No Perfect Parents — Part 2: Age 12–18

Dan Eum
4 min readAug 18, 2022

This is part 2 of my notes on No Perfect Parents by Dave and Ann Wilson. For strategies of parenting kids in the early stages (Age 0–11) please see my previous post.

One of the keys to wise godly parenting is being able to adjust the strategy by age group. When kids reach the teenage stage parents must transition from training to coaching. Teens develop an addiction to freedom during this time. They don’t need us to tell them every little detail to do or choice to make. If we fail to make this transition they will feel smothered. We must learn to take a step back and and give them some freedom to make their own decisions.

Deconstruction

The first 12 years of their lives we tell them what to think and believe. But during these next 12 years teens start to dismantle and question all we taught them. Shaunti Feldhaln uses the illustration of building a castle. Parents spend years building a castle, constructing it brick by brick. These bricks are our values, beliefs, priorities, and the like. We have instilled these values into our children, stacking them day to day with our own experiences, words, impressions and discipline.

But now, they will begin to challenge these core values. They will pick up each brick and question where they also want to build their own lives with this particular block. They pick up the brick called “sexual purity,’ look at it, and say, “Do I believe this? Do I want to live my life this way? They will pick up the brick called “avoiding harmful drugs and the abuse of alcohol” and begin weighing whether this one will make it into the structure of their own lives.

Living in the Question

With teens we need to live life with them not for them. We do this by a process Wilson calls “living in the question.” Instead of telling teens what to do we should ask questions that invite them into a decision process of their own freedom. The harder we jam our values down their throats at this stage, the more likely they are to reject those values. In the first 12 years you’ve told them what to think, now we should constantly ask them “What do you think?”

  • What do you think about that R-rated movie?
  • What do you think about hanging out with those kids?
  • What do you think about looking at porn?
  • What do we do as parents that really bugs you?
  • What rules do you think are stupid?

Key to your Teen: Relationship

Personally, this section is probably the one that I needed to hear most with dealing with teens. I have young boys and I’m used to telling them what to do, as I should. But with my 21 year old niece who is now living with us, I have to adjust my approach in a manner that is appropriate for her age.

Although they seem to be pulling away, don’t be discouraged by this. It is a normal expression of them exploring their freedom, not a rejection of you as a parent! This is the critical time to build the relationship.If you only focus on laying down more and more rules without relationship, they will rebel against those rules. It’s usually much easier to obey someone you love and loves you in return.

Remember: Rules without relationships lead to rebellions.

How do we build a great relationship with our teens?

  1. Pursue. Pursue. Pursue.
  2. Listen. Listen. Listen.
  3. Model. Model. Model.

Pursue — When they pull away don’t retreat, pursue! Don’t smother but don’t abandon. They are trying to discover their identities and may even say they don’t want you in their lives but don’t believe that. Instead find creative ways to keep spending time with them.

  • Daddy-daughter dates regularly. Model to her how a good guy will treat her.Reservations at a restaurant, Dress up, flowers, clean the car and pull up front. Open doors for her. Ask lots of questions. Above all, listen a lot. Start treating them somewhat like a friend and not just dad, so open up yourself also.
  • Mom-son hang-outs (dates) regularly. This is the same as a date but boys don’t like it when you call it that! Dave Wilson also spent time with his boys by having a “boys day out” once a month. When they were young it was easy: Root beer floats, arcade. When they became teens, he had to adjust to them because they often had better options. In this case you must get creative. Pursue them according to individual interests. One of his sons liked gadgets so if he asked him to go to Best Buy then he’d definitely be in. Another son liked outdoorsy activities so he would ask him to go hiking, another likes sports so they’d throw around the football.

Here are other great ways to Pursue your teens:

  • Get home. Love is spelled T.I.M.E.
  • Eat dinner together.
  • Listen to their music.
  • Watch their videos with them.
  • Read what they are reading.
  • Question what they are questioning- especially regarding their faith.
  • Text them.
  • Get to know their friends
  • Get food out (when they eat they will talk)
  • Stay up late, because they are up and that’s when they will talk.

Listen — One of the main complaints from kids about parents is “they don’t listen.” When parents stop listening, teens shut down, then turn to their friends for advice. When we just cut them off with answers to fix the problems and rules, they feel “unseen” and “unheard.” Typical reactions to feeling unheard is rebellion, isolation, and emotional distancing from parents. One way dads do not listen to their kids is by not being there physically because of work.

Model — how you live out your faith is more important than how well you get your teens plugged in to a youth group. Don’t model perfection because that will come off as judgmental or unattainable which both cause more harm than good. Our hope is not in being perfect but trusting in the one that is. Let them see your true self in all its messiness.

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Dan Eum

One life, ‘twill soon be past…Only what’s done for Christ will last.