Parenting Teens (Rule 1: Break the rules with them)


So, I’ve been around quite a few “Christian” pre-teen and teens lately, and have noticed that they are living double lives. There’s the Christian facade they put on at home, church, and Christian school… but it’s an entirely different story when they feel safe enough to truly be and express themselves. Too often institutional Christianity is a breeding ground for inauthenticity and a split self. Here are a few things to consider of you want to point your kids in the direction of freedom:

1. Let your kids know that what is often passed off as “Christian,” may not be anything close to the true meaning and significance of Jesus.

2. Let your kids know that it’s okay to question what they hear. Encourage and help them become critical, independent, and free thinkers.

3. Let your kids know that being “spiritually mature” is not necessarily keeping the rules, but could just as easily be breaking them.

4. Let your kids know that they can have confidence in what they most deeply feel and know is true inside. Many kids hear a theology in church that violates the spirit of truth inside them.

5. Create a safe space for your kids to be authentic and real. Stop judging them based on what they “should” be thinking, feeling, and experiencing, and get interested in what they actually are thinking, feeling, and experiencing.

6. Let them know that being “good” doesn’t automatically mean being obliging, docile, meek, inhibited, compliant, restrained, etc. but can also mean being passionate, original, subversive, nonconformist, and contrary.

7. Instill in your kids the non-negotiables such as love, compassion, and the inherent and equal divine worth of every human being. Talk to them about the religious falsehoods they will often hear along the way such as separation from God.

8. Let your kids know that all of life is spiritual, and that life and God are inseparable. Show them that they don’t need to go chasing God but to only open their eyes to see God in, through, and as all things that happen along the everyday paths of their life.

9. Help your kids understand the root cause of suffering, and the true source of peace, freedom, and well-being.

10. Don’t think you know everything. Be willing to see and understand the world through their eyes and experiences. They have much to teach you.

11. Stop judging what they are doing as “wrong.” Steve Jobs was a legend and hero for being immersed in technology, and yet we tell our kids that they are ruining their lives by being on their phone or computer too much.

12. The world is no longer what it was when you were growing up; it’s time to truly understand their world.

13. Tell your kids everyday that you love them unconditionally. Find them doing things that are right and good. Tell them they are beautiful inside and out… and be specific about what you see that is good and beautiful about them. Let them see the passion and rebel in you. Maybe break a few rules with them 🙂 

Latest Comments

  1. BarbN says:

    Love this post, thank you, Jim. It’s not only a good list for raising teenagers, with only a very few modifications it’s a good list for anyone recovering from an evangelical past. I still struggle with #6 thirty years later.

  2. Shannon Addyman says:

    LOVE, LOVE LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I could not agree MORE with EVERYTHING you have said Jim!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was a youth pastor and camp counselor at one point, then worked with young adults for a few years and have hung out with my kids and their friends over the years at our kitchen table “counseling” sessions and talked about spirituality, the hypocrisy, the fakeness, the struggles to be “perfect” that they dealt with going to church school and church youth groups.. I would watch kids literally become different people when they were around church, Christians, and their Christian parents…They would “quote scripture”, use all the correct “Christianese” lingo, and act “properly” and then behind the scenes they were totally different people…Some were sexually active, drinking, taking name it…and their parents had NO IDEA!!!!!..
    I’ve always encouraged my kids to question things that they see, hear and feel (that includes anything I say or believe) and to talk to me about those things knowing that I will not judge them….I’ve told my kids that I may not agree with everything they say or do but I am open for discussion..and no matter what…that I LOVE them and that will NEVER change!!!!!!!!!!! ALL of our children are INCREDIBLE BEINGS…and each one is UNIQUE…with their OWN destiny and path to follow…We must allow them to be THEMSELVES..not some cookie cutter version of ourselves. Many times it is not what we say to our children but what we model to our children..What are they learning from our own actions…how do we treat them and the “world” on a daily basis? Do we tell our children we we are sorry when we are wrong or over react or ?…Do I always get it right? NO…but I make a conscious effort to remember that my actions do affect my children’s lives and the lives of others… And yes…I have broken several “rules” over the years with my kids..because I am a truth seeker and rebel myself..

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