Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Age of Opportunity

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Paul David Tripp

I have come to appreciate much of Paul David Tripp’s writing in recent years, having learnt a lot from What Did you Expect? (on marriage), Dangerous Calling (on ministry) and How People Change (written with Timothy Lane) on general Christian living.

As a result I was excited to get my hands on his book about parenting teens.

Tripp comes back again to the issues all his books address – what is going on in our hearts. At every stage of parenting, but definitely with teenagers, parents must stop and think, where is my heart in this? What idols am I trying to hang on to: perhaps comfort, respect, appreciation, control or success? Or am I truly trying to lead my children closer to God and his sustaining grace?
“It is vital for us to confess that that the struggle of the teen years is not only about teen biology and teen rebellion. These years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts… the teen years expose our self-righteousness, our impatience, our unforgiving spirit, our lack of servant love, the weakness of our faith, and our craving for comfort and ease.” (p17)
In Part 1 Tripp points out the issues, and goes on to describe the family and how it is designed to function. He encourages parents to remember what it was like to be a teenager, and identifies the key characteristics of the teen years that we need to be aware of, such as having no hunger for correction or wisdom, a tendency to legalism and unwise companions, and a lack of heart awareness.

In Part 2 he outlines 5 foundational goals we should have:

  1. To focus on the spiritual struggle – teach and show our kids that an eternal perspective is what matters.
  2. To develop a heart of conviction and wisdom. Here we try to teach them to develop a biblical mind and to be able to determine the difference between a conviction (where there is an absolute right and wrong) and wisdom (how to analyse and assess a situation and the potential ways to respond)
  3. To teach them to understand and interact redemptively with culture. We neither hide from the world we live in, nor accept all of it, rather we teach them how to think about the culture we are surrounded by: wisely, alertly and redemptively.
  4. To develop a heart for God. In the end this is the ultimate goal of our parenting, to help our kids develop their own relationship with God, and a desire to live for him.
  5. To prepare them to leave home. We want to help them develop the signs of maturity they will need as Christian adults.

Part 3 was essentially a summary of all of the above, just reworded. His three overall strategies for making this happen were: planning, constant conversation and helping teens come to repentance.

His final chapter was 20 (!) small steps to work towards making these goals happen. This is a great summary chapter of how to behave as a parent, while working towards these larger foundational goals. Things like: always talks lovingly and constructively (sound obvious, but hard in reality), stay calm, be honest about your own struggles, be willing to overlook the minor things and humbly admit your limits.

In addition there is a study guide at the back which had some really helpful analysis and application questions and ideas.

I came away with two main thoughts:
  1. He calls us to an incredibly high standard of parenting, but one that is absolutely worth it. I have no problem being called to such a high standard for it is also surrounded with honesty, grace and forgiveness. Tripp makes the astute point that most families plan their holidays in much more detail than their parenting. We should be planning, we should be preparing and we should be praying for our parenting and our children.
  2. I have recently come to realise that the next 12 years of parenting will be more intense than the first 12. I need to keep assessing how busy I am and the priorities on my time. It is very easy to think ‘they are older now, I can back off a little’. In order to be spiritually, emotionally and physically present in parenting older children, I still need to make sure I am careful how much else I commit to. It’s a helpful reminder to me as we enter this new stage. I now think of my life in decades: my 30s were with little kids, my 40s will be the teenage years, my 50s will be probably the empty nest stage. That helps me set my own expectations of what I can and want to do for the time being!
It is a great book and it really got me thinking theologically and practically about this next stage. 

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