A parent’s desperation
“Please fix my child!”
Parents may not articulate their desperation quite this way, but it is often the underlying plea when seeking help for their teenager.
It is easy to understand this desperation. Whether you are a parent of a teenager or not, you have encountered teenagers who are difficult and challenging. When a teenager struggles with something that seems beyond what our society deems “normal teenage behavior,” we often feel inadequate and ill-equipped to help.
6 unbiblical assumptions about teens
There is an attitude toward teenagers in our society and in our churches that is unbiblical. It makes us doubtful about the value of counseling teenagers. This thinking typically assumes that:
- Teenagers all go through rebellion; it’s part of their development, and they need to go through it.
- The younger generation is leaving the church in droves; it’s too big of an issue, and we don’t have the answers.
- I don’t understand teenagers, and I am not able to relate to them.
- Teenagers don’t want to talk to someone my age; we have nothing in common.
- You can’t reach a teen’s heart; it is already too heavily influenced by the culture.
- Teenagers aren’t capable of following Christ; they are too self-centered.
Maybe you could add similar thoughts of your own. In order to serve teenagers well, we must think biblically where youth are concerned.
Teenagers can, in fact, enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Their rebellion can be addressed with God’s Word. By God’s grace, we can connect and relate to teens, and they can enjoy relating to us and seeking our wisdom. We have much in common with teens—we are all sinners who need a Savior; we are far more alike than we are different. We are all self-centered; age doesn’t change that. Many youth come to faith and want to walk by faith in obedience, and many are willing to hear how God’s Word and, in particular, the gospel addresses their sin and their suffering.
Fear holds many pastors back from serving youth. Those who are otherwise positioned well for discipling teens sometimes allow their unbiblical assumptions to override their mandate to serve the younger generation (Titus 2). Fear causes parents to shrink back from parenting well. Fear causes pastors to miss the mark regarding serving young people in their ministries. Fear breeds discouragement and even cynicism.
“We have much in common with teens … We are all self-centered.”
The pastor’s role
If fear has held you back from discipling the young generation, I would encourage you to rethink your ministry. It is necessary to understand what your role is in the lives of teens.
First, some roles that do NOT belong to the pastor:
- The pastor is not a replacement for a parent.
- The pastor is not to be the primary person to disciple the teen.
- The pastor is not to be the sole confidant of the teen.
- The pastor is not to take sides with either a parent or a teen.
Second, some roles that DO belong to the pastor:
- The pastor is to come alongside both teen and parents. Counseling teenagers falls under the heading of “family counseling.” Generally, you should not counsel a minor without also involving the parents.
- Give hope to both teen and parents—show them that change is possible. Provide them with both practical and spiritual tools to navigate the teen years.
- Be a mediator when needed. Explain the principles of peacemaking, and follow them in your sessions together. (An excellent resource is peacemaker.net.)
The parents’ role in counseling youth
As a pastor, encourage parents to check their own attitude for cynicism and unbiblical thinking about their teenage child. They must realize that it is their primary responsibility to disciple their child. They are right to seek help from a counselor when they are unsure how to handle the teen, but they must also be willing to enter into the counseling dynamic in cooperation with the counselor.
Emphasize to the parents that they play a major role in their child’s counseling. To do that, you’ll want to:
- Point out they are more than their child’s friends. Their God-given role is a leadership/authority role. If they have struggled with their parental role, recommend that they speak with the counselor about this and work toward change (Eph. 6:4; Prov. 22:6; Deut. 6:6–7).
- Explain that parents should not use counseling as a “punishment.” Discipline and punishment are not the same. They will never succeed at punishing a child into a relationship with Christ. Grace and discipline work very well together, and that approach will enhance the teen’s counseling.
- If the parents work with a counselor, encourage them to think of their counselor as a resource. Urge them to ask the counselor to help them address their own heart issues while their teen is in counseling. They must be teachable and transparent for the sake of their family. They should be willing to hear the truth spoken in love by the counselor.
- Encourage parents to be understanding. Communication is possible, but they must guard their words—speaking encouraging and constructive words that can be used by God. Parents should guard their own hearts so that they do not speak out of fear, discouragement, or anger. These attitudes hinder the counseling process (Prov. 12:18).
- Help parents understand that teens are able to grasp deep concepts. Parents shouldn’t underestimate them. The parents and the counselor can both give guidance. Proverbs is full of wisdom for youth (Prov. 1:8, 6:20).
- Remind parents that what they see as a teenage problem is actually a gospel opportunity. All sin and suffering is addressed by the gospel. While the teen is struggling is the perfect time to have these talks. God uses our troubles (at any age) to reveal our hearts. Everyone’s heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9 NKJV). It can be difficult to see this revealed in one’s own child, but this is a more biblical view than parents blaming hormones and chronological age for their teen’s struggles. They must think biblically.
- Encourage parents not to take their teenager’s struggle personally. As they consider their own struggles, they will realize that teenagers face the same challenges and temptations—they’re just younger and more foolish. Parents can relate to teens when they keep this in mind. The parents’ own hearts, too, can tend toward self-centeredness and deceit, so they should keep in mind that the power to change comes from a daily dependence on Jesus (1 John 1:8–9).
- Remind parents to share the truth in love. And insist on them being merciful and gracious rather than punitive and legalistic. Parents need to remember that it is their job to be faithful, and God’s job to change hearts. They are His instruments. Keeping that in mind will make parents’ burden seem lighter as they depend on Him and not on themselves to change their teen (Ezek. 36:26–27; Eph. 4:15).
Hope has no age limits
The Scriptures inform your expectations for teens. There is much at stake. Hope is the antidote to apathy and cynicism! Hope also requires time. Take the time to offer hope! Parents must make time for family. Pastors must include helping families in their ministries. We are all instructed in Titus 2:1–15 to teach the younger generation. It is not just a good suggestion; it is a biblical mandate.
There is a spiritual battle raging for the hearts and souls of our youth. Hopelessness and cynicism give the enemy a victory. Hope defeats the enemy! Teens need to know that you are in their court and that you love them and so does God. They need to know that you believe in their potential to follow Christ (1 Tim. 4:12).
A teen’s heart should be our primary focus as counselors, parents, and disciplers. If we focus only on age and physiology, we are going to miss the mark and not serve teens well in the body of Christ. I once heard a Christian psychologist say that the goal for dealing with the teen years is to “just get them through it.” That kind of thinking breeds discouragement and fear. God offers us a better way.
The backbone of Christian counseling and any other biblically solid one-another ministry is the sufficiency of Scripture. If we believe that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), then why do we often act like it doesn’t apply to people between the ages of thirteen and nineteen? Let’s change the way we think about teens and purpose to serve this young generation.
Join the conversation
What unbiblical thinking prevents you from counseling teenagers?
What part can you play in the discipleship of teenagers in your sphere of influence?