As parents we nurture our teens toward overall maturity as well-adjusted adults, servant leaders, and companions with us on our journey of faith. We set short-term goals for long-term growth, so our teens are prepared for the future. It takes time to plant seeds, nurture growth, and weed out what is detrimental so that, at the right time, we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. We need wisdom, as do they.“ Know that wisdom is [like honey] to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14).
In what areas do our teens need maturity? Personal hygiene. This is an area of dramatic change from the child to the teen years. After Gabriel’s basketball practice, when he was just seven, I asked him to shower.“ Shower now? I showered after my game last night.” “Yes. Now you’ve had a practice, and you need another shower.” Incredulous, Gabriel asked, “Are you going to make me shower after every game and every practice?” “Yes, I am.” “I just may quit basketball!” I smiled, knowing this was a false threat. Fast-forward several years. Gabriel showered regularly with no requests from me. Most teens do. They are aware of body odor. (If yours is not, politely mention that a spray of cologne will not do.) Teens care about their appearance: their hair, complexion, and clothes. My children have uniformly chosen to do their own laundry, unsure I could be trusted not to shrink their jeans. My demotion(happily) means less laundry for me!
Privacy issues. Is there a secluded place for girls who are developing physically to dress without sisters watching? Does everyone get enough time in the bathroom? If children share a bedroom, can boundaries be drawn so the room remains orderly? Do siblings honor requests for not disturbing each other’s music, clothes, shoes, or knick-knacks?
Self-knowledge. Discuss with your teens the various types of personalities and temperaments. What impact does birth order have? What is your teen’s role with older and younger siblings? What are his strengths and weaknesses, and how can you help him augment strengths and diminish weaknesses? Is she aware of physical changes, sugar highs and lows, hormone surges, and adrenaline rushes? Self-understanding is an important component of maturity.
Intellectual skills. Teens need good study skills for academic excellence. They hone skills in note-taking, researching, outlining, and analyzing so they can organize and synthesize their papers and speeches. They grapple with major ideas in independent study. Amid major hormone shifts, they balance sports and activity schedules and develop a social life. Can they find a place to study away from distractions, especially the TV?
One parent insisted that his brilliant son run track so he might experience failure and develop character while living at home. We did not plan failures, but we did encourage sports, musical instruments, classes, and other activities that we knew would be difficult. Our children learned a lot; in some cases they surprised us with how well they did.
Sex education at home. This begins when children are small. But it is important to remember to listen before we answer. A child might approach his mom with the question, “Where did Johnny come from?” A detailed biological answer might be met with “I thought he was from Chicago!” We sometimes assume children understand more than they do. Molly had a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a baby when she discovered she was pregnant. She put the baby down for a nap and took the two older boys on a walk to share the good news.“ Guess what Mommy has in her tummy?” She smiled. “A baby!” One child burst into tears. “I want to go home!” “Honey, what’s wrong?” Molly asked. “You ate the baby!” Quickly my friend assured her little son that the baby was quite safe at home in his crib, and the baby in her “tummy” was a new sibling.
We also need to give information on a need-to-know basis. My mother found herself in a dilemma when my three-year-old brother, sixteen years my junior, burst into the room asking, “Mom, what’s in my pants?”She thought, Should I be the modern mother and give the anatomically correct name? Or should I do what I have done for years and be indirect? She decided it was time to use the technical term. He broke into an infectious grin. “No, it isn’t. It’s a penny!” He reached into his shorts and pulled out a penny, at which point my modest mother wished she could retrieve her words! When it comes to our teens, the focus of health education should be human development, not how to have sex. Most schools give too much information too soon. Mixed-sex classes give specifics on intercourse, contraception, and abortion. Yet they often lack essential information about the risks of premarital relations, especially venereal diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and possible sterility from abortion. Most of these classes do not address the beauty of chastity for the teens’ well-being and their future families.
The goal of most sex education materials is clear: Break down a child’s sense of modesty and form a wedge between the child and his parents. The teen is encouraged to trust the Planned Parenthood lecturer more than his parents. Can we provide something better? Absolutely! We honor our child’s sense of modesty and genuine curiosity by private conversation about puberty and sex, dad to son and mom to daughter. We deepen our bond of mutual love and respect when we share the truth about love and life. Our openness allows for future conversations as needed.
For a son: Without giving details about sinful sexual behavior, tell him that sperm should only go where it can be fruitful: in his wife. Acknowledge God’s gracious gift of fatherhood and his responsibility to embrace chastity so as to honor the woman he will marry. For a daughter: Prepare her for God’s design for puberty and the beauty of motherhood. Consider taking her to a “Maidens by His Design” workshop for mothers and their daughters on these themes. Explain the importance of modest dress and chaste actions, to honor the man she will marry. Encourage your daughter as she adjusts to her developing body and shifting hormones. Celebrate this change with a special dessert, discreetly acknowledging that she is now a woman. She may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Help her accommodate that time of the month by lightening her schedule, getting more sleep, and avoiding foods that intensify difficulties. You can be understanding without indulging wrong behavior.
Financial skills. Your teen can develop a good work ethic. Whether your teen works for you or others, expect timeliness and follow-through. Encourage him to request clarification if instructions are unclear. He should not take personal calls or texts while working and he must be honest about his hours and the work he has done. He could even explore career interests through apprenticeships. We require work time as part of a teen’s budget. When a teen begins college, we create a budget for all expenses. We provide two-thirds of the budget; the teen provides one-third through earnings and gifts from grandparents.
Social skills. Teens’ activities and conversations with the opposite sex can become interesting. They notice and enjoy the differences between them. Chapter five gives ideas for helping teens develop quality, healthy friendships without pressuring them prematurely into long-term romantic commitments. Ask your teen what qualities—serious and fun—he would value in a spouse. This provides an objective standard for him before he invests in a romantic relationship. Encourage him to review and update the list periodically.
My sophomore year at Grove City College, I wrote a song describing a list of qualities I wanted in my future spouse. After dates I would sing it as a reminder of my standard. The only men who heard it before I was engaged were my brothers and my dad. The night Scott asked me to marry him, I sang it for him in Harbison Chapel. Later I sang it at our wedding reception.
Kimberly Hahn is a Catholic speaker and author who for decades has shared her wisdom with other wives and mothers. Married to Scott for more than forty years, they have six children and nineteen grandchildren. After homeschooling for twenty-six years, Kimberly now serves as Council-at-Large in Steubenville, OH, and hosts the St. Paul Center podcast Beloved and Blessed.
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Every stage of parenting presents its own challenges, but raising teens and young adults can be a unique time that many are unprepared for. In Legacy of Love: Biblical Wisdom for Parenting Teens and Young Adults, Kimberly Hahn draws from Proverbs 31 to help families navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Topics in Legacy of Love include developing compassion for the poor and undertaking works of mercy, friendship and courtship, and growing into new relationships with in-laws and extended family.