Parenting Teens in the Christian Culture

If you read here regularly, you know I’m not a big fan of romance or happily ever after stories. But I do respect the hope that inspirational authors in the genre bring to the page, and the real-life emotional and spiritual issues they weave into their very rigorous story form.

So, when I came across a historical romance author’s post regarding a bad encounter with bad pseudo-romantic ideas, I had a vibrant discussion with the Fab Four (yes, all four, ages 16 down to 10) about our responsibility for what goes in our minds and hearts, and the life direction we choose as a result. 

The discussion topic was courtship, Christian patriarchy, and the anti-dating movement. (Let it be known that my husband chose to court me, not date me, when he was 19. But it was his choice, not his parents’.)

Taken to extremes, we’ve seen the courtship movement destroy family relationships. We’ve seen it send young people running into the arms of the world for refuge from the unbearable weight of guilt and judgment heaped on them by their church culture, and even their parents. What Ms. Lathan writes, rings true.

…when taken to extreme ends of the spectrum you see the following. Boys and girls are not to talk to or even look at each other. God’s gift of free will and intellectual reasoning are suppressed. Choice for a mate is left up to parents, specifically the father…Women are subservient in everything and have no purpose other then to have babies. Emotions, especially in regards to sensuality and romance, are wrong and to be denied. Learning anything about sex or sexuality is forbidden until after marriage, at which point the couple are left on their own to figure it out. Gazing beyond the bubble of the family and what the parents decide is forbidden.

-Sharon Lathan, author of Miss Darcy Falls in Love

Best Friends for Life

“I’m kind of awkward around girls,” said my 16-year-old, “But I can talk to them.” Which is true. My kids are friendly with scattered shyness, rather than the other way around. They’re a bit cynical about people their own age, but I suppose there’s good reason, since it’s an awkward age for all concerned.

“You do just fine,” I told him. “But just imagine. If you never, ever get the chance to learn how to talk to the opposite sex, how are you supposed to forge that foundation of friendship for a marriage?”

To which my quiet but strongminded son nodded emphatically.

I have many good friends, and a handful of best friends of both genders. But Dave is my prime meridian, the point from which the geography of my life is mapped. He taught me friendship, more than anyone has, and if I’m a friend to you, then you know the ripple effect of my husband’s influence.

If I could name a liability to cross-gender interaction as a teen, it was an excessive preoccupation with dating and romance at the expense of friendship. I well remember the difficulties of interacting through a haze of hormones and insecurity, but neither of those things can be prevented. Taking the leash off them leads to destruction. And so does denying that stage of human development its due place.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. That remains true after the wedding bells are done ringing, and it’s necessary to a balanced love relationship. As we raise our teens, the process of learning that self-control takes on a new context, one that’s foundational to true love.

Raising Daughters, Raising Sons

This leaves my husband–my best, best friend–and me with a challenge and a responsibility. We can fake our way through the teen parenting years by exercising denial and constraint, or we can choose in favour of compassion and shared experience.

That has not been easy. But for me, as a card-carrying member of the Chiefest of Sinners Club, it’s a no-brainer. Sin is not external. We can’t simply ban it. It’s in our nature, inextricable in this lifetime.

As homeschool parents, we choose proactively. We choose to go out and see the world, we choose to discuss it and walk through it for what it is. We choose love and personal discipleship.

We are in this way of life not so much to shelter our children as to enjoy the finite time we have with them before they go their own ways. When they do, the door will always be open for them to return in time of need. They didn’t choose to be born. We chose, and we chose fallibly. And so will they.

Freedom is Responsibility

Our choices are our own. Their choices must and will be theirs, not ours. That’s what it means to be human.

This I know: It was God who took an 18-year-old woman-child and a 20-year-old young man, and made this family we have together, against all odds.

No system we invent will ever substitute sufficiently for grace. If we are to be Christlike, then it seems to me the best way to parent is by practicing that same grace.

Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am foremost of all. May my children know that one sure anchor, even if I teach them nothing else about the human heart.



  1. So interesting (the other article) to see that silliness– silliness is the only word I can think of for it because silly it is, this trying to take God’s Word and wrangle it into a set of clear do’s and don’ts and then forcing them on others. There is a reason God gave us free will and there is no do and don’t list that will compensate for loss of the wisdom, discernment, and love that come through an actual relationship with Him just like there is no do and don’t list that will compensate for a real actual,personal relationship as parents to our children. What damage we do them by ignoring the relationship and focusing on rules. I am so grateful the Lord DIDN’T turn His Word into a clear set of rules (though I remember wishing He had when I was a new Christian and spending a great deal of time trying to find that secret set of rules that others seemed to be so sure of, hidden in the Bible. After many times through I am 100% sure it isn’t there. And how grateful I am that He chose free will and love over that. What a mess that would be, and how miserable we would be as we all tried to strive to be exactly the same individual.

