything comes from? Is the world a gigantic accident? Is this world the product of a Divine Plan? Is the world an illusion?
Meaning: What does this person believe is the meaning of life? On a personal level, why would they get up in the morning? What do they believe is worth loving? What’s worth their passion, time, and attention? Why?
Morality: Who are they saying sets the rules about what’s right and wrong? How do they know? Is it relative? Is it absolute?
Identity: What makes a person? Are we different than the animals?
Destiny: What happens when we die and where is history headed?
Stonestreet notes, “A worldview must answer all of these questions consistently and in a way that reflects reality.”
Tired of threatening, repeating, and reminding your teens to fulfill their responsibilities? Then stop. The role of the parent at this stage is to shift responsibilities from yourself to your teen.
An easy way to remember to do this is to go back to asking questions. When I would see my son head outside for some downtime or my daughter grab the car keys, instead of running through a list of did-you-do-this questions, I asked one simple question. Are you free to________________?
If they answered “yes” and I knew they weren’t actually free, I gave a hint. If they answered “I don’t know” I asked them to sit and think about it. If they answered “no” I jumped up a did a happy dance in the middle of the kitchen. Just kidding. I asked them what responsibilities they needed to fulfill before taking time for themselves.
In my experience, we parents have a harder time remembering to ask in this way than kids do in answering! Besides, doesn’t it take the joy out of doing something to be reminded of it when you were about to do it anyway? Don’t steal your teen’s joy by constant reminders.
Another facet of allowing independence is letting your teen suffer the consequences of their mistakes. While this has been going on in the pruning stage to some extent, the stakes get higher here as they prepare to leave the home. This means you don’t bring a forgotten homework assignment to school. You don’t send text reminders for curfew. Natural consequences should generally be allowed.
Each of our teens had a bank account that they were responsible for maintaining. When one of them failed to keep up with their purchases, they had an embarrassing interaction at a local coffee shop when their debit card was declined. Allowing natural consequences and helping them through the solution will help your teen (and you!) grow in grace and maturity.
Final Warning and Encouragement
Warning: Beware of two temptations. Parents of well-behaved, agreeable teens (yes, there are some!) will be tempted to put parenting on cruise control during the teen years, while parents of rebellious teens may grow weary and lose heart. Neither of these paths are prudent. Stay the course and take heart!
But be encouraged. God provides. Counting the cost for discipling our children is daunting! But greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). And God will supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus as we seek to faithfully steward His precious children (Philippians 4:19).
As Americans, we are very interested in results. We have 6570 days with our kids till they’re 18 years old – and that includes all the hours of sleep, play, school, sports, or work. With that sobering statistic, we should begin with the end in mind and seek God’s wisdom when discipling our children. Paul aptly reminds us: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
But in the end our responsibility is faithfulness in helping our children learn to trust and follow Jesus. We can trust God with the results.
For further reading in this series:
Bobby’s introductory post on the problem of how little discipling of children is taking place – The Crisis in Children’s Discipleship
Renee’s first part in the series – Discipling Children: Planting the Seeds (Part 1)
Renee’s third part in the series – Discipling Children: Protecting the Future (Part 2)
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