How Parents Deal Effectively with their Adolescent ChildrenJAMES STENSON
Here are some key ideas to keep in mind — all based on other parents' experience — in leading your adolescent children toward responsible adulthood.
yourself of your real job as a parent: to raise adults, not children. Your
job is not to keep your children busy and amused, nor just to keep them out of
trouble and make them behave, nor to exercise a kind of "damage control" at home.
The real job of parenthood is to lead children by example, directed practice,
and explanation so that they grow up to be competent, responsible, considerate
men and women who are committed to live by Christian principles all their lives.
They should live this way before they're out of their teens. Your responsibility,
in other words, is your children's earthly and eternal happiness to save
their souls from the "second death" and lead them to the 100-fold in this life
that Christ has promised to those who love Him.
overall goal should be to finish the job begun in their childhood: to form the
virtues (character-strengths) in them faith, hope, charity, judgment and
conscience, a sense of responsibility, courageous perseverance, self-control.
See materialism as your family's enemy: the belief that man is just a beast,
seeing life ending with death, living as though pleasure and power were the purposes
of life, treating other human beings as objects.
to treat your adolescents as what they really are: young adults with everything
but experience which you must now exert yourself to provide. Consider adolescence
as the final stage of apprenticeship in growing up, the first stage of real adulthood.
Do not treat them as large children. Remember that young people tend to come up
to our expectations or down to them.
this in mind: When children deeply respect their parents (by witnessing them living
virtuous lives), they remain relatively immune from peer pressures and the rock/drugs/sex
culture. If teens do not see their parents as strong, confident leaders, then
they pattern their lives after peers and "celebrities" of the entertainment industry.
forget, the whole of moral development is to move from self to others.
Your children will not grow up when they can take care of themselves, but rather
when they can take care of others and want to. The life-outlook
of small children is "Me first!" and the teen years are the time to leave this
attitude behind. If teens retain this self-centered outlook into adulthood, they
are headed for disasters later in their marriages and careers and even
possible tragedies with drugs, alcohol, and automobile accidents. (Teens who see
life as nothing but irresponsible play will tend to treat the automobile as a
toy. If they retain an aggressive "me-first" attitude, they can succumb to road
rage and treat the car as a weapon.)
aware that the present-day materialistic "teen culture" is bogus and unrealistic
an historically recent movement that turns adolescents into an artificial
leisure class, similar in lifestyle to that of previous ages' corrupt aristocrats:
abundant leisure time, irresponsible avoidance of work, hedonistic abuse of food
and alcohol, unlimited access to drugs and recreational sex, life centered around
play, flight from boredom, fear only for sexually transmitted disease. The "teen
culture" is itself countercultural. Real life which is what you're trying
to teach consists of loving sacrifice, responsible commitments, productive
and service-oriented work, affectionate relationships with family and friends,
enjoyment of food and drink and leisure pursuits in healthy moderation, being
loved and respected by all who know us.
between trusting their integrity and trusting their judgment. When
they ask why you don't trust them, make this clear to them: We implicitly trust
your integrity always have and always will. Unless we have rock-solid evidence
otherwise, we trust your honesty and good intentions. What we must sometimes mistrust
is your judgment. It's your inexperienced judgment that can make trouble for you
and others; when teens get into trouble, the fault is nearly always bad judgment.
Be patient. As you gain experience directly through living, and indirectly
through our experienced advice you will have much stronger judgment, and
then we can trust you entirely, right across the board.
that "no" is also a loving word. There's such a thing as loving denial. If young
people do not experience their parents' loving denial, then they cannot form the
strength of self-denial and this could lead to tragedy. So, permit nothing
in your children's lives that you morally disapprove of. Keep the electronic media
under your discerning control. Allow nothing in your home that offends God, undermines
your lessons of right and wrong, and treats other people as mere objects. This
means no pornography, no gratuitous violence, no glamorous portrayals of sin and
disrespect for others. Teach discernment in use of the media: to accept what is
good, reject what is wrong, and know the difference.
in mind the powerful influence of body chemistry on their emotions and judgment.
