Parenting Today’s Teens: A False Sense of Security


It’s probably happened to a lot of dads.  Your kid spends his mornings watching you drag yourself to the bathroom mirror, pile some shaving cream in your hand, break out your razor, and start shaving your face.  Soon, your son (or maybe even daughter) decides they need to shave too.  So you squirt a little cream in their hands, supply them a with tongue depressor, and let them “shave.”  As you both lean into the vanity mirror, it’s hard not to laugh, watching your five-year-old seriously attack the non-existent stubble on his face.

Fast-forward a few years.  Okay, maybe your teen actually needs to trim a few straggly hairs from his chin now.  But, like the child who thought he was ready to shave way before he reached puberty, most teens still consider themselves more mature than they really are.  Their spirit of independence makes them believe they are ready to tackle the world, when they can barely tackle their homework!

As parents we know that maturity is the byproduct of responsibility and experience.  We only gain maturity because we have to in order to survive!  And so unless our teens are given responsibility, they will get stuck in a state of perpetual immaturity.  Let me offer some “do’s” and “don’ts” to help you eliminate your teen’s illusion of adulthood and get them moving towards maturity.

Don’t Shame Them

Giving your teen more responsibility and experience can be a very scary thing!  When your child is learning to ride a bike, you eventually have to take the training wheels off.  You take off those extra wheels while your child is still young, fully realizing he or she will wobble and weeble, and probably crash a few times.  When the inevitable happens, and the bike flips, you don’t run up, point, and shame your child by saying, “What did you do?  How could you have crashed?  What were thinking?”  Rather, you pick them up, brush them off, dry a few tears, and put them right back on the bike.

Life is like that bicycle.  Your teenager will crash.  But we don’t run up and pile on the guilt and blame.  Gaining experience and becoming responsible takes time.  So when your teen falls over, pick her up, and keep encouraging her to pedal.  That’s how you can help your teen mature.

Don’t Nag Them

Of course, your constant reminders are coming from a place of love and a desire for what’s best for your kids.  You’re trying to nurture them to be responsible adults.  But parents—nagging simply doesn’t help a kid mature.  It only teaches him how to tune you out and treat your instructions like white noise.

Of course some parents have the opposite tendency.  Instead of stepping up to the plate and teaching our kids how to take initiative, we become passive observers and watch our teens float through life without ever growing up.  Thankfully, moms and dads can work together so the bumps in one personality fill in the dips in another.  By working together and communicating with each other well, parents can encourage each other and ensure that they are striking a good balance between nagging and passivity.  Moms and dads may tend towards one end of the spectrum or the other, but both nurturing and pushing are incredibly important to the development of a teen.

Now, you might be a single parent, and this method for pushing and relaxing is a bit harder.  You have to play both roles.  So, try this.  Three days out of the week, push your teen towards more responsibility and accountability.  The other days of the week, focus on loving and encouraging instead.  In this way, you’re striking a balance being training and relating to your teen.

Do Have a Plan

Your daughter won’t go to bed a kid one day, and wake up an adult the next.  Have a game plan in place to take those training wheels off and get her moving in the right direction.  It might look something like this:

12 to 13 years old—Require your daughter to make her own lunch for school.  Assign your son weekly household chores.  Extend her curfew.  Place him in charge of the family pet.

14 to 15 years old—Give your son a cell phone with pre-determined minutes and data thresholds.  Hold him responsible to get up each morning and make it to school.  Have her wash her own laundry.  Allow him to decide the family dinner once a week.

16 to 17—Require her to pay for her own car insurance and gas.  Make him responsible for finishing his homework and school projects without parental supervision.  Make her find a summer job to supplement a decreasing allowance.  Require him to volunteer time at a local charity on a regular basis.

This is just a sample of the plan that you might use to develop maturity in your child.  Tailor it to fit your family and teen.

Do Help Teens Think for Themselves

Ask good questions that stoke a teen’s thought process.  For example, take the recent trend of young female musicians pushing the envelope.  Ask your teen daughter about her thoughts on the issue.  Are these young artists simply being creative?  What message are they projecting?  Do their actions help or hurt them?

When you sit down to watch a television show with your son, engage his mind afterwards.  It could be something as simple as, “what do you like about this program?  What don’t you like?”  Then sit back and listen, without judgment, correction, or condemnation.  As your teens answer, the synapses in their brain start to fire, and connections begin to be made.  It might take a while for them to see the logic (or illogic) in their thoughts, but you are starting them on a path that will help them see the world in a critical and discerning way.

So stop supplying your teen with the ideas and thoughts you think they should have.  Our job is not to recreate our minds and beliefs in their lives.  They need to develop their own thoughts and feelings and learn to process them.

Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston is the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling facility for adolescents in crisis. He is also a popular radio host and speaker and leads parenting seminars across the country. He and his wife, Jan, have served families and counseled youth for more than 40 years. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.