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I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I have nearly four teens now, and I’ve learned a lot the hard way. I see other parents around me who are just getting to that stage make the same mistakes I did, so I want to share what I’ve learned:
If you want to teach your kids to walk in the way of God, you better not leave out teaching them about forgiveness. That’s a big deal to God. It’s pretty central. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the heaviness that comes when you have teenagers, and they misstep, and missteps feel bigger the older they get. It’s like there’s this ticking pressure that they have to “get it” by the time they’re 18, and they’re not getting it yet.
Here’s the trick I’ve learned: see them as humans. Not representatives of your family. Not projects. Humans. Made in the image of God, living as both sinner and saint. Struggling just like you.
When I overreact, 99 percent of the time it’s because I worried what people would think, or I was responding out of fear that God wasn’t going to be faithful to them in the way they needed.
Allow them to have a bad day. It’s something my oldest taught me. As I tell that to other parents, they say “Well, what if they have 10 bad days? When do you make it stop?” Like the kids will take advantage of that. Honey, if they have 10 bad days in a row, something bigger is wrong than their attitude. Something major is going on, and thank goodness you can now address it.
Teens these days live in a fish bowl. Everyone has an opinion on their lives. Expectations are everywhere, and forgiveness is uncommon and even unknown in our culture. Be the place they know they can relax, be themselves, and be fully loved. I guarantee you they need it.

RELATED: Hard Conversations with Our Teens Are Always Worth It

Here are some things I have learned the hard way to tell my teens instead of going straight to taking away privileges:
“I’m on your side. Always. I’m going to fight for you, even when you’re too tired to fight for yourself.”
“You don’t sound like yourself. It’s not like you to lash out. Come here. Sit down, and let’s talk about it. We’re going to call a thing what it is, and sort out the truth from lies.
“You sound stressed, and what you said hurt my feelings. That’s not okay. So here’s what we’re going to do. Sit and eat some food, take a timeout, relax, and then come back, and let’s talk about it again once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.”
“Being a teenager is rough. I don’t envy you. I see you. I’m trying to help you. You know, it’s going to be two steps forward, and one step back, but I don’t want that to discourage you. That’s normal. You’re going to make it.”
“You’re shying away from the truth, and that’s a mistake. Because you’re afraid I won’t love you if I knew the truth, and I’m here to stubbornly show you that there is no truth that could stop me from loving you. Sometimes it takes courage to walk in truth. But it’s so good when you do—because that’s when relationships get deep and mean something. And I want that kind of relationship with you.”
“We’re going to work hard because it’s good for our mind, our body, and our relationship. We take care of each other in this family.”

RELATED: Parenting a Teenager is Harder Than I Ever Thought it Would Be

Allow your kids to fail, especially when they’re still at home. Help them learn to deal with failure. That’s a life skill. Do you want them to deal with failure by deep shame?

Your teens are tired, hungry, and dealing with a flood of hormones. Have compassion for that. They are aching for encouragement and hugs and food more than you realize.

Look at the prodigal son. “When he came to himself.” Basically, when he came back to reality, out of his fantasy, he started remembering who his dad was. His dad loved him, and he didn’t question that for a moment.
He didn’t come home because he was that ashamed. He came home because he had hope.
Give your teens hope. They need hope so much. Hope is how they get up when they’ve been knocked down. Not shame.
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Gretchen Ronnevik

Gretchen loves writing about rich theology rooted in real life. She is a mom to six kids and also works as a writer and speaker. She’s the author of "Ragged: Spiritual Disciplines for the Spiritually Exhausted," and co-host of the "Freely Given" podcast. She lives in Minnesota on the family farm.

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