Follow: The Art of Disciplining Teens (and everyone else too)

by John Hayward, Upper School Dean

The message of Scripture is simple. Read the gospels and you will be especially surprised at how clear and straightforward Jesus’ message is. There is little spin or nuance to the basic message. We should seek to follow Jesus in this simplicity that is not simplistic. So, here you go. How to disciple teens (and everyone else too) in two steps: know the person and help them be known by scripture.

Step One: know the teen. Know the teen well enough that their lives affect you. Are you affected by what they face in their lives? Maybe this seems like an obvious question, children’s behavior, attitude and health affect how parents feel any given day. But there is an important distinction between being affected by them as they relate to our desires, fears, standards and expectations and being affected by them in empathy because we know them and have stopped to see the world through their eyes and feel what they must feel. This is what we must do to be faithful to the call in Romans 12:9 to let love be sincere. Part of that is knowing their experience of life so that we might “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” as it says in Romans 12:15.

Teens face a unique set of unavoidable challenges. The changes that they are going through in their bodies and position in society make them face adult decisions for the very first time. Another issue that they face is looking at themselves in the midst of all this change and asking “who am I?” Aggravating this issue is the great number of voices vying offering different competing answers to that question. Imagine the anxiety, anger, helplessness that attends having a crowd of people all talking to you at once trying to tell you something you desperately need to know. That’s what it can be like for a teen.

Step Two: Help the teen be known by Scripture. Step two is the most important. It takes skill to, as David Powlison says, fix the rivet between experience and Scripture. God gives us words to understand and to articulate our experience. Our goal should be to communicate Scripture so that a teen listens and says, “that’s it! That’s me; that’s what it’s like.” The difficulty of doing this wisely shows the importance of step one and why it comes first. Knowing the teen enables us to help them see their lives in light of God’s word. Another general rule to follow when helping teens be known by Scripture is that it has to sound good. If Scripture doesn’t sound good, we have to try again and repeat the steps.

These steps to disciplining teens are not easy. The best way to improve in them is to experience them. Are you aware of what’s going on in yourself, the passions and desires that drive you? When you see them do you turn to Scripture as a source of life and guidance? Have you experienced being known by Scripture and have it meet you right where you are weak and needed a good word from the Lord? If you are like me, the answer to these questions is too often “no.” As we grow in these areas, we will be more naturally patient and gracious as we disciple teens. Feel unqualified? Good. That is God’s grace, bringing you to the end of yourself. Let’s call out to Him and ask that He will open our eyes to our own struggles and weaknesses and make His word come alive so that we can be ministers of it to our teens.