They are often uncertain, impulsive, overly sensitive, especially at ages 13,
15, and 17. In many ways, the mood swings of adolescence are like those that children
display at ages two to five, and are largely caused by the same growth spurts
and hormonal currents within them. So they need the same things they needed from
you in their earliest years. They need you to be certain, confidently directive,
patient, affectionate, understanding, and fair. They also need nutritious food
and plenty of sleep.
clear that you want and expect personal best effort, not just results: that they
try their best in studies and try to comply with reasonable house
rules. Make the rules in your house start with the word "We...." Not, "You
must be in by 11:30," but rather, "We all get in at a decent hour." Not, "You
must clean up your room," but rather, "We all pitch in to make this house clean
and pleasant." Not, "You must apologize," but rather, "We all apologize when we've
offended anyone." Give them credit for trying. Be patient.
you must correct your teens, try to adhere to the same standards you live by when
dealing with other adults:
No public rebukes; whenever possible, correct privately.
No snap judgments: listen to their side of things. Respect their right
to presumption of innocence.
Don't rub it in. Never say, "I told you so," or "If only you'd listened
If emotions are getting out of control, put off discussion till later:
"Let's talk about this tomorrow night." (Waiting is itself a sort of punishment.)
If you've overreacted, go back and apologize. They will respect your desire
to be fair: you try to put justice and truth ahead of your pride.
worst-case scenarios, you may rely on restrictions on use of the telephone, restrictions
on driver's license and use of car, and summer school.
not underestimate how much you have learned how much experience and wisdom
you can teach them. Start with these questions: What do I know now that I did
not know at age 16, and wish I did? Based on my own experience (successes and
mistakes) and what I've seen in others' lives, what can I teach my teens about
responsible adult life making the most of school, finding what you're good
at and planning a career, finding or changing a job, dating and courtship, being
a loving and supportive husband and wife, social graces, dealing with friends,
sizing up people, staying in shape, overcoming worries, turning out excellent
work, professionalism and professional etiquette, setting priorities and managing
time, planning and meeting goals, managing finances, shopping intelligently, knowing
malarkey when you see it, staying informed about public affairs, living as a responsible
and engaged citizen.
can you tell that you are making progress with your children, that they are really
growing up, especially in their early teens? In several ways....
They are aware of the rights and feelings of others, and act this way.
They have a habit of work, putting their powers up against problems. In
family life, they are conscious of being needed. That is, they know the meaning
of responsibility: if we don't do our duty, someone else will suffer.
They live like producers, not consumers.
They can take care of others, and want to.
Most of the time, in a host of situations, they do the right thing without
When they've done wrong, they know it, and they apologize. They readily
accept the apologies of others, and they forget as well as forgive.
They say, and mean, please and thank you and I'm sorry.
They keep their promises. They will endure hardship rather than break their
Most of their blunders come not from ill will or selfishness, but rather
from lack of experience. By and large, they try to do the right thing.
Deep down, they know their parents' corrections come from love: they sense
that their parents correct them because they love them.
They refrain from whatever would disgrace their family.
They choose friends of upright character.
Their prayers are addressed to God as a person. So they see sin as a rupture
of their personal friendship with God, an offense calling for apology and amendment.
They see the Church as an extension of their family worthy of their love
and loyalty, no matter what.
People outside the family friends and neighbors compliment the parents
for their children's character.
that your children may forget most of the details of what you teach them, but
they will remember what was important to you. For most of us, the lifelong
voice of conscience is the voice of our parents God speaking to us through
the memory of what our parents lovingly taught us.
your children leave home for college, tell them: Do not forget that God is watching
over you with love, as He has since your childhood. Do not offend Him, and do
nothing that would betray what you learned in our family. We will pray for you
every day. Remember that God commands all of us, "Honor your father and mother."
And the way we honor our parents is this: we adopt their values as our own, live
by them all our lives, and then pass them on to our own children whole and intact.
Stenson. “How Parents Deal Effectively with their Adolescent Children”.
with the permission of the author.
James Stenson gives permission to copy or
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the Website of James B. Stenson, educational consultant."
Stenson is the author of Anchor:
God's Promises of Hope to Parents, Compass:
A Handbook on Parent Leadership, Upbringing:
A Discussion Handbook For Parents of Young Children and Lifeline:
The Religious Upbringing of Your Children among others. Mr. Stenson is
also the author of numerous articles and booklets including the very popular “Preparing
for Peer Pressure, A Guide for Parents of Young Children” and “Successful
Fathers The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children's
Characters”. An educator, author, and public speaker, Stenson was the co-founder
of The Heights School in suburban Washington, D.C. and founder and first headmaster
of Northridge Preparatory School in suburban Chicago.
Copyright © 2004 James