How To Rear A Teenager

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)

(Chapter 22 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How To Rear Children)

Mark Twain once said that when a child becomes a teenager he should be put in a box and locked up. A hole should be drilled in the box just big enough for air to get through so the teenager can breathe. When he becomes seventeen, the parents should plug up the hole! This, of course, is not true of a teenager who is reared by wise parents who carefully plan their relationship with him. When a child becomes a teenager he is no more a child and should no longer be treated as a child; he should be treated as a teenager. He is coming toward the end of his years at home. Many cords that have bound him to his parents will soon be broken. He is busily engaged in more outside activities than ever before. He no longer needs his parents in the same ways he has needed them in childhood. He is physically, mentally, and emotionally becoming an adult. During these brief years in "no man's land" when he is neither a child nor an adult he must not be treated as he has been. His needs are unique. If they are properly met, these needs can be used to strengthen the teenager's relationship with his parents and strengthen the tie that binds them.

This chapter deals with those unique and peculiar methods that should be used by the parent during these important years. No attempt at continuity will be made. There will simply be presented some unrelated observations that have come from over a quarter of a century of counseling with teenagers.

1. Do not yield to the temptation to be simply his buddy. It is true that as a child grows older he has more things in common with his parents. He should not, however, be led to feel he is their equal. There should still be a reverential fear and complete obedience. He should still address his parents by their proper titles, and though the conversations between parent and teenager will be more adult-like it should not be allowed to breed over-familiarity.

2. Do not force conversation but keep the lines of communication open. A teenager wants to know that Mom and Dad are present and interested. He wants to know that they are available at all times when he needs their counsel. He does not, however, want them to force conversation. Perhaps the young girl has become interested in a fine Christian boy in the church but is somewhat timid about it. She should feel that Mom and Dad are interested and will give her a sympathetic ear and wise counsel if it is sought. She should feel that the lines of communication are open, but that she has the right to initiate such a conversation. In other words, within bounds, the teenager should have more privacy than a child. This does not mean he has a right to do wrong if he so chooses, but that within the realm of right he has more room to move around.

3. Always take seriously his problems. The problems may seem juvenile and humorous to the parent, but they are very serious to the teenager. The wise parent will not use such statements as "You'll outgrow that," "That's just puppy love," "We all go through that stage," "I was just like that when I was a kid," etc. Many teenagers have come to my office with problems, and when I asked them why they did not discuss their problems with Mom and Dad they answered, "They would just laugh at me," "They wouldn't think it was important enough," etc. If a subject is serious to the teenager, it should be serious to the parent. He should not be timid about his problems, his dates, or his activities. If he cannot receive a sympathetic and conscientious ear at home, he will seek it elsewhere. This one of the main reasons why teenagers often say, "I just can't talk to my mom and dad."

4. Do not take away good in order to punish the teenager. Do not deprive him of doing the good that he does in order to punish him for doing bad. Many parents unwisely punish by forbidding attendance at the teenage prayer band, teenage soul winning, or other church-centered youth activity. The fact that he has done something wrong means that he needs more than ever these avenues of spiritual growth. He should be punished by being deprived of something pleasant to him, but not of his opportunity to serve the Lord.

5. Do not use the doing of a good task as punishment. It does not seem wise for a parent to punish a girl by making her do the dishes or punishing a boy my making him mow the yard. Distaste is created toward the doing of good. The doing of the dishes becomes something bad which is used by Mom for punishment. It would be much better to start in early childhood and reward a child for being good by allowing her to do the dishes as a reward. Hence, work becomes honorable and dignified instead of distasteful punishment.

6. Never shout or scream at a teenager. Much more can be done with frankness and firmness. The parent who screams at his teenager will soon find hem withdrawing, and the lines of communication will be broken.

7. Seek the teenager's counsel on matters. Talk over serious things with him. His advice will not always be wise and should not always be used, but it should be considered. By so doing the parent is not only satisfying the inner desire in the heart of the young person to be accepted as more mature, he is also helping prepare him for the decisions of adult life.

