What Teenagers Need From Parents: Expect Failure and Success

Recently TGC ran an article that caught our attention at the Rooted blog. What Teens Need from Parents: A Counselor’s Perspective” suggests six insights counselor Leia Joseph has received through working with teens and families. We liked her list so much we decided to explore each point separately, and we’ll add a couple of ideas of our own. We hope Josephs guidance – and ours – is helpful to you as you love and lead your teenagers.

One teenager makes the decision to drink underage. Another decides to be the sober driver. One teenager turns in a paper, largely written by a friend, and passes it off as his work. Another stays up to midnight grinding out his own essay. One teenager sends an inappropriate snapchat to a boy. Another teenager sends a benign snapchat to her best friend.

As parents, we set up boundaries for our children that reflect our morals, our beliefs, and our obedience to God. From a young age, our kids may begin to try to push the boundaries, seeing how far they can go before getting caught and dealing with an unpleasant outcome. Other children relish the boundaries, enjoying the comfort and even the approval that comes with staying inside the lines.

But as our children turn into teenagers, the stakes get higher. Technology, cars, alcohol and drugs — combined with their growing independence — can often put our teenagers in situations that they are not prepared for or even developmentally equipped to navigate on their own. As we see the stakes get higher, fear sets in. We default to helicopter parenting or live-and-let-live parenting, trying to prevent or excuse any rights or wrongs, successes or failures, our teenagers might experience.

Whether my child fails or succeeds does not change who Jesus is and what his plans are for my child.  A decision or action, good or bad, does not surprise, encourage, or hinder what Jesus can and will do through or for my child. We celebrate good decision making and obedience when we see it in our children from the time they are very young. When, not if, they fail to choose wisely, the rubber hits the road on our faith and trust in God. It’s easy to trust God when our children seem safe. It is harder to do so when our children seem to be getting out of our control.

I can recite Jeremiah 29:11 by heart: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Right. His plans are good for me and my children. I like that. I like plans, especially good ones because I easily read that as “safe” and “mine.”

Yet when I keep reading the Scripture, I see exactly what God is after, and it doesn’t always line up with my earthly plans of success and ease. In fact, it goes beyond those to something far greater: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will see me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.”

In success or failure, obedience or disobedience, Jesus’ aim and desire for his children remains the same: to draw his people to himself and be in relationship with them. That’s a far better goal than my simplistic one of my child not getting caught drinking or cheating.

There is a story in the book of John chapter four about Jesus and a Samaritan woman. We enter the story with Jesus “wearied” from his journey, resting beside a well. A woman approaches. Jesus asks her for a drink of water, and she is immediately taken aback, as he is clearly a Jewish man and she, a Samaritan woman. Jesus goes on to tell her of the living water he offers that forever quenches thirst and leads to eternal life. She asks for this living water for seemingly practical reason of not having to draw water again and again from the well.

And then Jesus sends a zinger of a request. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” But the issue here is that she has no husband. Jesus knows this as he continues and says, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (v. 18). Boom. It’s all out there. The woman at the well is exposed to the Son of God for sleeping around.

Can you imagine ?

The Samaritan woman, realizing she is in the company of someone with quite a bit of spiritual knowledge, begins a discussion with Jesus that ends with her saying, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

In fact, he has already told her “all things.” Jesus has told her of herself, of her sin and wrongdoing. Acknowledging our sin is an excellent, if not the best, place to start when meeting Jesus. Jesus continues by revealing who he is. “I who speak to you am he.” I am the Christ. I am the anointed one from God.

Do you see what Jesus did not do? He did not excuse the sin or accept it. But he also didn’t berate or lecture her. He offered Himself as something better. And she accepted him. In fact, he offered this “living water,” salvation, before she even confessed to him her sin. Jesus drew the Samaritan woman to himself; He was found by her.

He does this for our children and us, too. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:6-8, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Just as Jesus didn’t wait for the Samaritan woman to clean up her act before offering salvation, he doesn’t wait for us to get it together before reaching out and offering grace.

When we don’t allow our children to fail or see their brokenness (or ours), we cheat them out of seeing the depth, breadth, and magnitude of the cross. When we aren’t in touch with the reality about sin, when we excuse it, blame others, or shield our kids from consequences, we prevent our children (and ourselves) from knowing Jesus for who he is: a Savior.

As a parent, this looks a lot like coming alongside your child with your own stories of obedience and disobedience, and saying, “I know. Me too.” It will be much easier for them to share painful things and even exciting moments with someone that they trust, someone they know who can empathize and relate. If we are being honest with ourselves, there is not a parent on earth, ever, who cannot relate to their child’s experience of failure and success. We console and listen; we celebrate and listen. And then we give it to God.

To fail well means that on our worst days, as the worst version of ourselves, we know to whom we must cling. To succeed well means that on our best days as the best version of ourselves, we know to whom we must cling. For in Him and through Him all things are made, redeemed, and restored. Glory be to God in our failures and successes; Glory be to God in our children’s failure.


Dawson Cooper lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Wil, and three boys (ages 7,10, and 15). She graduated from Wake Forest University. While at Wake Forest, she began freelance writing for a local magazine. She has been writing for Rooted Ministry since 2017. She also works as a lead floral designer with Marigold Designs. Dawson and her family attend Covenant Presbyterian Church where she is involved with leading a youth small group. When she isn’t at or driving to her boys’ various games, school events, or activities, she enjoys reading, playing tennis, and enjoying a good meal with friends. 

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