What Teenagers Need From Parents: Let Them Know You Enjoy Them

Recently TGC ran an article that caught our attention at the Rooted blog. In What Teens Need from Parents: A Counselor’s Perspective” counselor Leia Joseph shares six insights she 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 Joseph’s guidance – and ours – is helpful to you as you love and lead your teenagers.

Taking my first son Mac for his eight-week checkup stressed me out. He was impressively round and rosy, but there was one milestone he hadn’t yet reached. When the doctor pronounced him healthy, I exclaimed, “But he’s not smiling! The baby books say he should be smiling by now. What do you think is wrong with him?”

This wise older man turned from Mac to me. Rubbing his chin stubble, he spoke carefully. “A baby learns to smile when his mother smiles at him.”

Poor kid. Mac got all the feeding and bathing and interaction and snuggles a baby could ever need, but he spent his waking hours gazing into my unsmiling stress-face. Guided by a stack of the best books from the Barnes and Noble baby section, I was so intent on caring well for my son that I completely neglected to enjoy him.

As an (overly) responsible oldest child myself, I have always been aware of the gravity of being a parent. When my mother-in-law commented that I was a very “intentional” mother, I took it as the highest compliment. I vowed to parent deliberately, putting research, thought, and prayer into choices large and small.

But like any idol, my determination to be a great mom has proven to be a stern taskmaster. I felt driven to plan, prepare, and schedule for every event and contingency my overactive imagination could dream up. (Yes, I’m a worrier.) Spontaneity sounds like a good idea – fun, even, and probably recommended in some of those books – but it’s hard to plan flexibility and silliness.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have often found being a mother utterly exhausting.

The Gospel offers freedom for parents like me.

Obviously, God did not give us children for kicks and giggles. We are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply,” and then raise our offspring in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Gen 1:28, Eph 6:4).  But surely he made children playful for a reason. Perhaps God is even teaching us something about himself through our carefree, gladhearted children.

When Jesus’ disciples ask him who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he surprises them by drawing a child into their midst and saying, “… unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). The humility of a small child reveals dependence, of freely asking for help from someone stronger and smarter and expecting to receive it because the child is secure in his belovedness. He knows inherently that he is enjoyed. The child has no anxiety or shame; she has nothing to prove. With that kind of humility comes the freedom to trust, to rest, and to play with abandon.

What if we parented like children – children of the living God?

Imagine parenting out of dependent humility, freely asking God for help in every moment because he has the wisdom you need and it’s his delight to give it to you as you fulfill your calling as mom or dad.

Imagine expecting that he will guide you as you raise your children, because he loves you dearly and he loves your child even more than you do.

Imagine feeling so secure in God’s love for your family that you have no anxiety for your child’s future.

Imagine feeling no shame in your impatience or selfishness or irritability, but instead running to the Father immediately in heartfelt repentance when you do sin (and receiving his forgiveness).

Imagine having nothing to prove, letting go of your image of being a “good” parent with “good” children and resting in the righteousness of Christ.

Just the imagining brings the start of a smile to your face, doesn’t it?

The gospel offers rest and joy for parents like me.

Simple as it sounds, studying my Bible and praying helps me rest. I’m reading the book of Joshua right now, which has me knee-deep in God’s covenant faithfulness. His steadfast love for weak and unruly Israelites reminds me that he bears the same love for my children and for me. If the crumbling walls of Jericho aren’t enough to convince me, the cross is irrefutable proof of his power and his willingness to rescue his children. Taking that mindset into prayer, I spill my guts to God about all the small and large concerns I have for my children. I still find myself clutching scraps of worry through the day, but I know who holds my kids’ future, and it isn’t me—it’s Jesus, and he’s got them. Praying and sitting with scripture help me to share myself and connect with the one who calls me beloved.

Similarly, one of the simplest ways to find joy in our children’s company is to do what we taught them when they were little: share.

Make a playlist of your favorite music for them and ask them to make one for you (no judgment allowed!). Or do a dinner date trade: one week you go to their favorite place to eat, and the next week take them to yours. Strike a bargain: I will binge episodes of Loki with you if you watch David Attenborough nature documentaries with me. If you find a great new sports podcast, share it! If your morning devotional reading was especially rich, pass it along. Whatever makes you happy, share it, and invite them to do the same.

Just like sharing with our Father in prayer, sharing ourselves and our favorites with our kids opens a door to knowing and being known. Real, deep, lasting fellowship – and fun!— happens when we share our selves with each other. There’s some vulnerability here. A teen who resents being grounded for her curfew infraction last weekend isn’t likely to be super excited about a dinner date with mom right now. We persist (patiently, tactfully) because we love them, and because we know that’s the way Jesus loves us.

I will probably never be the most playful person on team Harris. If our family were a well- balanced meal, I would be the broccoli – the sensible companion to the steak, buttery mashed potatoes, and chocolate pie. But God made broccoli! He delights in me because I am his child (Psalm 18:19, Isaiah 43:1). His grace towards us makes it possible for us to relax and enjoy our children too.


Anna is a single mom of three young adult sons. She is the Senior Director of Content at Rooted, co-host of the Rooted Parent podcast, a member of Church of the Cross in Birmingham, AL, and the author of God's Grace for Every Family: Biblical Encouragement for Single Parent Families and the Churches That Seek to Love Them Well (Zondervan, 2024). She also wrote Fresh Faith: Topical Devotions and Scripture-Based Prayers for College Students. In her free time, Anna enjoys gardening, great books, running, hiking, hammocks, and ice cream. She wants to live by a mountain stream in Idaho someday.

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