As children move though the teen years they desire to pole vault into independence. This, mixed with a bubbling set of hormones and an ever-expanding understanding of society, can make fathering teens one of the hardest, emotionally charged tasks for God's man.
Yet, it's critical to "lean into" these years versus withdraw and not allow the pace of life or teenage attitudes to create detachment. Here's why: this is when your children are in the "red zone" of identity and it is your responsibility to bring them into the end zone of adulthood.
Unfortunately, reading between the lines of the following news reports, many teens suffer from a lack of fathers leaning in and taking their roles seriously resulting in unintended but very real suffering. Check out these national headlines from the last year, along with "My between the lines" take:
Teen Charged, Second Sought in Beating Death of WWII Vet, 88, in Spokane
My between the lines take: Two young men unleashed pent up anger to express machismo, perhaps copying what they experienced at home by their own fathers.
Teens Charged After Allegedly Killing Australian Student in Oklahoma for the 'Fun of It'
My between the lines take: Fatherlessness is creating these types of boys by the millions with multiplied billions of their social interactions creating a titanic wave of injustice for innocent people. Emotionally unaware and socially detached, these boys cannot connect their actions with the feelings of others.
Father and Son Behind Bars for Shooting Near Purdue North Central
My between the lines take: Sadly, the teenage son is following the example set by his drug-dealing father, learning how to execute "justice" when a deal goes wrong.
While these examples don't paint fatherhood masterpieces, teenagers can also be wonderful, loving – even surprising – young men and women who grow by leaps and bounds right in front of our eyes. Fathering a teen can be challenging, but equally rewarding. Here are a few tips I've used and picked up over the years from experts:
Tips to Fathering Teens
1. Understand The Phases of Fatherhood
As your child grows up, your fatherhood goes through phases. Recognize them, so you can adjust your style of leadership. The phases of fatherhood are:
Servant – Infant to 3 years old
Trainer – 3 to 12 years old
Coach – 13 to 19 years old
Friend – 19 and above
Notice when your child becomes a teenager, your role should turn to being more of a "coach" and less of a "trainer." That can be a subtle change, but as a coach you have to guide without telling. Advise without demanding. Lead without pushing. Hold them accountable with a rewards system, instead of enforcing boundaries with strict discipline.
2. Nurture Independent Responsibility – "Individuate"
Whenever possible, empower your teenager to own responsibility and consequences so they can do things "their own way" and "individuate" themselves. Teenagers can be creative innovators, but they have to learn by experiencing the repercussions of events.
One example I use with my boys, is to point out something or answer a question with the phrase, "that's what a man does..." instead of "you should do..." Helping my boys discover the role of manhood, without telling them what to do, gives them a tethered leash to individuate and blaze their own trail.
The freedom your teens are enjoying is a result of your being responsible. Dads can't just take a day off. Dads have to make a living, provide for the family and serve others. Saying "no" to your-self, and "yes" to others is the virtue of discipline, and representative of the Christian life. After-all, Jesus was sent to serve not be served.
3. Be a Model Worth Copying
Your teens are watching, evaluating and sizing you up moment by moment. In good times and bad, your teens are encoding your behavior and establishing precedent-setting DNA regarding how to handle life's curveballs. Stand strong, wait on God and swing true and your teens will see how to hit home runs in life. You have to be a model worth copying. This may be the most challenging tip, but most valuable. What does that look like?
Pray about everything. Philippians 4:6 says "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything..." Your kids will see where your strength and faith come from, and follow suit. The pressure of life can result in progress in your faith, using prayer as the tool. Unfortunately, many men wilt at pressure and act out in unhealthy ways. Remember, your kids are watching.
Listen to your teens. In James 1:19, the Bible says to "Be quick to listen, slow to speak..." With teenagers, this often means asking open-ended questions, because they don't always want to share what's in their heart and mind. If we listen to our teens and assure them we heard them, they will trust and share and feel respected -- and return the favor.
Disarm conflict. Ephesians 6:3 sums up fatherhood like this: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Conflicts can either tear you apart, or lead to deeper intimacy and understanding. Disarm conflict with tempered discipline and Biblical instruction. In Psalm 23, David compared God's discipline and guidance to a "rod and staff" that provide comfort.
4. Practice My "Flaps-Down Prayer"
While driving home after work, before walking in the door after a day at work, I use my "Flaps-Down Prayer" so I come home for a landing that allows me to be present and available for my family. The trap is getting caught in your own world, not theirs. Take a moment before you arrive home to pray and focus your attention on God and your family before you walk in the door. It's a prayer "reset" to transition your mind, heart and soul to focus on the needs of your family. Set your own fatigue and issues aside to be available to shepherd the kids, help with the meal and clean up etc.
5. Know the Word. Speak It
Actions may speak louder than words, but speaking the Word "does not return void." Raising teens in today's troubled times, requires that fathers know what the Bible teaches and be ready to speak the scripture into their lives.
One of my ministry's initiatives is to focus on the epidemic of social problems involving youth that come with fatherlessness and disconnected dads. The Father Factor conference is currently launching as the result of this initiative.