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Grand-fatherly Advice for Parents of Teens

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

At age 22, I served as a pastoral intern in a three-point parish in Riley, Kansas. Small town life was delightful--almost like living in a Norman Rockwell painting. But there was trouble in paradise. Over the space of a few days, the unlocked Riley Presbyterian Church experienced some minor vandalism. One night I and some elders and deacons staked out the church. Sure enough, we caught some young teens entering the building. The pastor called their parents and called in the rest of the elders for a late night session meeting. (The session is the board of elders in the Presbyterian Church.)

I was thinking to myself, "Poor kids. Who knows what these old farmers are going to do to them?" As the meeting unfolded, it became clear they didn't have to worry about the old farmers' wrath. It was the middle-aged farmers and teachers and businessmen they needed to worry about. The old men took a kindly, grandfatherly tack toward the kids. The middle aged elders wanted to throw the book at these delinquents, who were the same age as their own kids!

No charges were pressed. The elders and the parents of the mischievous youth agreed that the kids should make restitution by doing some work on the church grounds, supervised by the elders. All's well that ends well.

I was struck by how aging process seemed to render the people handling that situation more prone to show grace. I found myself remembering this incident as I read Israel Galindo's blog post on Raising a Normal Teenager. Galindo notes that teens' brains are insufficiently developed to make rational decisions. For a teen, irrational decisions are perfectly normal. Older adults whose children successfully passed through this stage are little more relaxed about teenage behavior than parents who are in the midst of it.

The important thing, says Galindo, is not taking full responsibility for the success of your children. This advice jibes with a passage I read in Craig Barnes's recent book, Diary of a Pastor's Soul. An anguished teen meets with the pastor because he didn't get accepted to Harvard. He's terrified he's disappointed his parents, and even more terrified of their reaction when they find out his fallback college is a regional, state-supported culinary school. The pastor encourages the young man and comments to himself, "I know that parents who really love their children eventually sacrifice their dreams for them."

So relax, parents. Your teens' maddening behavior is not so out of the ordinary. The less anxious you are about them, the healthier they'll turn out. If you need help, find a senior citizen who's seen it all to be your listening ear.

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