I was recently talking to a friend whose 4 adult children are all committed followers of the Lord Jesus. We shared some of the principles of parenting, and then she shared with me this article, written by her 17 year old daughter about 10 years ago. Debbie (the author) has spent the past 5 years in PNG as a missionary with Wycliffe, as did her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Here is what she wrote when she was a teenager, on what is important in Christian parenting.
Raising Christian Teenagers by Debbie Stuart
Raising Christian children who will follow God is more than just telling them about Him and sending them to Christian schools, camps and Sunday School. If they are to be imitators of Christ, then for children of Christian parents, this means also imitating their parents. So, raising Christian teenagers involves everything a parent does.
This starts when the child is small. Teach them self-control, obedience and values when they are learning about their world and dependent on their parents. When they are older they will have learnt what their parents want and why, and will have learnt to control their own behaviour.
Resistance is greatest at the point where force is most acutely felt (Foucault)
Small children accept and need control and discipline. Teenagers on the brink of independence will resist control. If your children are already teenagers, it’s never too late. Start from where you and your children are, and work on what you have.
Spend time with your children. There is no such thing as planned quality time – quality time only comes spontaneously in the middle of lots of time. Enjoy the time spent with your children – they will know if it’s a chore for you or if you value the times you have – and their self esteem will fade or flourish accordingly. Do fun things, without regard to what others (ie school principals, neighbours, family) will think. Ask your children what they like doing.
Value your children’s opinions. Ask what they think, LISTEN to what they say and when you can, do it their way. Don’t let little things get in the way of the real issues.
Trust your children. Give them responsibility for their own actions. They will make mistakes – don’t try to excuse them, let them take the consequences of their mistakes. But don’t condemn, nag or put them down for their mistakes. Do help them to learn from it, be there for them, support them and be sure they know that you love them. Where rules are needed for safety reasons, work them out together so both of you know why the rule is needed and how it can work so that you are both happy with it. They need to know you are concerned for their safety in terms of what others may do to them, i.e. drunk drivers, strangers, or ‘friends’ at a party. The locality is often ‘neutral’.
Let your children know where you stand on an issue. This could be done by telling or by example, ideally by both. Once children start becoming independent teenagers, force is not going to be very effective. Use persuasion and information of the consequences of the wrong choice and let them go. They have to make their decisions and take their consequences if they are not going to accept advice. But again, be there for them, and love them whatever they choose.
When they do the right thing, or do well at anything, be proud of them. Boast about your children, tell everyone! Your children will be embarrassed, but they will know that you think they are great, appreciate their efforts and take notice of what they do.
They are part of your family unit. Discuss important family matters with them – moves, financial problems, holidays, relationship problems with others etc You can do this from an early age – just be sure that what gets discussed stays at home.
Most importantly – if you want your children to be Christians and follow God, you must! Your faith needs to be real, with a real desire to know and follow God. You don’t have to be perfect, just be genuine in your walk with Jesus and genuine in your efforts to do your best and learn from mistakes. Live for Jesus and be aware of His presence in your lives and pray to Him in all situations.
Don’t be a Sunday-only Christian. Remember, it is your example your children will follow, not your words. They will know if you really know Jesus and are living for Him. If it’s real for you, then it must be real and something they will take notice of.