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TEXT: Isaiah 7:16

SUBJECT: The godly training of teenagers #2: What is the aim of teenage training?


"He who aims at nothing will be sure to hit his mark". This comment, though first directed at confused preaching, applies just as well to the typical rearing of teenagers. I am convinced that the average Christian parent, though well-meaning to be sure, has no definite, identifiable goals in the training of his children. Oh, we all want our children to be good, happy, productive, and the like; but we don't carefully define these ideas. Therefore, we cannot develop specific, detailed strategies to achieve them. We're "aiming at nothing, and hitting our mark".

What, then, is the Christian parents' aim in training their teenagers? Or--to be more personal--what are your goals? Are you aiming at anything, or--like the Syrian archer--but "drawing your bow at venture?"



1.Let me rebut a couple of ideas with dispatch, and then spend some time on the more serious errors. The goal of parenting teenagers is not mere survival. The idea commonly believed is something like this: "the teenage years are a bumpy ride in the life of your children, so buckle up and hang on tight." This presupposes that adolesence means a rebellion which no parent can resist. This is simply not so. The pastorals teach us that a "Man able to rule his own house well" can produce, under God's grace, "faithful children, not accused of riot". Secondly, the aim of parenting teenagers is not to rush them into the world so you can get on with your life. This is pure selfishness. "For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children". I trust no one in this room entertains such carnal thoughts of child rearing. But now, to the more serious errors:

2.You should not aim at re-living your life through your teenager.

a.Youthful ambitions are often stymied by the grim realities of life. Most of you, I suppose, are not doing today what you had dreamed about in childhood. You're not starring for the Dallas Cowboys; not electifying the music world; not writing that best-seller. Compared to juvenile fantasies, real life is rather dreary, isn't it? And so, frustrated with their own lives, parents often want to re-live them through their children, especially when they reach the teenage years.

b.One example will do. I knew a man who was a very gifted ballplayer. He had played well in the minor leagues, once tripling off the Hall of Fame pitcher, Dizzy Dean. But because of the depression and the needs of his family, he had to give up his dream and go to work at a "real job". This disappointment "stuck in his craw" for many years. But when he had a son, he saw the chance to redeem himself. And so, he pushed his boy into sports--and pushed, and pushed, and pushed! There was only one problem, however: his son was a bad athlete, and all of his father's coaching and screaming could not change that stubborn fact. Needless to say, the father never made his boy into a star; he only "provoked him to wrath".

c.To sum it up: Don't penalize your children for your own faults. Jeremiah 31:29 may be fairly applied here: "In those days they shall say no more, `the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge'".

3.You should not aim at reproducing your image in your teenager.

a.We all rather admire ourselves, don't we? We all sort of feel that if more people were like we are, the world would be a better place to live. If we could just make other people think, speak, and act as we do, we'd be well on our way to the millennium. But of course, we don't have much influence on the people around us, and therefore, cannot entertain this wish too hopefully. But we have enormous influence over our children. And therefore, we might be able to reproduce ourselves in them. Many parents try to do just that.

b.One example will suffice. I knew a father of two teenagers who permited no disagreement in his family. Whatever the subject no matter what its importance, everyone must subscribe to his opinion. To disagree with daddy, even respectfully, was to court disaster. His sons accordingly, became--for a time--his "clones", even in matters as personal as dress and grooming. To look at his boys was to see their father twenty years before. He wanted to reproduce his image in his sons.

c.But this approach is wrong for the obvious reason that God made each man an individual, with a distinct personality, and a unique perspective on life. As it is written, "Who made you to differ one from another?"

d.You should not, therefore, stifle your child's creativity and dictate his every thought in life, for your aim is not to make your teenagers into nothing but younger versions of yourself.

4.The aim of teenage training is not the salvation of your child.

a.Christians are made by a "heavenly birth", not by an "earthly training" be it ever so perfect. Your aim in the training of teenagers, therefore, is something else. By all means pray for your child's conversion, evangelize him, expose him to the means of grace, and live in such a way as to "become the Gospel". But do train your child into Christianity, lest you produce a Pharisee instead.

B.Enough negation! What is the parents' aim in training up their teenagers? It is simply this: "To bring them from childhood into a state of maturity".

1.But somebody will say, "Doesn't this occur automatically?" It depends on how you define "maturity". If it means growing whiskers or developing breasts, then of course, your children will mature without your assistance. But, if maturity means "readiness for adult life", then they desperately need your guidance in their teenage years.

2.What then makes for maturity? What distinguishes an adult from a child? It is not intelligence or even piety, for such traits may exist in people from the earliest ages.

3.It is, to my way of thinking, one thing: a responsible independence. If your teenager can learn this virtue, then you have largely succeeded in your appointed task. But if not, you will soon reap a harvest of shame, no matter "how much Bible he knows".

C.Maturity, therefore,means responsible independence.

1.An infant is totally dependent on his parents. Being unable to do anything for himself, he cannot survive without them. As the years go by, however, his mind and body mature, giving him ever greater independence. This growing freedom should be accepted by his parents and carefully guided.

2.Some parents, however, fear this growing independence and seek to suppress it as long as possible. But don't think too badly of such people as though they are necessarily insecure or dictatorial. For in fact, parents as exemplary as Joseph and Mary may fall into this trap.

a.Under Hebrew custom, a boy becomes an adult at the age of twelve. Having been carefully trained through his childhood, he is then welcomed into the synagogue as a communicant member. Henceforth, he enjoys certain rights and privileges upon which no one may infringe. Joseph and Mary evidently forgot this when she so unjustly rebuked Him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously!" With the highest respect, Jesus asserted His human freedom to act with some independence from His parents, "Why is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"

3.By suffocating the child's independence, parents run two opposite risks, both of which are deadly.

a.Your passive children will remain and become increasingly dependent upon you. Thus, well into their adult years, your children will be indecisive and ill-equipped for life in the "real world". They will suffer an arrested growth.

