In Joshua 1:7, God challenged Joshua to, above all, “be strong and very courageous…careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you.” Twenty-three chapters later in the book of Joshua, we see that Joshua finally got it. Standing in front of more than one million people who were following his lead, Joshua told the nation of Israel:
The nation of Israel, and more importantly Joshua’s family, heard his proclamation. How would your wife and children feel if they heard you make this bold commitment? Our families count on us to serve the Lord completely. Your teen will learn what it means to serve the Lord as he or she observes and follows your lead. So how do you live in a way that is worth following? Let me suggest nine ways.
1. Prioritize Time with God
Habakkuk 2:1 reads, “I will stand like a guard to watch and place myself at the tower. I will wait to see what [God] will say to me” (ncv). The truth is that your ability to lead your family begins with your willingness to let God lead you. Unless you make spending time alone with Him a priority, you never will be the spiritual leader your family needs. I have found that the more time I spend alone with God, the more I’m able to facilitate spiritually robust moments for my family.
If you are anything like me, your days feel too full and your responsibilities too great. But you and I are chosen by God to lead our respective families, which means this is one responsibility we can’t afford to ignore. In Matthew 14:23 we read that Jesus “went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” We know this was a habit for Jesus. The Bible mentions twenty-five instances when Jesus prayed. If the Savior of the world needed time with His heavenly Father, how much more do we?
As you spend time with God in prayer and in His Word, He will better prepare you to be an effective leader in your home. Don’t worry too much about the place you use for spending time with God. Concentrate instead on being diligent in meeting with Him regularly. I retreat to my home office in the morning since the house is usually quiet at that time. Schedule consistent time each day to listen to God, refocus your priorities, reenergize your commitment as a father, reaffirm your life purpose, and retune your heart to God’s voice.
2. Handle Conflict Wisely
Proverbs 10:19 teaches, “If you talk a lot, you are sure to sin; if you are wise, you will keep quiet” (ncv). King Solomon was reminding us that our words matter. Several years ago I got into a heated conversation with Amy on Christmas Day. I don’t remember what our disagreement was, but Bailey and Brynnan have never forgotten it. Numerous times since, both girls have reminded me of that Christmas.
When a conflict arises, your role is to seek to defuse the situation and look for a peaceful resolution. Often I find it helpful to be the first to admit fault and apologize. Even if you feel that it wasn’t your fault, it’s more than likely that you shared some of the blame. Do everything you can to handle heated moments wisely, seeking to follow the advice of Proverbs 21:23: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (esv). Our kids learn how to deal with conflict by watching how we deal with heated moments.
A father told me that he and his son were having trouble getting on the same page regarding some choices his son was making. “Every time we talk about it,” the father said, “it feels like World War III.” I encouraged him to
~ set healthy boundaries for discussion that he and his son could work toward, such as no screaming and no storming out of the room
~ hit pause on the conversation when either of them was angry until they both have calmed down
~ work to find common ground
~ respect one another even when they don’t agree2
3. Speak Love
King Solomon wrote often about the power of our words. Here is one bit of wisdom: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). Also, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (25:11, esv). I have seen the impact of speaking love to my girls. It visibly changes how they view themselves.
At some point every day, I try to tell my girls,
~ “You are beautiful.”
~ “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
~ “I am so proud of you.”
~ “I love you.”
Job 4:4 reminds us that our words can be especially uplifting when our child is struggling: “Your words have comforted those who fell, and you have strengthened those who could not stand” (ncv).
4. Establish the Right Atmosphere
Satan wants my family and yours to stay busy, because a busy family often is a disconnected family. As a dad, you have the job of establishing the atmosphere in your home. And when I say atmosphere, I mean an environment in your home that protects your family time while honoring God. Atmosphere can include determining how often your teen uses mobile and handheld devices, the amount of time your family spends doing “family things,” and the priority you place on praying as a family. Atmosphere also includes family time devoted to talking about global and cultural events, the church, and the world; and the frequency and timing of family meals. Of course, atmosphere also encompasses when you vacation, which nonprofits your family supports, and even what parties and gatherings you host as you reach out to the world around you.
Every home is different, and what works in one may not in another. Here are a few questions to consider as you think about your role in establishing the atmosphere in your home:
~ How will you protect your family from movie, music, and media influences that do not align with Scripture?
~ What limits will you place on activities such as playing video games, watching television, and spending time on social media?
~ Does your family have a mission statement that details the kind of family you want to be and the kind of outreach you want to embrace as a family?
