The exasperating teen years, exasperating at least from parents’ perspective, was front and center in the October issue of National Geographic. Blazoned on its cover the title read: “The New Science of the Teenage Brain; but try as I might, reading the article several times, highlighting and mulling over the conclusions of the author, I frankly could not find anything NEW. Oh, there was new phraseology to describe teen behavior and brain development, scientific tests with correlating brain scans; but the exasperation still came down to something of which any bright observer of teens is well aware: peer pressure, risk taking, questioning of authority, impulsivity, reward over consequences, and the expected results from wise and unwise parental involvement or non-involvement, all clothed in new vocabulary and the positive assumptions of evolutionary natural selection. The spin was pretty much, “Don’t sweat it; their teenage brains are in the process of adapting in the transition from home to being on their own. I had hoped for far more, because observation, experience and history tell us far more is needed than teenage brains adapting on their own into successful, beneficial and responsible adults.
Perspectives like National Geographic’s which ignore the major element of sin and its inevitable results, while denying the existence of a Creator, seldom produce much in the way of helpful solutions to the human condition, much less prudent advice to the rollercoaster experience of accompanying children through the oft dreaded years of teenage-dom. I have found far more science and wisdom in understanding teenagers by observing a woman who has worked with many hundreds of teenage boys for 50 years and a much smaller number of teenage girls, but especially one strong willed one that qualifies her as an expert in both sexes. This strong-willed daughter is now a wise and beautiful mother with one teenager of her own and two more on the way.
Glenda Anderson Leonard has been looking teenage boys in the eye for half a century. They quickly realize they can’t con her as they have been able to do so well with other adults. But what is more they are just as quickly taken with the knowledge that she genuinely loves them as her sons, even while she does not mince words in speaking truth to their face, hoping to reach their heart. She is particularly knowledgeable of the makeup of a teenager and the changes going on in their mind and body; the temptations they face and the hopes they have. As a dear friend wrote us both this week, Christ calls us to focus primarily on the glory of each one made in His image, both to teach and to love, rather than always seeing them in the ruin that sin has perpetrated in their lives. Such can only be done with eyes of faith and actively, continuously integrating the mind of Christ into your own; for the ruin becomes so overwhelming in your own eyes that you forget the image of God in them that has not been completely obliterated by sin. Consider Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well, an ancient Elizabeth Taylor in marriage behavior; or the woman taken in the act of adultery; or the rough fishermen called to be disciples. He saw through the ruin to the glory. Glenda does that with these teenage young men, and the success of her commitment has been evident over these past five decades. Her formula summarized in her own words has been: Structure and discipline, plus love and commitment, with consistency, based on God’s Word.
The time put into your teenager or child is a measure of your love for them and your commitment to them; don’t say you love them when you barely take the time to have meaningful conversations with them on a regular basis. Structure, discipline, and consistency are all principles that ooze out of every page of Scripture. It cannot be done without putting time in two major places with consistency: into God’s Word and with God, and two, into the life, mind, and heart of your child or teenager. The reward is too awesome to measure; failure too devastating to contemplate. But God is too strong and willing not to call on for help.
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