Having children is one of the most rewarding, and yet one of the most challenging and demanding, things we can do with our lives. When there are toddlers or teenagers around, both seeking independence in different ways, it can feel like there is a lot of conflict and misunderstanding between us and our children. Can parents of teenagers really know what’s going on for them, or what it’s like to be a teenager today?
I asked some teenagers, from a variety of family backgrounds, 2 questions and these are their responses.
What’s it like being a teenager in 2015?
It’s confusing – sometimes people treat me like I’m a child and sometimes they expect me to behave like an adult. But I don’t feel like a child and I don’t feel like an adult – I don’t know what I am.
There’s always a secret to keep.
There’s always pressure to do really well in exams, and that being the only way you can go.
It feels like I’m never good enough.
No-one takes me seriously.
I feel different.
Everyone expects you to be grumpy because you’re a teenager.
Some people can be quite patronising.
If you do something good in the community people think you’re being paid or forced to do it – not that you are just being kind.
It’s better than it was in the olden days because we have more technology.
There’s always a fear of missing out on what’s happening – that’s why we need to keep checking social media – to make sure we don’t miss anything.
I struggle with comparison.
What do you as a teenager need from your parents?
Money, food and shelter. (Most frequent answer)
To listen to me. My mum never listens – she makes her mind up about something before I’ve said anything.
I want them to back off sometimes but still be there if I need them.
I need them to care but not interfere.
They need to lighten up a bit.
Let me be me.
To trust me.
To accept what I want to choose to do.
I need them to talk to if things go wrong.
I just want them to stop arguing and get on better with each other.
You can see more about the activities we offer for young people here.
Topics: Parenting Support
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We have a plaque hanging on our kitchen wall which has a picture of a mother leaning over to talk to her children. The inscription reads “Remember as far as anyone one knows, we’re a normal family”. Of course it’s meant to be funny and, as we all know, there is no such thing as a normal family. Families come in all shapes and sizes and, while all face similar joys and challenges on the journey, there is also something distinctly unique about each family unit.
Often the things that make each family unique are not easily definable. They can be thought of as a set of core values or beliefs that give direction to our parenting and home life. Maybe you’ve never given any thought to what guides and directs your parenting. The problem is that children learn so much from the way we are at home and the way they experience the real us when nobody else is looking, and it is at those times that our true self becomes visible and those things that are important to us come to the fore.
For example, if one of your core values as a family is integrity, your children will see this in the way you talk to others. If they see you saying one thing to someone’s face and then later on hear you speaking badly about them to your spouse, they will learn that integrity is not that important to you. On the other hand, if they see that you are willing to take the first step to make up with each other after an argument they will see that peace-making and forgiveness are things that you value highly. As is so often the case with children, they will only pick up and replicate the values that you are actually living out. It’s no good telling them what your values are if you are not living them out on a daily basis. And it is in this that can we turn to Jesus, looking at what He values and for guidance on how to act these out, so that we can attempt to do the same.
It may be worth taking some time to talk through with your spouse what you think your core values are as a family, and what you would like them to be. One word of caution though, as this can be quite revealing. We once asked our children what they thought our core values were as a family, or in other words what did they think were the things that were most important to us. One of them replied that they thought putting your shoes on the shoe rack was something we thought was very important. I think I may have been a bit over-enthusiastic in my bid to keep the hall floor clear of clutter that week!
Topics: Magazine, Parenting Support
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I recently read the excellent book “Getting your kids through church without them ending up hating God”, by Rob Parsons. If you haven’t yet read it yourself, I recommend it. In his book Rob mentions parents’ top five fears as identified by Jack and Jerry Scheur:
• The fear that our children will make a life-dominating mistake
• The fear that our children will not turn out ‘right’
• The fear that we are failing as a family
• The fear that we will lose our children through illness or serious accident
• The fear that our children will not live according to our values or beliefs
I can identify with having had all of these fears at one time or another during my own journey of being a parent.
When a child is born a parent is full of hopes and dreams for that child. But the problem is that they are an independent person with a will of their own, and as they grow we realise that we cannot always control the choices they make. I find it reassuring to remember that even God sometimes has trouble with his children’s choices.