In writing this book I have often sought the counsel of my children This has not only enabled me to gather information helpful to others, but it has also aided the children in realizing their importance to Dad. The parent and child should have periodic serious discussions when fathers can seek advice concerning matters at work and mothers can receive counsel concerning homemaking. It should be repeated that the decision making should be in the hands of the parents, not the teenagers, but their counsel should be seriously sought and considered.

8. Show him the logic behind certain decisions. When he asks for something that requires a "no" answer, explain to him in detail whey he was deprived of his request. Do not allow him the extravagance of arguing or complaining, but do allow him the privilege of knowing why. He may not always agree with your logic, but it will allow him to know that there was logic behind your decision, and it will also help him as he rears his own children.

9. Teach him teamwork. It is far better for the teenager to be part of a winning team than to achieve for himself a winning performance. I would prefer my boy to run on a relay team than to run the 100-yard dash. I would prefer him to be a member of a winning basketball team than to win a golf championship. I would rather he win a tennis match by playing doubles rather than singles.

Of course, there are children and young people who have developed an inferiority complex and need individual achievement. However, a proper balance should be sought and every child should be taught teamwork.

When a child shows tendencies toward selfishness, by all means he should be led into group activity. Suppose, for example, that a teenage lad is selfish and never pulls for others. If he plays on a team, then in order to pull for victory he must pull for others, for in pulling for others he is pulling for himself. If this is done long enough and often enough, he will no doubt subconsciously transfer this desire for their success as his team members to their own individual efforts, for he has formed the habit of pulling for them. An unselfish desire for their success has replaced a selfish desire for team victory.

10. Do not allow the teenager's desire for privacy to develop into an obsession for secrecy. The natural withdrawal from Mom and Dad is accelerated during the teen years. The door that was once wide open is now shut and soon will be locked. The little wide- eyed girl who used to want to go to the store with Dad now wants to stay at home. Though this desire for privacy should be honored, it should not be allowed to develop into secrecy. If the teen has his own room, let him retreat into its privacy, but insist that the door usually be kept open. When on occasion the door is shut (and there should be such occasions) do not allow it to be locked. He should realize that though he is growing older and needs more privacy, that privacy should be earned and when it becomes secrecy, he has forfeited his right to privacy.

There may be times when the youth will want to retire to his own room and listen to the radio. He should not be allowed to do so with the use of ear plugs. Many Christian parents do not realize that their youngsters are listening to music that is detrimental to their development.

It is best that when a teenager talks on the telephone he do so in some place that is only semi-private. He should not be allowed the luxury of having a phone in his own room. Though the family should not snoop while hi is talking on the phone, they should nevertheless feel free to carry on the regular routine of living even though this might necessitate an occasional passing through the room or the hallway where he is talking. He should not be allowed to dominate the telephone and tie it up for long periods of time. Such practices breed selfishness, idleness, and secrecy.

When at all possible the teen's room should be near the center of activity. It is best that his room not be the one at the end of the hall where no one else ever passes. It is best for his to be nearer the center of the house. This will not take away his privacy, but it will prevent his secrecy. There is a temptation on the part of many parents to go the extreme by allowing the child to be aloof from the rest of the family. On the other extreme is the parent who adopts gestapo tactics of investigation. Both are dangerous. The wise parent will certainly respect the child's desire for privacy as this desire is a normal part of the development of the teen years. He will, however, let the child know that this privacy is earned and will be taken away when it becomes secrecy.

11. Teach him appropriate and proper behavior toward the opposite sex. With the coming of the teen years there comes also an awareness of the opposite sex and its attractiveness. This is normal and should not be discouraged. During these years, however, careful training should be given to the child concerning dating and the developing of his relationship to this new gender he is beginning to notice.

(1) Teach him from childhood not to date unconverted people. Since the Bible forbids the Christian to marry an unconverted person, the wise parent will instill in the mind of his child the danger of even having a date with one who in unsaved. I have taught the teenagers in our church not to date someone who would not meet the spiritual qualifications they would want to find in their mates.

