We live in a society where parents grow up children, and other people mentor our teen or young adult children. Though I have nothing against others speaking into the life of my older children I don’t believe that to be the only model. Parents need to be mentoring their teens and older children. As our children grow older parents need to change their goals and their strategies for their parenting. Seeing our role as mentor is one framework that helps this to happen.
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Mentoring – regardless of who you are mentoring – is about walking together towards maturity. It is about helping a person take charge of their life – their relationships, responsibilities and purpose. It is about helping a person understand themselves – their strengths and their weaknesses – to offer unconditional love and be there to support them through the hard patches, and rejoice with them in the successes.
This also defines parenting older teens and young adults. Parents need to step back from telling older kids what to do, and instead encourage them to think and make choices and decisions based on their own moral values. Parents need to be there to support their kids through unwise choices, or unexpected circumstances. We need to offer unconditional love as our teens navigate the waters of growing up and maturing.
Parenting young children is all about teaching them values, establishing lifeskills and habits of good character. As our children grow older we start expecting them to live these things. We start to see that they understand why these things are important and they start to choose these things for themselves (or not). It is this aspect of choosing which values they are going to live their life by that is the growing up process – they are starting to understand themselves, their passions and their purpose; establishing their place in the world.
When our children are young we are the parent and we understand this in a traditional sense – we are older and wiser, we are the boss, we give directions, instructions, we teach and we expect respect and obedience. As our children grow older though this changes – we are still their parent but how that is lived out, how it is expressed has to change. Our kids are growing in moral maturity, they are taking responsibility to live their life and our role has to change to reflect this growth.
Our older children will no longer be swayed by the comment: Because I’m the mum, that’s why! Instead they will be influenced by the people they have relationships with. This is why it is imperative that we build relationship with our kids. Having a relationship, where we know their inner heart, and they know ours, where there is trust and honesty, where there is a history of living life together, this will be what opens the doors to influencing (encouraging, helping, supporting) our older teens and young adults – not just because we are the parent.
Mentoring our children is much like mentoring another person – an adult – whether you are mentoring them as a new Christian, or as a support person in any sphere of life – mentoring another adult is about helping them reach their goals, about being supportive, honest and yet not pushy or demanding. Its about being there for them. This is exactly the same for our teens. We need to let go of the parenting practices we had before the teen years; those practices where right for that season, but we have to change, we have to step up and be a mentor, a guide, a coach – someone who stands beside and supports.
My goal is for my teen/young adult to continue to grow and have what they need to be contributors to their society. I want to help them take responsibility for their life. It isn’t my life – it is theirs – they need to be guided, prompted and encouraged to step into it with confidence.
Just as when we were teaching and training younger children, we need to remember all areas of life
- Spiritual and Moral
- Intrapersonal issues
- Their talents, passions, interests
Mentoring is walking alongside a person as they grow – maturing in heart attitudes, in character, in interpersonal skills, social skills and life skills.
Tips to think about as you consciously mentor your older kids:
- Learn to ask your children questions – prompting questions not interrogation questions! You want to get them to think about the circumstance or issue rather than you telling them what to do. Accept their answers – or ask them another probing question.
- Ask them what areas they want to grow in, what they want to learn, what they are praying about, or thinking about. Ask how you can help them achieve these things.
- Let your teen know that you are there for them, you are on their side, and you want to help them reach their goals. Ask them – what are your goals for the next week, month, year, or five years?
- Be real – if you are having a bad day – let them in on it. Let them help you. They will learn not only to give, but they will learn how to handle bad days themselves.
- Bring Jesus into the discussions. Ask them ‘What is God saying to you?’ This isn’t a time to sprout your wisdom, but to point them to Jesus. There surely will be a time to encourage them from your understanding and wisdom, but first and foremost we must point them to Jesus and encourage them in their own relationship with him.
- Don’t make it all about talking, teaching, learning – have fun together. Having fun encourages relationships.
- Offer unconditional love – let them know that if they think differently, believe differently and act differently than you would you will still love them. You will still open your heart, your arms, your home for them. You may need to think this one through – how do you love a child who is different than you? Different to the core? This will look different in different circumstances, and in different families – but we are commanded to love.
- Focus on growth and solutions, not on where they are weak or failing. Accept weaknesses, help them accept weaknesses, but look for ways to grow.
- Spend time together – one on one – be intentional, make this happen. This doesn’t have to be a full afternoon/evening ‘date’ – but rather know that you are catching up with each of your children in a safe space where they can talk heart stuff.
- Share your stories – not so much as a teaching point, but in life, share your stories. Let them know what you have been through, how you handled the ups and downs of life.
- Be prepared to be challenged and grow yourself – this should be a two way relationship
- Know that there will be times to say nothing – they don’t need to be fixed – they need to have a sounding board, a support base, and someone to talk to
- Be open to others speaking into your kids’ life. This doesn’t reduce the value of your input, it is the beginning of your teens world opening and them learning to go to older, wiser people for support.
People have often asked me which season of parenting is the toughest – toddlers or teenagers. Reality is each demand your attention and energy. For toddlers it is very physically demanding time – you have to be there with them. For teenagers and young adults you also have to be there with them but it is much more relationally demanding – but oh so worth it!