A Parent’s Role in Counseling Teenagers

July 20, 2015


A Parent’s Desperation

“Please fix my child!”

A parent may not articulate their desperation quite this way, but it is often the underlying plea when seeking counseling for their teenager.

It is easy to understand this desperation. Whether you are a parent of a teenager or not, you have encountered teenagers who are difficult and challenging. When a teenager struggles with something that seems beyond what our society deems “normal teenage behavior,” we often feel inadequate and ill-equipped to help.

Unbiblical Cynicism

There is an attitude towards teenagers in our society and in our churches that is cynical and unbiblical. This cynicism says:

  • Teenagers all go through rebellion; it’s part of their development and they need to go through it.
  • The younger generation is leaving the church in droves; it’s too big of an issue and we don’t have the answers.
  • I don’t understand teenagers, and I am not able to relate to them.
  • Teenagers don’t want to talk to someone my age; we have nothing in common.
  • You can’t reach a teen’s heart; it is already too heavily influenced by the culture.
  • Teenagers aren’t capable of following Christ; they are too self-centered.

Maybe you could add a cynical attitude of your own. In order to serve teenagers well, we must repent of our cynicism and think biblically where youth are concerned.

Biblical Perspective

Teenagers can, in fact, enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Their rebellion can be addressed with God’s Word. By God’s grace, we can connect and relate to teens, and they can enjoy relating to us and seeking our wisdom. We have much in common with them—we are all sinners who need a Savior; we are far more alike than we are different. We are all self-centered; age doesn’t change that. Many youth come to faith and want to walk by faith in obedience, and many are willing to hear how God’s Word and the gospel address their sin and their suffering.

Fear holds many counselors and disciplers back from serving youth. Those who are otherwise positioned well for discipling teens often allow their cynicism to override their mandate to serve the younger generation (Titus 2). Fear causes parents to shrink back from parenting well. Fear causes counselors to miss the mark regarding serving young people in their ministries. Fear breeds discouragement and cynicism.

The Counselor’s Role

Counselors: If fear has held you back from discipling the young generation, I would encourage you to rethink your ministry. It is necessary to understand what your role is in the lives of teens.

First, some roles that do NOT belong to the counselor:

  • The counselor is not a replacement for a parent.
  • The counselor is not to be the primary person to disciple the teen.
  • The counselor is not to be the sole confidant of the teen.
  • The counselor is not to take sides with either a parent or a teen.

Second, some roles that do belong to the counselor:

  • The counselor is to come alongside both teen and parents, whether or not the parent is in the counseling office. Counseling teenagers falls under the heading of “family counseling.” Generally, you should not counsel a minor without also involving the parents.
  • Give hope to both teen and parents—show them that change is possible. Provide them with both practical and spiritual tools to navigate the teen years.
  • Be a mediator when needed. Explain the principles of peacemaking and follow them in your sessions together. (An excellent resource is peacemaker.net.)

The Parent’s Role in Counseling Youth

Parents: Check your own attitude for cynicism and unbiblical thinking about your teenage child. You must realize that it is your primary responsibility to disciple your child. You are right to seek help from a counselor when you are unsure how to handle your teen, but you must also be willing to enter into the counseling dynamic in cooperation with the counselor.

You play a major role in your child’s counseling, including but not limited to, the following:

  • You are more than your child’s friend. Your God-given role is a leadership/authority role. If you have struggled with your parental role, speak with the counselor about this and work towards change (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
  • You should not use counseling as a “punishment.” Discipline and punishment are not the same. You will never succeed at punishing a child into a relationship with Christ. Grace and discipline work very well together and that approach will enhance your teen’s counseling.
  • Think of your counselor as a resource. Ask the counselor to help you to address your own heart issues while your teen is in counseling. Be teachable and transparent for the sake of your family. Be willing to hear the Truth spoken in love by your counselor.
  • Be understanding. Communication is possible, but you must guard your words. Speak encouraging and constructive words that can be used by God. Guard your own heart so that you do not speak out of fear, discouragement, or anger. These attitudes hinder the counseling process (Proverbs 12:18).
  • Understand that teens are able to grasp deep concepts. Don’t underestimate them. You and your counselor can both give guidance. Proverbs is full of wisdom for youth (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20).
  • What you see as a teenage-problem is actually a gospel opportunity. All sin and suffering is addressed by the gospel. While they are struggling is the perfect time to have these talks. God uses our troubles (at any age) to reveal our hearts. Everyone’s heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). It can be difficult to see this revealed in your own child, but this is a more biblical view than blaming hormones and chronological age for your teen’s struggles. Think biblically.
  • Don’t take their struggle personally. Consider your own struggles and realize that teenagers are just younger sinners. You can relate to them when you keep this in mind. Your own heart, too, can tend towards self-centeredness and deceit. Keep in mind that the power to change comes from a daily dependence on Jesus (1 John 1:8–9).
  • Share the truth in love. Be merciful and gracious rather than punitive and legalistic. Remember that it is your job to be faithful, and God’s job to change hearts. You are His instrument. Keeping that in mind will make your burden seem lighter as you depend on Him and not on yourself to change your teen (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ephesians 4:15).

Hope Has No Age Limits

Parents and counselors, it is critical that you deal with your cynicism biblically. There is much at stake here. Hope is the antidote to cynicism! Hope also requires time. Take the time to offer hope! Parents must make time for family. Counselors must include helping families in their ministries. We are all instructed in Titus 2:1-15 to teach the younger generation. It is not just a good suggestion, it is a biblical mandate.

There is a spiritual battle raging for the hearts and souls of our youth. Cynicism gives the enemy a victory. Hope defeats the enemy! Teens need to know that you are in their court and that you love them and so does God. They need to know that you believe in their potential to follow Christ (1 Timothy 4:12).

A teen’s heart should be our primary focus as counselors, parents, and disciplers. If we only focus on age and physiology, we are going to miss the mark and not serve teens well in the body of Christ. I once heard a Christian psychologist say that the goal for dealing with the teen years is to “just get them through it.” That kind of cynicism breeds discouragement and fear. God offers us a better way.

The backbone of biblical counseling and any other biblically solid one-another ministry is the sufficiency of Scripture. Parents and counselors, if we believe that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), then why do we often act like it doesn’t apply to people between the ages of 13-19? Let’s repent of our cynicism and purpose to serve the young generation.

Join the Conversation

What cynical attitudes prevent you from serving the younger generation?

What part can you play in the discipleship of teenagers in your sphere of influence?

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