(From left) Tim, Joel, Joel’s wife Clarice, Stephanie, and Claire.

 

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When Stephanie Choong heard about what her Sunday School youth was doing, she tried not to overreact.

The 16-year-old was dating a non-believer—something she had always tried to impress upon her Sunday School students to avoid doing.

The teen had hidden this from her, and she felt upset and disappointed when she found out. She confronted him on it, though she tried not to come across as judgmental.

“I can always share the gospel with her,” the teen argued.

“Yes,” she replied, “but at this time, I can tell you it’s not going to work. Why don’t you bring that person to me, and I’ll share the good news with her.”

The teen’s girlfriend, however, wasn’t interested.

Over time, the youth stopped coming to church.

Much later, Stephanie found out that her questioning had made him feel uncomfortable. “He knew it was wrong, but he still liked the girl. Maybe you were a bit harsh with him,” a friend told her.

Parents need to show that they respect their teenage children as individuals by listening to their opinions and preferences before coming to shared decisions.

“I learnt a big lesson about connecting with teenagers,” admits Stephanie. “I should have been more sensitive to his struggles and been gentler. Instead of insisting on applying the Bible to his situation, I should have listened more.”

Tim and Steph serving together in a Mission trip to Myanmar

Raising Teenagers: A Whole New Ball Game

A veteran youth worker with Youth For Christ Singapore, Stephanie has learnt many painful lessons about raising teenagers.

With more than 30 years’ experience teaching Sunday School and mentoring children from primary school to pre-university—including her own two children, Joel and Claire—she has learnt that parenting teenagers requires a very different approach from handling younger children.

Older kids, she points out, struggle with many more issues, like puberty, peer pressure, and external influences.

“After I raised teenagers, I became a prayer warrior,” she says with a laugh.

“One common mistake we make is telling our teens: ‘I know better than you, because I’ve been through life’,” notes Stephanie. “But what our kids are going through today is very different from before. The access to information, the speed at which things change, the amount of influences thrown at them—our kids are in a different world.”

Instead, she notes that parents can take their cue from Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Here are five tips from Stephanie on connecting with teenagers:

1. Listen . . . Don’t Lecture

Why do many teenagers not want to talk to their parents?

When Stephanie posed this question to a group of youths she was teaching, one teenager candidly replied: “The more I talk, the more trouble I get into with my parents!”

The rest of the group laughed and nodded in agreement.

Instead of turning every conversation into a lecture about behaviour or schoolwork, Stephanie urges parents to listen to their children and try to understand how they think and feel.

A good time to listen, she observes, is when they come home from school.

Many parents have found that their children like to share about their day during this “download time”. “Just let them talk it out, don’t interrogate,” advises Stephanie.

And instead of always focusing on studies, parents could ask them about their own plans and dreams.

“Human love is insufficient to carry us through parenting,” she says. “In the end, we need to go to God for that kind of love, so that His love can flow through us to our kids.”

“Talk about what they would like to do and what they think they are good in,” suggests Stephanie. “And if they are not sure, you can let them know that it’s okay not to know. You can also encourage them that God knows what He is doing with them. As Psalm 139:16 says: ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’”

(From left) Clarice, Joel, Claire, Stephanie, and Tim.

2. Affirm . . . Don’t Accuse

“I scold you because I love you.” How many times have you heard a parent say this to a child?

Stephanie, however, counters with this question for parents: “How would you feel if your own boss scolded you at work every day? Would you feel he cared for you?”

“Scolding is not a love language,” she continues. “What teens want is affirmation, approval, and acceptance.”

Research has shown that parental approval is the biggest motivation for children to study hard and do well—even more than peer pressure.

It’s when teenagers don’t get this affirmation, says Stephanie, that they may give up and rebel.

Stephanie has been “taught” by both her own children and the youths she engages that teens “want a mentor, not a dictator”.

What a child hates to hear is thus the usual comparison, like: “Why can’t you be more like your brother or cousin?” That, says Stephanie, is effectively telling the child that “you’re not as good as others”.

The Bible contains many examples of God affirming His people and calling on believers to encourage each other.

1 Thessalonians 5:11, for example, exhorts the community to “encourage one another and build each other up”.

(From left) Claire, Stephanie, and Tim.

Stephanie and Tim have seen how this has helped them build relationships with teenagers.

When their son’s friend told them he wanted to be a photographer, they resisted the urge to say things like: “How can you earn a living? Why don’t you study?”

Instead, they responded: “Wow, that’s very creative.”

They continued to cheer him on in his journey to be a professional photographer, and the first time his photos were published in a local newspaper, they rejoiced with him. “We still have very good and open conversations with him at least once a year over Christmas,” she says.

