Four Tips for Parents of Adolescents

I remember my adolescence, even though it was in a prior millennia. I'll bet you remember yours too. Mine was a classic (think A Tale of Two Cities--it was the best of times AND the worst of times.) Because adolescence is a tough, volatile time, parents need special wisdom to handle this transitional age well. I've kept the following article by Dr. Jim Burns in my 'story bank' to share with parents because it's got important information for you. Here are the first two of Dr. Burns' tips. Come back next week for tips three and four. 

Adolescence, even for the most fortunate young person, is still a difficult season of life. Kids are dealing with a lot of pain, stress and change in their lives. It is our responsibility as parents to acknowledge this reality. We must not ignore what our kids are experiencing. Rather, we must be proactive in helping them deal with it. We need to strive to understand the hurts of adolescence.

I’ve written this tip sheet for that express purpose:  to help you understand the hurts of adolescence. Following, you will find my top four tips to help learn to discern what is going on in the life of your teen.

 1. Become a Student of the Culture.

It’s up to you, as a parent, to know who and what is influencing your kids. It’s going to take your time, energy and money to do so. But if we want to help our kids move through the adolescent years into adulthood successfully, we have to understand how our current culture is shaping our children’s morals and values. Let me give you just one example to drive home the point that we need to be students of the culture. Robert Pittman was one of the founders of MTV. His desire in creating MTV was not only to reflect culture, but also to shape it. He said, “Early on, we made a key decision that we would be the voice of young America. We were building more than just a channel; we were building a culture.” Regretfully, I must say that MTV has been successful in its mission. As parents, we have the power to be the most influential source for the development of our kids’ morals and values. Being students of the culture helps our ability to target the specific values our kids most need us to address.

 2. One of the Greatest Influences in Your Teen’s Life is Their “Friendship Cluster.”

This doesn’t mean that you, as a parent, aren’t a significant influence in your child’s life. Believe me, you are. But, the fact is, as your teen moves through adolescence, the amount of influence you have will fluctuate. And there will come a point in the life of your son or daughter when his or her friends will become the most influential voice they hear. If you haven’t experienced this yet, get ready, because it’s only a matter of time.

Most likely, your kids will tend to hang out with a cluster of two or three of their best friends. Jim Liebelt, author of 'Keeping Up With Today's Youth Culture' makes a key observation on how adolescent friendships work:

 “The rule of friendship among adolescents operates in such a way that your kids will conform to the interests, behaviors and values of their closest friends. Friendship groups are formed on a voluntary basis, so understand that your child will either contribute to setting the group standards, conform to them, or move away from the group. The one thing they won’t do is stay in a friendship group long term while bucking the group’s values. What this friendship rule means to parents is that you should be aware that your kids will be involved in the interests, behaviors and values of their friends – or they’ll change friendship groups. Parents who, for example, know their child hangs out with friends who use drugs, but believe their child doesn’t use drugs, are most likely parents in denial. Learning about a kid’s closest friends means learning much about the kid himself.”

Knowing your teen’s friends will help you understand what types of experiences your teen might be struggling with – and will definitely provide insight into the morals and values that are influencing your son or daughter.

I found the two cautions above to be sobering (that MTV set out to define teen culture, and that our teens often buy in to the values of their friendship group.) Sobering yes, but hopeless, no. Parents remain influential, and that means we need to make sure our influence is godly. Next week I'll continue with tips three and four. If you'd like to read more of Dr. Burns' work, go to his blog at