Expect Your Teenagers to Act Responsibly

It was one of my favorite classes—Introduction to the New Testament.  The professor, Dr. David Black, was a fascinating man and a riveting lecturer.  Not only did he teach us the form, structure, and message of the New Testament, but he also filled his classes with practical instruction – most of which are embedded in my mind.


Perhaps the most memorable teaching he gave was on raising godly children, teaching captured in his wonderful book, The Myth of Adolescence.  Dr. Black believed that if you want to raise responsible adults, you must expect teenagers to act responsibly.  He gave many practical steps for parents to employ now as they shepherd their children toward adulthood.  I commend them to you for your consideration as we do our best to raise godly, responsible adults.


  • Teach them how to maintain a home and yard.  I know it sounds old fashion, but give them chores.  Give them jobs to do, not just for money, but as “their share in the smooth operation of the household” (99).  It may seem outdated, but children, “need to know that life is not going to be presented to them on a silver platter” (100).


  • Teach them the value and discipline of hard work and to be responsible for their finances.  Beyond work at home, teenagers are capable of working for others to earn an income, and they need to know the value of both.  They need to know what it takes to earn money, and they need to know how to manage their money in wise, godly ways.  For if they do not learn those lessons now, they will not understand them when they are adults who are responsible for their own families. Furthermore, as American households increasingly sink in debt, we need these lessons now more than ever.


  • Let them make some adult decisions that will really affect their lives.  Not only do teenagers need to learn how to make hard decisions, they also need to learn to live with the consequences. 


  • Help them to develop a positive sexual identity.  Teens are literally getting new bodies and intense desires.  Teach them to manage them in constructive ways.  Discuss what they watch on TV.  Never make jokes about the opposite sex (no matter how funny mother-in-law jokes may be).  Encourage them to think a sexual issue through in a mature, Christian way.  Also, “Above all, teens need to regard their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirt and nurture an inner desire to keep themselves pure” (104-105).


  • Allow them to have a real role in the church.  Encourage them to do more than hand out bulletins.  Encourage them to be on committees, boards, and so forth.  They should sing in the adult choir or praise band, visit shut-ins and nursing homes, and do yard-work for senior adults.  We can’t keep them on the bench for 20 years and then expect them to pick up where we leave off.


  • Help them develop the habit of mature, gracious speech.  Teach them phrases like, “Would you please…,” “May I please…,” and “Would that be alright with you?”  Talk to them about negative speech habits, and above all, be ready to repent of your failures in this area.


  • Hold them accountable.  “Set limits that are consistent with godly values, and then make them stick because your teenager is going to challenge your limits.  Teens need to learn not only to accept limits but also how to adjust their behavior. By so doing, they find out how powerful they are as individuals—that they can in fact exert control over themselves and their world” (108).


As he reflects on this task, Dr. Black says, “Your children need to learn how to dream big dreams.  And they will, if you show them.”  To this, I say, “Amen.”  And by all means, let one of those dreams be that your child will become a godly, responsible adult.


–  Dr. Shane Arnold, Head Of School