“Raising Teens? I’m Just Trying to Raise Toddlers!"

Today we welcome Drs. Paul and Virginia Friesen as guests to the Mom to Mom blog. Paul and Virginia are no strangers to Mom to Mom, having spoken at many Mom to Mom programs over the years—and they are the featured speakers in Lesson 6 of the new Real Mom Life curriculum. Paul and Virginia have been involved in family ministry for more than 40 years through family camps, church staff positions, speaking, and counseling, and are the authors of numerous books (www.himweb.org/books) targeted to pre-marriage, marriage, and parenting. In 2003, they founded Home Improvement Ministries (www.HIMweb.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping individuals and churches to better encourage marriages and families in living out God's design for healthy relationships.


Parents may laugh and joke about the “terrible twos,” but many are actually much more terrified about what they see as the “tumultuous teens.”

There certainly are no guarantees about how our kids will fare during their teen years, but there are principles that lead to a greater probability that those “terrible twos” night actually turn into “terrific teens.”

Interestingly, many of these principles start while our children are pre-teens, even toddlers. Using the acronym T-E-E-N-S, let’s explore five principles for growing toddlers into teens.

TEACH the goodness of the Lord, by example and instruction.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  —Deuteronomy 6:6–9 

Whether we intend to or not, we are teaching our children constantly through our example and instruction. As is often said, “More is caught than taught.” 

Our daughters, then two and four, called from the bathroom, “Mommy, we need you.” Virginia walked into this scene: the four-year-old sitting on the “big throne” with a Good Housekeeping magazine in her hands, and the two-year-old on the child’s potty chair with an upside-down Osterizer Cookbook in her hand. “What do you need?” Virginia asked. “We need more mazagines, Mama!” Rest assured, my wife never set out to “teach” them that the bathroom was a dual-purpose room, but they had “caught it.”

We also need to teach through instruction. The passage above says the Word needs to first be on “our hearts” but then we are to teach it diligently to our children. There are many great devotionals out there. One of our favorites is “The Jesus Story Book Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Most young children like being read to, so make good use of reading time by including gospel-centric books. 

Devotions can be an effective way of teaching your children God’s Word, and we recommend them.  But to make them engaging, remember to:

  1. Make devotions fun. Be creative! Play-act a passage, or make up a game to reinforce Biblical truths. But avoid doing the same thing every time.

  2. Make them short and age appropriate.  

  3. Make them relevant. Talk about how the passage applies today—and let them interact in discussion. Lectures usually don’t produce desired results. 

ENGAGE them at every age at their interest and age level.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. —John 1:14

In this crazy busy life it is often challenging to engage with our children, but it is oh, so important.

We need to engage with them in our activities. Our oldest daughter just sent us a picture of her 3-year-old son “helping” her bake. She had a flour mixture in the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl and coached him to just “turn it on low.” . . . He cranked it to high and the rest is history. She is still cleaning up flour from the kitchen. Having our children with us is seldom “helpful” or efficient, but there is much gain in it. If we are always too busy, too tired, or too impatient to allow them to “help,” they’ll stop asking and an opportunity will be lost. 

We also need to be engaged in their activities. Sometimes going to a mid-day school activity to see your child be a tree in the class play may not seem like a wise use of your time—but it is. Children may not always express it, but they notice our presence. When one of our daughters was playing sports in high school, she had a teammate from a wealthy family who had just gotten a brand new BMW for her 16th birthday. The teammate pointed to us in the stands and said to our daughter, “I’d give it back, just to have my folks at my games.” 

EXPOSE them to significant events, experiences, and people that point them to Christ.

And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” —Numbers 11:28

Our children desperately need to see that Christ came to give us an abundant life, not a boring one. Some of us as parents are not great advertisements of “the abundant life.” As someone once said, “If you have the joy of the Lord in your heart, would you notify your face!” The joys of life are often lost in the tyranny of the urgent, the pressure-filled schedules,  and the tension in relationships—and so some of our children aren’t convinced that following Jesus is best path to a fulfilling, contented life.

