Why You’re Still Your Kid’s Best Mentor (Even When You Think They’re Not Listening)

This month we’ve been digging into the hard work of parenting teenagers, knowing that our job is to make them launch-ready for adulthood. Add in the ever-shrinking amount of time between now and that launch point, and it’s easy to feel panicky. Some parents may deal with that panic by reminiscing over baby pictures, laying on extra hugs, and planning special family times.


According to eye-witness testimony from my children, I’m on a one-mom quest to turn every single moment into a Life Lessons Lecture.

They’ve politely asked me to stop. Or at least rein it in a bit.

So, does that mean I’ve given up trying to get wisdom into my kids? Heck, no! But it does mean I’ve been moving to a more subtle mentoring or coaching style of parenting, one that’s heavier on the listening and lighter on the lecturing. I’ve also brought in some assistant coaches who back me up in beautiful ways.

Like apprenticeship—that on-the-job training piece we looked at in the last post—mentoring requires time and proximity. It’s the parenting strategy for teens that supports their mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity by imparting adult wisdom. But anybody who’s watched their teenagers’ eyes glaze over 45 seconds into a lecture knows we’ve got to gradually adjust the way we share wisdom so they’re more likely to receive it as they move toward independence.

I like the way Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents on imparting wisdom: “Impress [these words] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” I love that parent and child are discussing together and that they do so in the midst of daily life. I want to promote that kind of relaxed atmosphere and the closeness that develops because we’re doing things together while we talk. What I’ve found, though, is that older teens–these “apprentice adults”–need freedom to initiate such conversations on their own, and they need to feel secure that we’re really listening to them before we start giving our two cents.

As one wise friend advised, “Now is the time to work on your commentary skills.” He meant learning to say things like “Yep, that really must have sucked when the teacher wouldn’t take your late homework,” and then waiting for them to talk more and figure out for themselves the life lesson about responsibility that’s in there.

The whole neutral-commentary-and-biting-my-tongue-thing is HARD, but I’m working on it. Also, there are some areas where I’ll probably always be more direct no matter how old my teenager is because the stakes are too high. (See my post on Raising Sons Who Honor Women if you want my take on why a mom’s voice is crucial in changing culture.)

However, my hope is that by not weighing in on every single moment with “Mom’s Wisdom for How to Manage Your Life,” I’ll be better able to communicate that I have confidence in my teenager’s ability to problem solve for himself. It means I’ve also got to be diligent about building a buffer in my schedule including finding one-on-one time with my kids so that when a problem bubbles to the surface, I’m ready to spend the time and energy to listen.

Have you noticed, though, that teens don’t follow a parent’s timetable when it comes to discussing the deep stuff? In his book How to Really Love Your Teen, Dr. Ross Campbell points out that even when parents DO make time just to hang out with their teenagers, kids often wait until the last possible moment to bring up what’s bothering them. They’ll start a deeper conversation in the last few moments of a car ride home or just before everyone is heading to bed. I’ll be honest: it’s hard to be a good listener at 10:52 at night. But Campbell says that teens do this instinctively because they want an escape route if we react poorly when they start opening up their hearts. If things go south, they can just get out of the car or head to bed. I want my kids to know they can trust me with their thoughts and concerns, so I’m going to work harder to be patient and tuned in to these moments. My kids may not even remember what advice came out of my mouth, but I want them to remember the love and compassion I showed them.

Part of successful mentoring also means knowing that you don’t have all the answers and that your teens will also benefit from hearing solid wisdom from someone else they respect. For instance, we’ve made it a priority that our kids attend youth Bible studies led by dynamic adults, most of them younger than us. These leaders have a way of backing up our values but without sounding like yet another parent. In addition to being involved in great discussion groups, our kids have chances to sit around a table at the local coffee shop with these smart, trustworthy adults and just talk about struggles, triumphs, and I’m sure, even their frustrations with mom and dad. These “assistant coaches” don’t replace parents—and a good measure of whether a youth program is healthy is the amount of effort they put into partnering with parents and emphasizing biblical truth which includes honoring mom and dad. However, these additional wise voices encourage and strengthen our teenagers, which not only lightens the parental load but teaches our kids how to look for sound council beyond just mom and dad. That’s going to be an important skill to develop as they head out the door into adulthood.

Next post, we’ll take a look at a final launch strategy that we’re trying to embrace around here. It’s one I lovingly refer to as “handing my kid his crown” and it’s straight out of an old king’s playbook. Hang in there, moms and dads! What you’re doing matters more than you know.

Photo by John Hain on Pixabay


One response to “Why You’re Still Your Kid’s Best Mentor (Even When You Think They’re Not Listening)”

  1. […] empowerment. Along with apprenticeship (the on-the-job-training portion of raising teens) and mentoring (the way we impart wisdom), empowerment plays a role in releasing our kids to become the adults […]

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