Both Bailey and Brynnan play soccer and basketball. That means our family schedule is completely different during the fall than it is in the winter. In the fall, soccer games are on Tuesday and Thursday nights. In the winter months, the girls play basketball on Monday and Friday nights. Sunday nights have become our regular Netflix-and-popcorn night. Every family member knows to clear his or her schedule because Sunday is a nonnegotiable night reserved for just the four of us.
5. Attend Church Together
One parent wrote to me, “My daughter thinks church is boring. She’s given it a try, but she doesn’t like the youth group and says the other teens ignore her. Should I let her stay home, or should I make her go?” My answer: it depends.
It’s common for teens to find church boring and for youth groups to be cliquish and unwelcoming. Some teens use this as an excuse to sleep in on Sundays, and you need to recognize when this is the case. For other teens, though, there are legitimate concerns.
You may need to assess the authenticity and effectiveness of your church’s youth program. Don’t force church on your teen; instead, take action in positive ways. Talk with adult volunteers in the youth department. Take your youth pastor out for coffee. If the leaders are unresponsive to your concerns, you are unsatisfied with what you discover, or your teen continues to express valid concerns about church and the youth group, you may need to search out other alternatives.
Only after much consideration, prayer, and confirmation from God should a family change churches. The key is to find a Bible-believing church where you can grow and serve as a family. It might be necessary to send your teen to another church for youth group if it is in his or her best interest and will encourage a deeper relationship with God.
6. Take Charge in Communication
Show your teen you believe in him or her. Making time for consistent communication with your child does wonders. Because teenagers typically don’t go to parents asking to talk about important subjects, you may have to work creatively to bring up the serious stuff. If you do not talk with your teen about the hard issues, who will?
Talking about sex, pornography, school life, and peer pressure may not be the easiest and most comfortable conversations you’ll ever have. But what’s important is not how comfortable you are; it’s that your teen trusts your involvement in his or her life. When you proactively communicate authentic biblical truths, you teach your teen how to discern between truth and lies.
Sixteen-year-old Stephen said, “I have been struggling with lust since I was in eighth grade. It’s embarrassing and I don’t know what to do. My dad is so involved at church—he probably would die if I talked to him about all this. But I wish I could.”
Stephen’s dad probably isn’t intentionally avoiding the issue; he’s just not making the effort to invite open communication. This dad doesn’t realize that by not being approachable and letting his son know he can handle difficult topics, his son has to try to figure out his struggle on his own. If your teen can’t come to you with hard issues, he or she will go somewhere else for help.
7. Invest in One-on-One Time
Get away from work and other demands and hang out one on one with your teen. Pick a night once a week, every other week, or whenever you feel like it, and have fun together. See a movie. Play basketball. Ride go-carts. Go hiking, swimming, shopping, skiing, hunting. Get a pizza or play miniature golf. Do something your teen enjoys.
My older daughter loves movies. My younger daughter likes to get her nails done. I’ll admit, I’ve discovered that a foot massage is pretty awesome. These moments together create memories that will last a lifetime. When I ask teens for one way they would improve their relationships with their dads, they most often respond, “Spend more time together!” Have you ever said things such as these to yourself?
~ I know I promised my son I’d be at his game, but this work meeting could make or break my career.
~ I don’t really need to spend time in the Word with my kids. I’m tired tonight. Plus, isn’t that why our church hired a youth pastor?
~ I’d better not ask my daughter too many questions about who she’s going out with and where they’re going. She may think I’m being nosy. If she wants to talk, she’ll come to me.
~ I’d better not bring up that subject with my son. He’ll figure it out on his own. I figured things out, didn’t I?
I’ve missed many moments when I wanted to be there for my girls. There are times when work calls and we have to answer. But you and I have only eighteen years with each of our kids, and then they’re out of the house and on their own. This is why prioritizing time with them is critical. Time leads to communication, and communication leads to having a positive impact on your teen’s life.
8. Teach Your Son to Respect Women
What are you teaching your son in regard to how he should treat women? Your son will treat women the way you treat women. He also watches the examples set by our culture. Movies, television, and other forms of entertainment frequently depict disrespect toward women as acceptable, even humorous. We see people working out their differences using insults and put-downs. Boys are taught to be jerks to one another and to women. In such an environment I can think of no greater example of godly manhood for your teen than Jesus.
John 19:25–27 reads, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother.… When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” Jesus had been beaten, spit on, stripped of His clothes, cursed, slapped, kicked, mocked, ridiculed, and then nailed to a cross. Yet just moments before He breathed His last, He was more concerned about His mother than about His pain. What an incredible act and example for all men.
In recent months a number of stories have surfaced about men—often in powerful positions—who took advantage of women. In only a few of these cases have we heard the accused admit, “I was wrong and I am sorry.” You must have a conversation with your son about how to behave toward women. Obviously, you hope he never will treat a woman disrespectfully in any way, especially sexually. However, if he does, choosing to be less than forthcoming (which is, in fact, lying) about his actions is equally disrespectful and abusive.