3. Respect . . . Don’t Override

When children are younger, it is natural for parents to make decisions for them and set clear boundaries to protect them from bad choices.

But as they enter the pre-teen age, Stephanie suggests helping them understand why and how decisions are reached, explaining the principles behind boundaries and gradually giving them more decision-making power.

Over time, this needs to become more of a conversation.

Parents need to show that they respect their teenage children as individuals by listening to their opinions and preferences before coming to shared decisions.

What parents can do, says Stephanie, is to lay the biblical foundation for their children to let God’s Word guide their decisions.

This is in line with Psalm 119:9: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.”

“Scolding is not a love language,” she continues. “What teens want is affirmation, approval, and acceptance.”

And when children do make wrong decisions, Stephanie urges parents to be patient and forgiving—just as God is with us. Instead of jumping on them, she suggests discussing what went wrong and why. “Let your kids know that there is space for mistakes,” she says.

Any necessary punishment, she adds, needs to be followed by full restoration.

“Remember that after the punishment is done, it’s gone,” she says. “Don’t talk about it again next week. Emphasise forgiveness and restoration.”

4. Mentor . . . Don’t Nag

The relationship between parents and teenagers needs to be nurtured when children are younger, and should evolve when they enter their teens.

That’s when the parent becomes more of a mentor and life coach, modelling godly behaviour and walking alongside as their kids make decisions in life.

Stephanie has been “taught” by both her own children and the youths she engages that teens “want a mentor, not a dictator”.

Instead of turning every conversation into a lecture about behaviour or schoolwork, Stephanie urges parents to listen to their children and try to understand how they think and feel.

So she tries to engage them in conversations to offer and discuss different perspectives of their ideas—remembering that ultimately, they want to make the final decision. But, she adds, her children know that the motive for her “tough questions” is love.

Now, as young adults, these youths (as well as her own children) have become her friends—and are now the ones teaching her new things.

Some have introduced her to online shopping, while one, who has become a doctor, even gives her medical advice.

Stephanie also takes pains to encourage teens with the biblical truth that God is in control of their lives.

One of her favourites is Psalm 139:13–16, especially verse 16: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Tim and Stephanie on holiday

5. Value Their Friends

Stephanie and Tim have always taken an interest in their children’s friends. They not only ask Joel and Claire to bring their friends home for meals, but also join them in conversation.

“I’ll sit with them and talk to them as equals, and they enjoy it,” says Stephanie. “We don’t present ourselves as parents or act as if we are perfect.”

In showing their children that they are genuinely interested in all aspects of their lives, they have won their children’s trust and respect.

Not only that, Stephanie and Tim have also built long-lasting friendships with other teenagers, many of whom are still in close contact with them today.

“They will even come to us for advice,” says Stephanie. “They tell our kids: ‘Your dad and mum make us feel welcome.’ Or: ‘Can I text your mum to meet up? I have a problem I want to ask her about.’”

6. And Remember, Only God Can Love Perfectly

While Stephanie had always sought inspiration in the well-known passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13, she realised one day that being truly loving—patient, kind, not easily angered, and persevering and so on—was simply “impossible”.

“Human love is insufficient to carry us through parenting,” she says. “In the end, we need to go to God for that kind of love, so that His love can flow through us to our kids.”

So Stephanie keeps going back to God whenever she faces any challenges in dealing with teenage children.

“One common mistake we make is telling our teens: ‘I know better than you, because I’ve been through life’,” notes Stephanie. “But what our kids are going through today is very different from before.

“1 Corinthians 13:5 and 7 say love ‘keeps no record of wrongs’ and ‘always trusts, always hopes’,” she notes. “But I need to ask God to help me forgive so that I don’t keep mentioning things that the kids did wrong before.”

Relying on God also means “praying like crazy”.

“After I raised teenagers, I became a prayer warrior,” she says with a laugh. “I would have honest conversations—then go back to the room to cry and pray.”

Ultimately, says Stephanie, raising teenagers means relying completely on God to carry them through.

She has also seen God working in her life and nurturing her through the journey of parenting.

Says Stephanie: “No matter what the situation looks like, I know that God is in control, for my children belong to Him.”

Tips

  • Spend time with your teens, and let them have a say in what activities the family can do together.
  • Take an interest in what your teenage children do at school, who they meet, what their friends say and do—and resist the urge to turn every conversation into a lecture.
  • Give them more affirmation and encouragement.
  • Guide them in their decision-making by asking questions to make them think rather than telling them what to do.
  • Bring God’s Word into conversations gently. For example, talk about what they might do as Christians, or about examples of similar situations in the Bible.
  • Show genuine interest in what their friends do and say, and avoid talking down to their friends.