I’m far from an expert on this, but I thought I’d share some thoughts about my first few years of parenting teenagers. I hope that some of these reflections might help some of my fellow-strugglers.

From what I have experienced, and also witnessed in pastoral ministry, there seems to be three tensions that define the teenage years.

Family v Friends
Obviously as children grow older they need family less and less – they think. They are not so dependent on their parents for food, drink, clothing, guidance, protection, etc. They spend more  and more time outside the home in school, sports and church activities. They meet more and more young people and begin to form friendships and relationships with them. All this is natural and normal.

However it also produces an increasingly problematic tension at home. Usually unnoticed before it is too late, the child’s focus is no longer on home, family, parents and siblings, but on friends, friends, and more friends. The children spend less and less time at home and invest less and less time in family relationships. And then Facebook enters to increase the tension even more by enabling children to be focused and engaged with friends 24/7, even when in the family home.

If unchecked, this unbalanced focus on friends can be carried into marriage, resulting in lonely spouses and practically orphaned children.

Questions to ask our teenagers:
Where is your primary focus – family or friends? Do you give more honor and respect to your friends than to your parents, brothers and sisters? What are you doing to make this home happier? What have you done to serve your parents or siblings today?

Relationships v Riches
As parents lavish more and more upon their children, the children may begin to define their relationship to their parents in terms of what they get from them – toys, iPods, snowboards, Wii’s, horses, clothes, vacations, etc. So children start selling their love to their parents.

And parents unwittingly cooperate with this by thinking that unless their children get the same as other children, they will grow up to hate their Mom and Dad. So parents start buying their children’s love.

Again, children often bring this economic view of relationships into other friendships and even their marriages, as they define their happiness in a relationship by what they can get out of it.

Questions to ask our teenagers: Do you love your possessions more than your parents? How would you respond if all your possessions were taken away, and all you had left were Mom and Dad? How much do you think about giving as opposed to getting? If you had the choice between your Mom and Dad in poverty or another Mom and Dad with millions, what would you choose?

Education v Entertainment
Children sometimes view school as either a means to an end (a good job and salary) or as a necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) evil. They live for evening and weekend sports, games, and recreation. Education is so boring. Entertainment is so stimulating. Boys especially tend to do the bare minimum to keep teachers and parents off their backs. But when it comes to skateboarding, hunting, snowboarding or computer games they come to life and practice, practice, practice until they excel!

This too carries over into adult life, as work is seen as a means to an end or as a necessary evil, rather than the place God has put them to glorify Him.

Questions to ask our teenagers: Do you see your school and your education as your divine calling – the place that God has called you to serve and glorify Him in? How much enthusiasm for excellence do you have for Math, English, etc? If the Lord Jesus was your teacher, would he be happy with your schoolwork?

I’ve set out three tensions, and that’s what they are. They are not three choices; it’s not that we and our children must choose family instead of friends, parents instead of possessions, and education instead of entertainment. Every parent-child relationship will have both elements of these three equations to one degree or another. The problem is when the balance of them falls on the wrong side consistently and excessively.

The “world” whispers (and sometimes shouts), “Unless you focus primarily on friends, possessions, and entertainment, you will lose your children’s love!” The Bible says otherwise.

How much we need to cry, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” And one of the ways He helps us is by driving us away from our own wisdom and strength, and towards prayer for Gospel power to change our children’s hearts.

This is not a battle we win once, but a battle we have to fight every day. Often we drift imperceptibly into imbalances, and we have to suddenly and painfully re-balance. Maybe reading this will at least help you to recognize the nature of the battle. And that’s often more than half the battle.

  • Anne Morrison

    You have no idea how well-timed this is…

  • Jack Westerink

    I really enjoyed reading this post – it is bang on. As a Principal in a Christian School I recognize these three tensions in most of my high school students at one point in their lives. Some get over these tensions, and sad to say, some never seem to. I think the suggested questions to ask our teenagers may be helpful – at least for the parents, if not for the teens. The teens may not appreciate or want to face these questions because then they have to face the issues.

  • posteranonymous

    I like your article, except for the part about education. As a 16 year old student, I find that teachers don’t teach much in class that I don’t already know for myself (at least in areas of history and language). How can I (and others like me) be expected to care when in reality school *is* just a holding tank to keep me waiting? I do think that education is more stimulating than entertainment, but there is no education at school! That’s why it’s so boring.Anyways, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

  • Johnny Serafini

    Dr. Murray, this is a very, very helpful analysis!! Thanks much!

  • Kim Shay

    Thank you for your observations.My children are 21, 18, and 16. One tension that we have found just as difficult is the tension between the world and the church. That tension seems to infiltrate the three other tensions you mention and can exacerbate any of those other three. The call of the world can be seen in school and among friends.

  • David Murray

    Jack: Yes, I can’t imagine teens being too happy to answer these questions! However maybe they can be given them and asked to ponder them alone.Posteranonymous: Your school sounds too much like mine. I’m so sorry. Johnny: Can’t imagine your dear children can give you any hassle!Kim: Good point. And you’re right, it’s not so much another tension but one that’s involved in all the other three.

  • Parenting My Teen

    Experts come in all shapes and sizes… this article is wonderful. I really like the suggested questions to ask teens. We as parents really have to spend more time communicating with our teenagers. While it may seem as if they don’t want to talk… it is a known fact that they really do want to speak and if we listen intently (without judgement) we will learn so much and so will they

  • Momoffour

    Is there any way to get this in print form? I would love to have this to put on my refrigerator, in my Bible and/or hang on my wall as a daily reminder.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      I can only suggest that you print it from your browser. It does not exist in any other form.