We have to teach our sons what it means to respect women. We also must teach our sons never to run from their poor choices but instead to do the honorable thing, take responsibility for their actions, apologize, and do whatever else is needed to help the victim begin to heal.
It is critical that you help your son understand that it is never okay to disrespect any woman. Ever. Not only should he follow Jesus’s actions by respecting all women with whom he comes in contact, but he should also protect them. On a date, he should never place any girl in a situation where there is the potential for harm. This includes never parking alone in an isolated place, being careful about the movies they watch, never taking advantage of her sexually, never requesting nude pictures from her, and avoiding parties where there are drugs and alcohol. This also includes choosing to never disrespect a woman by looking at porn. No, he doesn’t know the woman on the screen, but he doesn’t have to know her to disrespect her. Have you communicated these things to your son?
9. Teach Security and Significance to Your Daughter
When my daughter Bailey was five, she gave me a birthday card she had made herself. The card read, “Dear Daddy, Bailey loves you very much. I will always be your best friend forever. Even when I am older, I will always love you and be your best friend. Love, Bailey.” I still remind her of that card all the time. I should probably have the card laminated so I can wear it around my neck when her friends come over.
When she wrote this card, Bailey hadn’t even started kindergarten. Now that she is a teenager, she relies on me more than ever before to help her feel secure. Before, she wanted affirmation when she drew a picture. Now she wants affirmation about her grades, her friendships, and so on. She wants me to celebrate her successes. She smiles when I tell her how beautiful she is. She loves it when I pray with her. If she is having a bad day, she wants me right there beside her to comfort her. She has given me the honor of occupying a special place in her heart.
You will always be your daughter’s hero, no matter her age. She may not run and jump into your arms, but she still needs you to make her feel special, secure, and significant. She still needs you to say with your life, your time, and your involvement, “I believe in you.”
In this world, teen girls receive many confusing and often misleading messages, and many feel pressure to fit in by wearing the right makeup and hairstyle, conforming to the dictates of fashion, having the right body type, and dating the right guy. Here are a few of the lies Satan tries to use to distract or destroy your daughter:
~ To be popular with the boys, you need to dress sexy.
~ Guys only love skinny girls. Go ahead and purge.
~ You absolutely must have a boyfriend to feel secure.
~ Never talk to your parents about anything. They won’t understand.
What’s a dad to do? First, realize your daughter needs you. Even if she never tells you so, she needs you to remain involved in her life. Satan wants you to believe that your daughter is her mom’s responsibility. But it’s your biblical responsibility to provide support and affirmation. Second, develop a game plan for involvement in her life. You know your daughter’s likes and dislikes. You know her favorite foods, music, movies, and stores. (If you don’t, ask her mom.) Now take the knowledge you have and set aside time to do something with your daughter that she enjoys.
A father told me, “One night a month is for just me and Kiley. We go out, we eat, and we see a movie or go watch a game. We grab coffee and we make a date of it. I’ll admit it was a little awkward for us both at first, but we’ve been doing this for two years now, and we’ve never been closer. She talks to me and shares things I never dreamed she would. She has this place in her life that she lets me into. She leaves for college this year, and I will cherish forever these past two years spending time together.”
What if your first outing doesn’t go smoothly? Take it slow and build trust one step at a time. Demonstrate that you’re interested in her. Ask your daughter what she would like to do. Tell her that you just want to be together. Maybe you institute a monthly father-daughter date night where you go out for ice cream. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking how her day went, giving her a hug, or telling her she’s beautiful. Or perhaps you write her a letter telling her what she means to you.
As a father, you play a critical role in making your daughter feel loved, needed, and secure. Live in such a way that she has no doubt that you believe in her. Of course, her ultimate security and significance will come from her relationship with God. But you are the father God chose for your daughter, and you have a powerful and irreplaceable role in her life.
10. Start Where You Are
Satan is working overtime to convince you that your teen doesn’t need you as much as when he or she was younger. He also wants you to believe that everything else in your life is more important than your teen—your status within your community, your friendships, and your job. The fact is, nothing is more important than the impact you have on your teen’s life.
God chose you to be a father to your child, but maybe life feels out of control. Maybe you’re more distant from him or her than ever before. Maybe you feel you can never become the father your teen needs. Maybe you think it’s too late to win back your teen. Maybe you think he or she is in a good place and you can coast through the next few years. If you believe these lies, the Enemy has you where he wants you: ready to turn and run, ready to coast, or ready to surrender.
Get Jeffrey’s new book for parents, Raising Successful Teens.