Mark Twain once offered this advice on raising teenagers, “When a child turns 12 he should be kept in a barrel and fed through a hole, until he reaches 16… at which time you should plug the hole.”
As a parent of three teenagers and one who has just passed through those teen years, I find Twain’s comments funny. But I’m sure it’s not a good approach to raising your children.
There are loads of internet blogs and sites offering advice for new parents with young children. An unlimited number of books are available to help us raise pre-school kids. But when it comes to help for parenting teens – there is silence. Why? Because it’s hard work and by the time your children reach those important years you have already realized you’re in over your head.
The week before Easter, when the media briefly turns to spiritual matters, there were a couple interesting news articles about teens and religion. There are some brave researchers who have attempted to interpret scientific data on dealing with teenagers and the challenges associated with moving into adulthood. Unfortunately, they have not been able to uncover much helpful information. Teenagers have managed to render empirical evidence useless since that’s often what they do best.
However, researchers in the articles I read have found two important things. First, the role of parents matters more than we think. Some people are now suggesting that there ought to be parental leave for parents of teenagers. Researchers looked at the effects of ‘engaged time’ and ‘accessible time’ that parents have for their children, especially mothers. At all stages of life parents who are engaged and available to their children make a difference but the greatest difference comes during adolescence. The more engaged time parents spent with their teenagers, “the less likely those teenagers were to engage in delinquent acts — defined as anything from lying about something important to getting arrested.” Take note, time spent with your teens is important, even when they tell you it isn’t.
The second study I saw looked more at the impact of families that have a strong faith. Here’s what they found: “Spiritually connected teens are, remarkably, 60 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented. They’re 40 per cent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances, and 80 per cent less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Spiritually oriented children, raised to not shy from hard questions or difficult situations… also tend to excel academically.”
The challenge, (I speak as the parent of teenagers) is that you often feel like you aren’t making much of a difference. You don’t feel that your influence is very great and you play second fiddle to their peer group. But we shouldn’t let our feelings affect the truth. Our engagement in all areas, including spiritual activity, will help set up our children for success. It’s true; there are no guarantees for problem free parenting. But it just might be simpler than we think.
“Teach (these commands) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:19-21