(1)I know a man who was the classic "Mama's boy". And to this day, though over sixty years old, he is totally dependent on women, a weakness that has ruined three marriages no less. Women are attracted to this tall, handsome, smart, and well-off gentlemen. But once they get to know him intimately, they cannot respect him, and therefore, will not remain with him.

(2)I know a family of such men. Two boys I grew up with never really learned to think for themselves, but were tightly fastened to the mother's "apron strings". Today, the boys, now in their thirties, are pathetically immature. One does not work. The other can't even drive a car!

b.Your aggressive children, however, will resent your overbearing behavior, and react against it with violence.

(1)I grew up with another boy whose mother was ultra-oppressive. At thirteen years of age he could not so much as ride his bike off his block! He wasn't allowed to enter such "dens of iniquity" as bowling alleys or miniature golf courses. He was allowed to visit no friend's home, but mine. When he got big enough to defy her spankings, however, he rebelled with abandon. Everything he had been forbidden to do, he did with greediness, including things far worse that miniature golf.

4.This growing independence, however, must be more than granted. It must also be guided. And, by-the-way, "guided independence" is not a contradition in terms. For the Christian, after all, is simultaneously "the Lord's freeman and His slave". How, then, may you guide your teenagers into the responsible use of their freedom?

a.Independence must be gradually accorded to them from the earliest years of childhood. "Precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little and there a little".

(1)Your teenager does not instinctively know how to use his freedom in a responsible way. He must learn. And he can only learn by experience.

(2)You must, therefore, give him his freedom gradually. Start him off with no freedom. Make many rules. Enforce them with spankings. Then, as he learns good from evil, start reducing your number of laws, enforcing them more and more by persuasion. If you do this from his infancy, he will learn how to use his freedom resonsibly.

(3)But this is the very place where parents fail. They begin by giving their children nearly total freedom, having few rules, and enforcing then with laxity. But then, as the children start growing up, the parents are alarmed with their behavior, and have to start making more and more laws, enforcing them with ever-growing severity.

(4)Thus, the child becomes more and more frustrated. He begins to realize that "the bigger he is, the less he can do". This is plainly unjust. He will not long tolerate such an outrage. And so parents lose their teenagers--not at puberty--but in infancy. As it is written,

(a)"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him chastens him betimes". (Proverbs 13:24)

(b)"Chasten your son while their is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction". (Proverbs 19:18)

(5)Let me apply this backward principle to your job.

(a)You start your job at $5000/mo., a big office, and a personal secretary. And, after 15 years of loyal service, you find yourself at $1000/mo., punching a time-clock, and working in a small cubicle shared by three others employees.

(b)You'd find such situation intolerable. You'd be angry and discouraged. And if you had any self-respect, you'd quit.

(c)But then you impose just such standards on your children. It's no wonder, therefore, that Paul said, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, lest they be discouraged". And it's no wonder that so many children run away from home! It is eminently reasonable!

b.Conscience must be carefully cultivated.

(1)Small children can be supervised around-the-clock. Teenagers cannot be. If, therefore, you would have a responsible teenager, you must make him answerable, not only to you, but to himself. This we call conscience.

(2)My own experience may be helpful.

(3)How is this practially accomplished?

(a)Give reasons for your rules. It is not a matter of "Do this because I say so, or "Do this or be spanked"; but "Do this because it is right". Conscience, after all, is a matter of morality, not pragmatism.

(b)Stress the Divine Omnipresence. Do this by word and by example.

(c)Communicate with your child rather than just command him. Discuss issues with him rather than simply decreeing them. Hebrews 5:14

c.Link his freedom to his responsible use thereof. Matthew 25:29. "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away". Impress upon him the fact that growing up is not a license to sin.

d.The hardest thing of all. Let him suffer the full consequences of his behavior.

(1)The Scripture always links pain to sin. But parents often intervene on behalf of their children, thus permitting them to imagine that sin can be "gotten away with". It cannot! Don't fool your children. When you do, you simply postpone and increase their "just recompense of reward".

(2)Here too I can cite many examples:

(a)I knew a boy who had a paper route, for which he was well-paid. But whenever he wouldn't get up in the morning to do his work, his father did it for him. This taught the child that the world owed him a living; that laziness and wealth are compatible. The Scripture teaches otherwise. Proverbs 10:4.

(b)I knew another boy who wouldn't do his homework. Yet he passed every class. Do you know why? His mother did it for him, earning high marks. What did he learn? That wisdom may be acquired by proxy. This too is against the Bible, "If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you will bear it alone" (Proverbs 9:12).

(c)Worst of all, I knew a third young man, who regularly got--but never paid--his traffic tickets. Thus, periodically, he would wind up in jail. But no problem! His parents would bail him out! They did it time and again. Until they finally wised up, and let him spend thirty days behind bars. Thereafter, he never forgot to pay his tickets.

In conclusion, let me summarize: What is the aim of the training of teenagers? To help them grow from children into adults. What does it mean to be an adult? It means to consistently exercise a responsibile freedom. How is this produced in our children? (1) Freedom must be gradually permitted from childhood, (2) the conscience must be cultivated, (3) responsibility must be always linked to freedom, and (4) he must be permitted to suffer the consequences of his sin.

With these matters addressed, you will find your children, though not necessarily saved, of good character, useful to society, and a great blessing to his proud parents.

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