Though never appearing in the Bible, the word “teenager” can elicit waves of anxious worry in even the most faithful parent or teacher. And too often, this formative time of life gets described as “rebellious,” “uncontrolled,” “distant,” and “exhausting.”
But amazingly, King Solomon viewed the teenage season as one of great opportunity and promise. As his father David had taught him, so he taught his son (Prov 4:3-9) and imparted wisdom to a generation of youths about to assume their roles in society. To borrow a phrase from Paul David Tripp, the teen years are an Age of Opportunity.
What can we glean from Solomon’s wisdom to help us shepherd our teens and spur them to know and love God’s Word?
1. Lead With Your Life
Avoid the temptation to coerce your child into spiritual disciplines. Threats, power plays, guilt manipulation, comparison with other people’s children, and even shouting may seem to work at getting your teen into God’s word. But they don’t really work.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov 15:1)
Lead with your life. In other words, use the power of imitation rather than the threat of intimidation.
What does this look like?
- You study the Word, regularly, passionately, personally.
- You listen diligently to sermons as they are preached, or to Bible studies as they are taught. You take notes. You make clear applications to your life.
- You share what God has been teaching you in His word, not to manipulate your teen into engaging with the Bible, but to honor Christ in your life.
Your teens are watching and (believe it or not) listening to you. And what they hear and watch at this stage is not primarily your words but your life. Are you giving them an example to emulate? Are you leading with your life?
2. Persuade With Vision
In the early chapters of Proverbs, Solomon tells of wisdom’s beauty and promise:
If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. (Prov 1:23)
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than the gain from silver and her profit better than gold. (Prov 3:13-14)
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. (Prov 4:7-8)
Solomon persuades with a picture of the future—the overwhelming beauty of wisdom, the unsurpassed joy and benefit in gaining wisdom, and the devastating cost of rejecting wisdom. As you interact with your teenagers, talk about life. Life, both in the here-and-now and in the future. Show them the benefits to be gained then from studying God’s word now.
As I interacted with my teens, I often asked, “What kind of man (or woman) do you want to be someday? What kind of a parent or spouse do you long to become?” As they voiced their dreams with wide eyes, I would then say, “What you do now with God’s word will either help you or cripple you in that pursuit.”
Paul David Tripp says it well:
Keep conversations interesting and to the point … Make the moments of wisdom and correction interactions rather than lectures. Some of us carry invisible portable lecterns with us, which we are ready to set up in a moment. Leave them in the closet. Instead, ask stimulating questions that will cause the teen to examine his actions, his assumptions, his desires, and his choices. Help him shine the light of the word on them. Surprise him with truth. Let wisdom sparkle before his eyes … Engage your teenager in a stimulating conversation that doesn’t flash your authority or the right you have to tell him what to do. Rather, talk to him in a way that lifts up truth and points out its beauty.
3. Seize the Opportunity
The teenage years are a time of transition: from childhood to adulthood, from immaturity to maturity, from irresponsibility to great responsibility, and from more parental oversight to less overt control.
Do you see these transitions as overwhelming threats, or tremendous opportunities?
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. (Prov 3:1)
The season before you, as you consider your teenager, is one of unparalleled opportunity—the opportunity to walk with your teen as he or she transitions into adulthood. The opportunity build depth into a relationship that will reap benefits in the years to come.
With each of my teens, I scheduled a season of weekly breakfasts to discuss a key issue in their lives. For one, it was a pattern of unbridled anger. For another, the fear of man vs. the fear of the Lord. At these breakfasts we studied the word intentionally and with specific application. And we reaped a harvest of trust, accountability, and tangible growth in Christ.
So, seize the opportunity. Again, Paul David Tripp:
Pursue your teenager. Daily express your love. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Ask questions that require description, explanation, and self-disclosure. Don’t just relate to them during times of correction. Don’t only catch them doing something wrong; catch them doing something right and encourage them … Enter the world of your teenager and stay there. Don’t ever let them view you as being outside their functional world. Teenagers will reject grenades of wisdom and correction lobbed from afar by someone who has not been on site for quite a while.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11). Spend time. Craft special outings. Let them into your life. Listen eagerly and humbly. And pray. Pray for apples of gold from God’s word. And pray for settings of silver in which to place them.
We are called to labor with a vision for launching our teens into God’s world. By God’s grace, they can become men and women who know and cherish God through his word, and who seek to obey him in all things.