I’ve had a few conversations with fathers recently about the challenge of raising teenage boys. Similar to my own past experience, these Christian Dads have been struggling to get their boys to study, to do homework, to respect their mother, and do a few chores around the house. They are easily distracted, often moody, and totally obsessed with digital media. I usually try to share some of the hard-won lessons from my own parenting, most of them learned through many painful failures. These include:

1. The vast majority of teenage boys were not made to sit at desks for hours and hours at a time. It doesn’t matter if it’s homeschool, Christian school, or public school, it’s completely unnatural to confine the primal force of male teenage energy within a few feet of desk space for five, six, seven and more hours a day. Their testosterone-fueled bodies are yelling “Let me out of this cage!” We shouldn’t therefore be surprised at their frustrations. I sometimes think most classrooms and pedagogy were invented by boy-hating women with studious girls in mind!

2. It’s normal to have these parenting struggles. Very few teenage boys transition smoothly from childhood to adulthood. I know of one boy who never gave his parents a moment of trouble in his teens. But he sure made up for it in his twenties! Dads need to know that the same battle is being fought in just about every other Christian home. It would help if we were all a bit more transparent about this, and pastors could help a lot by admitting their own parenting struggles.

3. Dads need to try and get time with their teenage boys. My relationships with my teenage sons always went better when I spent time with them in the evenings, and especially on Saturdays. Ideally we would try to do something physical outside, whether it was working in the yard, going fishing, swimming, playing soccer, cycling, skiing or something like that. Time with them plus physical activity greatly improved our relationships. These were also opportunities to chat with them in a casual, informal, non-threatening way about spiritual and moral issues.

4. Be patient. This is perhaps the greatest challenge to us today. We expect instant results from our teaching and our discipline, but usually the fruit takes many years to even show a little green shoot. In the meantime, impatience, anger, and bad temper can destroy relationships and communication. We might modify their behavior for a time, but we lose their hearts. My “boys” are now young men whom I love and deeply respect. Looking back, I see that I worried way too much because of my impatience.

5. Try to find things to praise. Sometimes it can be really difficult, especially when there is so much to criticize and discipline for. However, our discipline is never going to work if we never identify areas where they are doing well and encourage them for that. The ideal is probably at least two or three praises for every criticism we dish out.

6. Paid work outside the home. This goes back to #1 and all the pent-up energy in the male teenage body. We found that getting our boys out to work a couple of hours a day or a few times a week did them (and us) a world of good. They got out of the house, they did work that tired them out, they felt responsible and “grown-up,” they earned money, they got correction from bosses and co-workers, and we got some quiet time! It doesn’t matter how menial the work is – just get them doing something physical.

7. Clear rules. The two areas that we focused our rules on were technology time and bed time because these were the areas that we found most influential in their lives. When these areas got out of control, so did our boys. The more time they spent on phones, videos, computers, etc., the more nutty they became. The more sleep they got, the happier they were. We had clear rules for how long they were allowed to use any digital media each day and clear rules on bedtimes, with different times for weekdays and weekends. We didn’t just set rules, we followed up with discipline if they were breached.

As anyone who knows us will tell you that we are by no means the perfect parents. I could write a much longer blog on my parenting fails. But, looking back, these were the things I wish someone had told me before getting on this rollercoaster.

Thankfully, next up for me are two young teenage daughters. Somebody tell me it’s going to be easier.

  • Jeremiah Ketchum

    Thank you Dr. Murray!

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  • http://spoiledmilks.wordpress.com/ Spencer Robinson

    Thanks. This is very helpful for my “future endeavors” with my children.

  • Rodney Kleyn

    Thanks, that was helpful and encouraging. We’re in the middle of this right now.

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  • N Nichols

    As a mom, I had to finish raising two boys (both now married) after my husband passed away. Those are all good, especially number one. Our society is ruining buys by trying to turn them girl-like!

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  • Dave

    Thanks Dr. Murray
    I am a dad of two minus one. A college daughter and a son who took his life 2 summers ago at age 15. Your post was challenging and encouraging. My wife and I did some things well with our son and areas we dreadfully failed. He was a God loving, people loving, and energetic kid. I wont go into a lot of detail here but I really think technology harmed our son. Satan snuck in and sucker punched us. We tried to limit it some but failed to keep an eye on what he was looking at. I asked him several times about this and he indicated nothing and probably lied to me. I wanted to believe him, so I did not pursue looking at his devices. I want to pass along to your listeners and readers, that as parents it is good to trust but the technology that is at our kids finger tips most of the day can be a bigger danger than we may think. No one in my family or any of his friends had an indication that my son was struggling. I beg the parents out there, to hold your kids accountable and check all their devices often.
    My good friend has several boys and he also has started to check their devices and has found that his boys are hiding and not being truthful with him.
    Suicide is a growing problem and I am beginning to feel that technology has more to do with that than what we think.
    Pray that God reveals our kids hearts and minds to us, God, and themselves.

    • Shannon Boeshans Sailor

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. I hate to “infringe” on my son’s privacy, but you’re right- it’s important to hold our sons (and daughters) accountable. Do you suggest that we give them a heads up before we check their devices?

    • David Murray

      I’m sorry Dave. For some reason I did not see your comment until now. I am deeply sorry for your agonizing loss. You are right, this is a major battle and suicide is increasingly being linked to technology. May God give us wisdom and courage as we parent our children, and may he comfort your heart as well.

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  • Lloyd

    These tips are simple and practical, they take the mystery out of parenting without downplaying the challenge of parenting. I am the father of a son just becoming teenage, and have been very weary of the challenge it’ll be. I feel like I missed many opportunities of influencing my son and building a great relationship with him in his younger years. These tips give hope!

  • Matthew Medema

    Thanks for the tips. Patience is very important. It is amazing to see boys (& girls) maturing, by God’s grace!

  • Maria

    Thanks for the tips. We are experiencing one right now. It doesnt matter which part of the world you are from , i guessed the challenges are the same

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  • Angela Mosley

    I think these are great ideas, but is it too late to start these when your child is 15years of age and you relocated away from their father and it seem like I can only practice some of these that listed. Technology has gotten in the way of my relationship with my son amongst myself making some bad financial choices that cause us to move around a lot which I believed played a part in some of stability. Lord I wish there was a magic wand that I could wave over my oldest. Thanks for this blog and if you could say a prayer for this single mother raising two boys I would really appreciate it. God Bless