(2) Use wisdom in determining the age for a child to begin dating. It seems unwise for a pre-teen to have any other relationship with a member of the opposite sex than that of having a boyfriend or girlfriend at school, etc. Then during the early teens perhaps the parent should allow them to sit together in church and in other public meetings. They should not, however, be allowed to sit near the back of the auditorium, and at this age, they should always be within seeing distance of their parents. At first it would be wise for them to sit with the parents, and then later perhaps in some conspicuous place, but never in a corner, in the back, or in the balcony. (At the First Baptist Church of Hammond we allow no teenager to sit in the balcony unless he is accompanied by an adult.)

As the middle or older teen years approach the parent should carefully observe the teenager so as to discern whether he should be allowed to have an actual date in a car with a member of the opposite sex. One of the most dangerous things a parent can do is allow his child to go unchaperoned on a single date.

Double dating should be permitted to more mature teenagers only when the two boys are in the car before either girl is called for, and both girls are delivered home before either boy has left the car. Even then the parents should know and approve each member of the party.

(3) The parent should warn the teenager of the dangers of going steady. There is only so much ground to cover between the first date and marriage. If too much of this territory is covered before the couple is ready for marriage, there is a grave danger present. When a relationship develops too rapidly so as to make the next step that of marriage, a couple must then either marry or break up. This causes many people to break up permanently who otherwise would have married each other. If a teenager really cares for another, he must wisely space the steps before marriage so as to arrive at his destination (the marriage altar) at the same time emotionally, mentally, physically, and for that matter, financially. The parent should warn the teenager that there are more couples who do not get married because of going steady as teenagers than there are who do marry because they decided to go steady. Hence, going steady will probably come nearer keeping the teenager from marring the one for whom he is fond, rather than causing him to marry her.

Then, too, the teen should be warned that the desire to go steady is usually caused by an inferiority complex. One feels insecure and thinks his own personality is unable to hold the affections of the one to whom he is attracted, so he makes a contract of some sort with her so that what he is unable to do the contract will do. If a couple truly loves each other, they will not need to go steady. If they do not love each other, they should not go steady.

(4) Boys should not be allowed to drop in unannounced to see a girl. The young man should have an appointment with the young lady or he should not come. This appointment should always be approved by a least one of the parents. Casual dropping in and hanging around is dangerous and in poor taste. Of course, this is even more true for a young lady. It is even in poor taste for a young lady to call a boy on the telephone unless there is business to transact. A social phone call should always be initiated by the young man. When he comes to see the young lady it should be by appointment only with the full knowledge and approval of the parents.

(5) The parent should always know where the teenager is and what he is doing. For example, if he is playing miniature golf, the parent should know at what miniature golf course he is playing, approximately how long he will be there, where he will go when he finishes, and what time he will be home. The parent should approve every place and activity.

Of course, there should be certain places that are off limits. Clear and detailed instructions should be given to the young people concerning these places.

If for some reason the plans for the evening have to be altered, the teen should call his parents and explain what has happened and what the alternate plans are. These plans should be approved by the parent. Any change of plans or activities should be reported to the parent immediately by telephone.

(6) The parent should teach the young person dating etiquette. Each teenager should know how to behave properly and appropriately while in the presence of a member of the opposite sex and especially on a date. The boy should be taught how to open a door for the young lady. The girl should be taught to step aside and allow him to do so. The boy should be taught to open the car door for his date and the girl should be taught to wait until he does so. A girl should be taught not to sit too close to a boy. The boy should be taught to keep his hands off of her! Both should be warned against embracing, kissing, etc.

(7) Teenagers should be taught the proper way to close a date. Stress should be given to getting her home on time and having a prayer of thanksgiving together for the good time enjoyed. The girl should then in good taste tell the young man that she had a good time, and he should then politely escort her to the door, speak an expressive word if he so desires, and in a mannerly and gentlemanly way, say, "Good night."

May God help us to lead our children wisely through these crucial days when they are in "no man's land" - too old to be children and too young to be adults, so that we will not have to "plug up the hole in the box."


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