It was the final one of these fears, the fear that our children will not live according to our values or beliefs, that formed the basis of a workshop we led with some Ethiopian parents on our visit to Addis Ababa in February. What follows is a brief snapshot of what we shared.
There is no special formula, no pre-determined mould and no guarantees when it comes to passing on our faith to our children, and we cannot bear the whole responsibility for raising Godly children. The best we can do is try to influence them by living a Godly life and sharing our faith with them. Even then we will fail to do this perfectly, our children will ultimately make their own choice. Four suggestions that we shared with the parents in Addis were:
Pray fervently. Remember 1 Peter 2 v5. The devil is prowling around looking for the young, weak and vulnerable, ready to steal them away and destroy their lives. We need to pray fervently and intentionally for our children as often as we can. Pray for God to protect them, convict them of their sin and call them into his family. Pray for the development of a Godly character and for wisdom in their future life choices. Don’t leave anything to chance. It is our privilege to be involved in what God wants to do in their lives, and our responsibility to speak on their behalf while they are too young to do it for themselves.
Model a faith worth following. Actions really do speak louder than words. It is no good expecting them to develop a faith that we are not living out daily for ourselves. Children are not fools; they will know if you are one person in public and a different person at home. We need to keep our own walk with the Lord strong and active. Spend time with Him every day. Reflect the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Foster an atmosphere of repentance and forgiveness in the home. Share stories of how we came to faith and talk to them of how God has answered our prayers. Read the Bible with them and teach them to pray about their worries.
Connect with others. Making it a habit to attend church regularly and spend time with others will help children to feel at home in the church, to find a place where they are loved and accepted for who they are, and where they can find the support of an extended family though children’s and youth leaders and a multitude of honorary “aunties”, “uncles” and “grandparents”. When life gets tough for them, as it inevitably will at some point, they will have someone else to talk to other than us.
Prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead. Being a Christian is not easy and we do our children a disservice if we teach them that it is. Thy will face temptations, times of silence from God, disappointment, being let down by people they trusted, and their own failure. Any of these can feel devastating at the time. Our children need to know they are not alone as they experience confusion, doubt and frustration in their walk of faith. Being honest with them about the challenges we face will help them to understand and accept it when they experience them for themselves.
Finally, remember there are no guarantees with any of this, but God loves your children even more than you do and willingly gave his life for them. It is never too late for your child to turn to God. He is longing to have a relationship with them and will never stop pursuing them.
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How does forgiveness work in your family?
We’re not talking about the response to the mumbled “sorry” begrudgingly given by your 3 year old after they’ve smashed a sibling over the head with their cereal bowl for the third time that week, or the one that trots so easily off the tongue when your 11 year old has not done the one thing you asked them to do that day. We’re talking about forgiveness freely given when your child shows true remorse for having caused you or another member of the family emotional or physical pain.
We are all sinful by nature, and living in close proximity to family members means it’s inevitable that we cause upset and offend each other from time to time. Add into this mix childish immaturity and hormone-fuelled adolescence and it definitely becomes a question of when, and not if, we will come across the need to express forgiveness to each other! We all recognise that finding the courage to say sorry to someone we have hurt is not always easy. How much worse is it when, having found that courage, we cannot be sure how the person has received it, or even if we have been forgiven at all?
Giving and receiving forgiveness allows both us and our children to move on. Holding onto the hurt after they have shown remorse can hold our children back from growing and changing. If we do not forgive and allow each other to move on, the relationship can so easily hit a downward spiral that can cause more damage than the original wrongdoing. Many a family feud could be averted if true forgiveness was more widely practised.
So I would like to share some suggestions to help foster an atmosphere of forgiveness in your home:
• Show your children how you express forgiveness to your spouse after falling out, especially if they witnessed the falling out.
• Encourage your children from a very young age to practice saying “I forgive you” when they are offered an apology from a sibling. (Although they may not mean it or understand it at the time, it will become something they later come to recognise as important)
• If you realise you are the one that needs to apologise to your child for something, do so readily and ask them for their forgiveness.
• When your child apologises to you offer your forgiveness without hesitation.