Expose them to Christian concerts, conferences, events, and experiences where they see really healthy, cool Christians. They need to know they are not alone.

Take them with you to deliver a meal to a new mom, or volunteer as a family to rake the leaves of an elderly neighbor, or, as they get a bit older, take them on a mission trip so they see how cool it is to serve. We believe wholeheartedly that teaching your children the value and delight of serving goes a long way in defeating the entitled, over-indulged, self-centered reality of many children and teens.

Be intentional about inviting vital, cool, committed, Christians into your children’s lives. Have them over to babysit, to have a meal with your family, to hang out for the weekend. You may not be cool, but you can invite cool people over to support you in sharing your values and beliefs with your children. 

NEVER give up parenting them according to God’s word.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. —Ephesians 6:4

With the plethora of parenting books and advice available to us, we can be overwhelmed and confused about how to sort it out. Our mentors, who are now almost 90 years old, told us as new parents, “There are two areas to focus on in your parenting: Do not tolerate defiance in your children, and love your children unconditionally.” Simply put, these two principles cover a lot of ground!

Our children need to know they are called to obey us, because we are committed to obeying Him and that’s what we’re instructed to do. They need us to be a parent more than another friend. A well-meaning father told us he did not put restrictions on his sons because he didn’t want them to be mad at him. Our children need us to set safe boundaries around them so they can “run wild” within that security. 

Our loving them unconditionally does not mean allowing them to go undisciplined, but rather helping them to realize that our love for them is not affected by their disobedience. 

An eight-year-old boy etched his name in a new wooden door at our camp. When his father was brought to the scene, the first thing he told me, in front of his son, was “Eric is a great young man. It was wrong for him to etch his name in the door, and he will pay for, but he is really a great kid.”  The father’s affirmation of his son did not cancel the consequences for Eric, but it did reinforce his value. Allow your children to bear the consequences of their actions. Our job as parents is to “prepare our child for the road, not the road for our child.” Bailing them out will not help them grow into responsible teens who are motivated internally to make good choices. The father of the prodigal son did not send Burger King coupons to his son when he was desperate enough to eat with the pigs! He allowed him to experience the painful results of his actions so he would come to his senses, AND he was waiting with open arms of love when the son returned.

Ross Cambell expressed the needed balance well when he said, “Rules without relationship produces rebellion.” We would add, “Relationship without rules produces entitlement.” Our kids need both!

SHARE with them repentance when you wrong them, and your forgiveness when they wrong you.

. . . among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . . —Ephesians 2:3–5

Let your children see you owning your own actions and your need for their forgiveness when needed. Too often, after losing our temper, we say “I am sorry I lost my temper, BUT if you had obeyed . . .” Whatever is after the BUT erases the confession, and all we’ve done is reinforced that we are not responsible for our actions.

Ask forgiveness for your sins against your children . . . Period.

And, forgive them when they sin against you. Too many children live in shame because of having never truly felt forgiven. Their sins define them. King David was not defined by his sin with Bathsheba, because he confessed his sins—he is remembered as “a man after God’s own heart.” Aren't you glad God has forgiven you and not held your sin over you?

Lastly, share with them hope for the future. Affirm what you see in them. Praise them as they grow in Christlikeness. Remind them of your unconditional love for them.  Express to them that you can’t wait to see what God has for them. Project positively about their future. And pray that through your teaching, your example, your exposure to positive role models, your commitment to never give up on the trustworthiness of God’s Word, and your sharing your own need for forgiveness, that God will add a measure of His grace into the mix and you’ll have much to look forward to as your children become teens.

Don’t buy the lies about the terrible two’s or the terrifying teens. By God’s grace, enjoy the stages from the theatrical twos to the terrific teens . . . and ENJOY THE JOURNEY!