“Help! I’m Trying to Raise a Teenager!”

“Help! I’m Trying to Raise a Teenager!”


Many parents feel like failures. “My child has gone off the deep end. Nothing I say is getting through to them. I must be a horrible parent.” 

If the enemy can find a foothold of condemnation inside you, he will certainly take it, but you’re likely doing better than you think you are. Here’s why. 

The most important lesson parents of teenagers need to learn is how to set their half-mature fledglings free, even if it means their teens make mistakes and fail. Parents have authority in the home, but this doesn’t mean they should defend their parenthood by controlling their kids. Rather, it means they are in a similar position as Father God. He has all the power in the universe—but to whatever degree an action wouldn’t allow us, His children, to learn for ourselves, or the action would deprive us of our free will, He will not do it. He loves us dearly, but He allows us to bumble forward and figure things out and fail until we have learned.

The same is true for earthly parents. We are called to restrain ourselves and do what is best for our children so they grow in maturity and freedom. We might know exactly what our children need, but one part of parenthood is the willingness to be embarrassed and hurt by our teenagers—to hurt for them, until they rediscover their common sense by trial and error. 

If you are in this position today—you are having to watch your teenager make mistakes—don’t allow the enemy to convince you of something that isn’t true. You aren’t a failure because your child is out “testing the world.” This is a common part of the maturing process, and God will not let your child go. 

The Importance of Trusting Our Kids Before They’re Ready 

In the parable of the prodigal son, the father experienced great embarrassment and shame because of his son’s actions. The young man wanted his inheritance early, before the father died. He was essentially saying, “I consider you dead to me,” and in ancient Hebrew culture, that was an intense statement. 

Before he could respond in love, the father first had to reach a place before God where he could repent for failing his son. There was a reason his son became rebellious. God’s initial design of that young man was not rebellion, but rebellion was somehow added to the mix. We don’t see in the story all the emotions the father experienced before he managed to say calmly, “All right. I’ll do it.”

He allowed his son to take his inheritance and go. The father didn’t chase him down. Nor did he send somebody to find him and forcibly drag him back home. Instead, the dad waited, continued to pray, and watched expectantly (Luke 15:11–20).

That is a tough position for parents, but sometimes we have to do it, especially when we have teenagers. We could try to control our kids so they don’t make dumb decisions, but that doesn’t allow for growth. We have to set them free to make their own choices—and then wait for the truth of God we instilled in them when they were young to activate in their hearts. The prodigal’s father had faith that one day his son would come to his senses, which is what happened (Luke 15:17). 

By praying for our children continually and trusting God to protect them, we communicate something amazing to them:

“You do not have to be perfect for us or for God. We know you are going to stumble and burn your fingers. We know you will hurt your heart and ours. But we trust the Lord in you, and we know you will learn what you need to learn, and you will come out of it on your own. We will be here every step of the way for you, and we set you free to learn what is needed.”

When children have that kind of trust wrapped around them, they are able to grow freely, knowing everything will be all right. The primary task of parents of teenagers is to undergird them with that kind of trust. Parental trust is not blind, excusing, or permissive, but it is the simple, determined capacity to endure godly grief if necessary, until the children have found themselves and realized what the truth is. 

Loren Sandford used to say, “I can now be trusted because my parents trusted me when I couldn’t be trusted.”

Like God the Father, all of us need to choose to trust children who are still learning and growing up.

Rebellion vs. Freedom

Teenagers make mistakes. That is what happens because they are learning. It is not a sign that all is lost or God is displeased. It is not proof that a parent has failed.

In fact, the more parents set their children free to make mistakes, the less those children need to rebel to find themselves. But the more tightly parents hold the reins, and the more they demand their children live according to their rules, the more sinfully the children must rebel in order to become their own people.

The more control, the greater the rebellion. Parents who have controlled their children’s moral righteousness every step of the way shouldn’t be surprised when their children eventually jump out from under their control and into immorality. 

Some parents believe they have succeeded if their children always obey and know how to follow the rules, but that’s not how raising children works. Many, many adults come to Elijah House for counseling because they weren’t trusted to discover who they were as teenagers. They weren’t allowed to break out of the “good child” mold and learn for themselves. 

Covered by His Grace 

For parents who feel like failures, 1 Corinthians 7:14 is a breath of fresh air:

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (NASB)

Because of your heart for Jesus, your children are covered by His grace. He has chosen them, and they are under the umbrella of His loving care. They will need to choose Him on their own, but they are not under the curse of the law. He is taking care of them because of your love for Him (Ps. 91:14).

Even if we messed up when our kids were young, God has so many ways to redeem those mistakes today. We can love our teens well now, letting them see how much we accept and treasure them, even when they are going off and doing things we don’t approve of. That is exactly how God the Father treats us, and we get to treat our kids the same way.

Just as God allows each of us to “come to our senses,” so we as parents need to allow our children the time and space to do so as well. If we can trust our teenagers when they can’t be trusted, one day we will find we have raised solid, trustworthy men and women who know God for themselves and can step into what He has for them.

We hope this article has comforted your heart! Much of it comes from Restoring the Christian Family by the Sandfords. Click here to learn more.


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1 comment

Excellent word but hard to do except for the grace of Jesus! Thank you
Elijah House:
You are totally right! Much, much grace is needed.

Sandra Shantz

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