Yes, it is hard to forgive when we are still dealing with our own emotions over what has been said or done, and we may not feel like we ourselves are yet ready to move on, but it is vital that we learn to deal with this and are then able to teach our children the high value of giving and receiving forgiveness. The benefits will stay with them for the rest of their life.
Topics: Parenting Support
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I have been getting a lot of questions regarding my new job working with families and I thought it might be helpful to take a few moments to explain what it looks like.
I have recently begun working for West Sussex County Council as part of a new Think Family team. This service has come out of the government’s Troubled Families Programme and is in part a response to the riots of 2011. Research undertaken showed there are families who have longstanding and intergenerational social needs that are repeatedly passed on to children and grandchildren. I have already been working within the church to support families and individuals but have been acutely aware that I have only been scratching the surface of the need that is out there. I feel I am being given the opportunity to reach into the lives of some of the neediest families in our society and help them to turn around.
My role will involve working with families who are experiencing difficulties relating to crime, education and worklessness. In particular this means families where there is a young person engaging in criminal or anti-social behaviour, where there are children who have a poor school attendance record and where there are adults on out-of-work benefits. The families voluntarily join the scheme with a desire to change and my role is to help them identify their strengths and set goals to make positive changes. Working with the whole family I will be supporting parents, engaging with children and young people and co-ordinating any other services that are involved with helping each person within the family to help achieve their goals.
The overall aim is to help the adults find their way back into work; to enable young people to stop offending and find the strength of character to be able to make better life choices; to support children back into school so they can access the education they need and to strengthen the family identity to enable them to work better together so they can look after and support each other, leading ultimately to better life prospects for everyone in that family.
It has not been an easy decision to leave my job that I love at the church, but in a number of ways God has made it clear that this is the direction he is leading me. The job is not without its challenges. Sustainable and long-lasting change is hard even when it is for the better, but the programme has been shown to be successful in other parts of the country and I count it a privilege to be involved in people’s lives at the point where they stand at a crossroads making choices that have the potential to permanently alter the trajectory of their life.
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Heart FM recently reported on a survey of the most common cause of arguments between parents and their children. Amongst the top ten causes were things like staying out late, manners and bad language. Not too surprising perhaps but it was the top three causes that caught my attention. In third place was sibling fights, second place, answering back and the top, most common cause of arguments was tidiness of the bedroom. I had to ask myself if these three really justify their position.
Sibling fights are a normal part of growing up in a family and learning to resolve conflict is an important life skill they will need as they mature into adulthood. A general guide is to let them sort it out themselves and only intervene if it becomes physically violent or one child is consistently being victimised or outnumbered by the others.
Answering back can reveal an underlying attitude of disrespect but it can also be a sign that your child feels unheard or overlooked in some way. Sometimes the hurtful words are expressing deeper emotions than just anger and you may need to think carefully about what is behind the outburst.
An untidy bedroom can be a constant source of irritation to a parent. But rather than arguing about it another way could be to let them realise for themselves the consequences of living this way. They will probably learn the importance of keeping it tidy when they get a detention for not handing in the homework they couldn’t find or tread on and break their phone which was laying underneath the pile of clothes they had discarded the night before.
Some time ago I came across some good advice on how to work out which arguments definitely are worth having with your child. The key is to ask yourself three questions:
Is this something that will lead them into
- Physical danger?
- Moral danger?
- Illegal behaviour?
We have tried to use these as a guide as our children have been growing up and it has served us well. I believe we have managed to avoid many unnecessary arguments leaving us enough energy to follow through on the important ones. Each time you find yourself disagreeing with something your children are doing or saying ask yourself those three questions. If the answer is yes to any of them it is worth standing your ground. When your child has finished having their tantrum, shouting, screaming, sulking or however else they choose to vent their disapproval of your decision take time to sit down and explain calmly why you have said no on this occasion. It is not always appreciated or understood at the time but will be remembered in years to come.
So if you want to avoid some of the everyday unnecessary arguments being had in homes across the country you may want to adopt these guidelines for yourself. It won’t be long before you reap the rewards of a home with less conflicts and better family relationships.
Topics: Parenting Support
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