    We haven’t actually talked about the whole courtship conundrum, mostly because the kids don’t hang around anyone in “that crowd”. We discuss the emotional/heart life often and as needed,look at real relationships of those we know (the only “courtship” person in the family was of her own devising and just this weekend finally gave up and married the non-Christian she fell in love with after trying “true love waits” and focusing on courtship for years.) The girls and I spend a lot of time watching the people and relationships around us and talking about the healthy marriages, the not so healthy ones,the behaviors in both, as well as the relationships we see on tv and in books.

    1. We haven’t really talked about courtship either, other than to point out that being able to make friends instead of being weird about the opposite sex is foundational to a good marriage later.

      “spending a great deal of time trying to find that secret set of rules that others seemed to be so sure of”

      Conversely, that phenomenon was an excellent trigger for rebellion for me as a new Christian. I came from a performance-driven background, and I desperately needed grace, free and clear. The rules-and-formulas mindset was very upsetting to me, because I knew only two things. 1) I was saved by grace, 2) “as you have received Christ, so walk in Him.” (Col 2:6)

      We have a lot of honest discussions about the real-life relationships around us too–the divorces in the family, the decision-making processes in finding a companion. It’s what’s right in front of the kids, and in any case, some of my secular family does better at stable commitment than some of our Christian family. It totally does come down to how we make decisions, and there’s just no fluffing that off, whether with rules or grace-takes-all or relativism.

  2. C.L., Thank you for sharing my blog and using my eye-opening experience as an opportunity to talk frankly with your children. Mostly, God bless you for accepting the challenge of raising your children in an honest relationship, and for teaching them of God’s faithfulness as they walk through our difficult world.

    I have raised two children to adulthood and like every other parent down through time can attest to how tough it is to find the balance between controlling their lives and letting them have the freedom necessary to learn for themselves. Just like we did, they WILL make mistakes. Allowing for that is very, very painful. The reality is, you can’t prevent your children from making the occasional bad decision. However, if you have forged a strong relationship of trust and honesty with them, they will turn to you for guidance (and their Heavenly Father too, of course) hopefully before doing something stupid, but definitely afterward. IMO that is the sign of an excellent parent.

    My daughter was careful in her dating choices. Her father and I held tighter to the reins while she was living at home (although never choosing for her), but once on her own our ability to be directly involved was gone. Her heart was broken once – long story – but she came through it stronger in her faith and trust in God to lead her to the proper mate in His timing. Indeed He did! Neil and my Emily have been married for almost a year. He is a wonderful Christian man, and while even I as a romance novelist know there is no such thing as a “perfect” marriage, I DO know that if Jesus is the cornerstone and foundation, it can come darned close!

    Again, thanks. May God continue to smile upon you in your life, marriage, and family success.

    Sincerely, Sharon Lathan

    1. Sharon, thanks for this. It’s true, allowing for our kids’ failures is a very painful and frightening thing…but you’re right, we can’t ultimately protect them from themselves. In my observation, setting super-strict courtship rules doesn’t protect them anyway.

  3. When one has four children upon which to practice, and a God Who deals in grace and wisdom, one has the opportunity to learn better with each child. Youngest is now a freshman in public high school…a blessing the other homeschooled children did not have…and these discussions happen on a nearly daily basis.

    What’s interesting is this: the answer is still the gospel, and taking our thoughts captive. It’s still that after all this time. The answer is not courtship, not dating, not NOT-ING. It’s just basing your life and your decisions about same on scripture. Every. Time.

    And that’s true for moms who find themselves widowed and therefore single (pray God you never lose that prime meridian…it’s a slippery thing and difficult to re-acquire) as much as it is for teenagers/young adults.

    This has been more difficult with some of my children than with others. But so far, so good. I’ve got a fabulous son-in-love, a marvelous daughter-in-love, and two more daughters who will not be duped by the jerks. For this youngest one, it will be a daily battle because of the stupid, frivolous, shallow dramas that play out at school every day. But that’s ok…every one of us can use a reason to daily reach out for God’s foundations and plant our feet firmly on it.

    1. “the answer is still the gospel, and taking our thoughts captive. It’s still that after all this time.”

      So very well said, Esther.

      If Lacy and Stephen are any indication, your kids are all going to do great. Shallow drama…well, it happens everywhere in the adult world, too, unfortunately, eh? It just has to be dealt with.

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