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How Do I Know the Difference Between Guiding and Controlling My Teenager?

How do you guide your teenager without controlling them? Now, we understand that your teenager sometimes feels that most of the time you are just trying to control them but that does not mean that guiding and controlling do not have clear differences. The good news is your teenager is also your richest source of information when it comes to figuring out this conundrum.  Rules should guide because they communicate something to our teenager’s heart and set them free on the path God has for them. Controlling, on the other hand, only communicates that the rules are in place to keep them under your thumb or make you look good. 

I believe parents want what they believe is best for their teenager. The problem arises when we get confused about what is best or, as we will focus on here, how we focus on getting them there.  We can lead by trying to control our teens instead of guiding them. There is a very big difference!  Let’s take a moment and think about it.  Guiding them teaches your teenager the power they have in making a choice. It teaches them that they are responsible for any consequence that may come with their choice. Trying to control them through manipulation only pushes the growing young adults far from the wise choices we are so desperate for them to embrace. 

Take a moment and ask yourself this question. “Do I control or guide my teenager?” and be very honest in your answer.  The great thing about this is that it is not too late to begin again.  The conversations that transition you from a controlling parent to a guiding one may be some of the conversations that most deepen your relationship with them as they move toward adulthood. 

Pray for wisdom to know where you can best guide your teenager and lead them in the way they should go.  They will need your guidance to varying degrees after they leave the teen years.  Whatever that looks like for you, the best outcome will come through a strong relationship that has moved from walking behind your teenager to make sure they do things correctly to walking beside them and providing guidance along the way.  God did not give you your child to make you look good. He blessed you with that teenager to teach them how to bring glory to God.We can best shape their hearts and lives by teaching them God’s perfect truth, living it out as best we can before them, then providing guidance along the way.  That guidance will no doubt include both times of encouragement when they get it right and correction and redirection when they get it wrong.

So how do we guide our teenagers without controlling them? First and foremost, they must know that our love is not dependent upon their choices. We will always love them no matter what and they need to know that.  They need to hear that.  As they grow, we must allow them to bear the consequences for their choices without rescuing them.  You should have standards, boundaries, and expectations and hold your son or daughter to those diligently, especially in areas where we have clear guidance from God’s word.  However, we must also recognize the difference in guiding our child to make good choices as they grow versus controlling them to live following our every thought and preference.  Of course we don’t give them free reign to choose everything.  Some standards must be maintained regardless of if their heart is in it.  We don’t let them choose whether they go to school, the doctor, or (hopefully) church because we know these are things that will shape them as they develop their knowledge, health, and character.  At the same time, we should be empowering them to help set guidelines in their lives and make wise choices.  If they have a conversation about the “why” of the rules and boundaries, they are far more likely to be able to set them for themselves as they grow in independence.

Controlling our teen is typically the result of fear. It could be the fear of losing them, the fear of them making a horrible mistake, or even the fear of them embarrassing us with their choices. Our motivation must move beyond fear to truth and love. You love your teenager deeply.  Show them that love by helping to guide them through this minefield with your wisdom, your love and mercy, and occasionally even with your silence. They will then see a true picture of God’s unconditional love, through you that they carry into their adult lives.