Counseling, as we are using it here, has to do with imparting wisdom, direction and help for healthy, productive and righteous living. (Incidentally, we should be aware that this is not necessarily the objective of many in the counseling profession.)
Counseling our teenagers actually begins before they arrive at their teen years. The best counseling we do will start years before then. The wise man said, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Wise parents will give serious heed to this proverb. Early counsel, teaching, and training are so vital to the formation of healthy teenagers (see Deuteronomy 6:1-4)!
One of the greatest keys to counseling (perhaps even more so with teens) is in what many find to be the most difficult: listening. (Did you hear me?) James wrote, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (1:19). Parents need to be just as willing to listen as they are to give instruction.
Careful listening gives us insight as to what is going on in the life of our teens. This is especially significant with teens because they can be reluctant to share personal information. We must also listen not just with our ears, but with our eyes and our heart. In order to help our teens, we have to know where they are and what is going on in their lives. We should listen carefully and with sincere empathy.
I would recommend great care with this, but accessing our teens through social media may give us great insight into their lives. Many of them are quite proficient at expressing themselves openly through this medium. The truth is that most teens want to be understood. Though this avenue may seem intrusive, some teens may actually welcome it.
Another very important (and often overlooked) aspect is the over-all relationship we have with our teenagers. Amongst the sometimes emotional and even turbulent teenage years, they must know that we have their best interest in mind. It is very easy for that to be lost in the shuffle on our end and theirs. A key word here is “perception”. How do they perceive our advice and counsel? Do they think we are just nagging at them? Do they see us as being against them? One of the most vital tasks we have is to convince them with our words and actions that we love them and genuinely want the best for them. If we can convince them of that, other doors will likely open rather easily.
Also, keep in mind as they go through the sometimes “rocky” teenage years, they need our stability. Do not think that you need to match their level of emotion or intensity. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but it can be! Remember, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
What instruction and counsel should we be giving our teens? God’s! The Bible is an instruction manual for them and for all of us (see 2 Peter 1:3 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus came that we might enjoy an abundant life (John 10:10; see also 6:68). He can direct teens to successful living for Him through the guidance of His Word (see Psalm 119:105; John 14:6). The book of Proverbs alone contains remarkable insight into successful living that both teens and parents need to tap into.
It is also vital for us to fervently pray for them and with them (James 5:16). In the end, it is also important to know our own limitations. There is no shame in seeking help for them in a trusted preacher, elder, friend or Christian counselor. May God bless our teens as He raises up the next generation of servants in His kingdom.