Stage 3 of Parenting: The Counselor

Part three of a six-part series on stage-based parenting. We talked about the comforter stage, the coach stage. Today, we’re going to talk about the counselor stage, so this is ages 12 to 17. These are kind of the teen years that a lot of people dread, but this is a great stage for parenting. It’s just a little more complicated.

What’s happening in this stage is that kids, oftentimes they are becoming a lot more complicated. So you have used maybe systems in the previous stage and then you’re noticing that because children in this stage think more abstractly, they can see things from multiple perspectives, they become much more self-conscious, they begin to resist some of the kind of really clear trainings. It’ll look like they’re reverting, but what’s happening oftentimes in this stage is they are beginning the journey of making these beliefs and practices their own, as opposed to just responding to your systems or your thoughts. That’s not a bad thing, but it can be a challenge, for sure.

So we call the style of the stage low control-high accountability. What you want to do is give your children enough leash in this stage to make a lot of decisions, but check in with them in very sort of heart-based moments in order to be counseling their heart. That’s really what’s happening. You’re trying to win their heart. That’s the goal of this stage. So you’re allowing their experiences in life to really drive them to deeper wisdom, better understanding of who God is, why the gospel matters and a deeper relationship, ultimately with you as well. So in order to do that, you have to have those heart-to-hearts.

Our favorite tool for this stage is the one-on-one. So what you want to do is if your children have had lots of experiences over the week that maybe you haven’t seen or been fully a part of, oftentimes what’s happening is the deepest things that are happening to your child are happening in your child. They’re like internal. So if you’re not having deep conversations, you don’t actually know what’s going on, even if you’re around them a lot, because a lot of that’s happening, they’re on an internal journey.

So you want to be present during that journey, but it requires you to have a heart relationship with your children and to have just time and space for those deep conversations. Then you can’t hold them accountable, but you want to make sure that you’re not doing that in a micromanaging way in the moment. You want to check in with them, like I said, periodically, and you can do that at the end of the day. Then as they’re getting older, couple times a week, and then maybe towards the end of this stage, it’s better to do it once or twice a week.

That’s in these kinds of deep moments where their heart can really come out. Instead of just coming down on them or trying to create systems to enforce things, which you really want to do, you want to have some of those things, but you really want to make sure that nothing is stopping the kind of heart conversations that you need to have with your children during this stage. Then in the midst of those, in the softest moments, you can weave the gospel in there.

One really big watch-out during this stage is not to use the scriptures, the Bible, the gospel as a hammer. That doesn’t tend to go well for kids. It’s really, really powerful when you use the gospel scripture in those moments where they’re soft and their heart is connected to you so that it’s associated with what… They’re open to it. And they really see the love of God and the grace of God and not just feeling the judgment that they might be feeling during this phase. But, yeah, Jeff, what are your thoughts? I know you’ve thought a lot about this phase.

Yeah. I mean, no thoughts on the sense of expertise. I have no idea. We’ll see in a decade, hopefully, we get through it.

The only thing I would say, and then I’m even writing with me, I’ll think about it because I’m writing it in the next book right now and we talk about this a lot is the Hold Onto Your Kids book. This is when the attachment, you’re kind of bearing the fruit of the attachment you built and so make sure to bear the fruit.

Another way to put it, too, is the thing you have to, the absolute landmine you have to watch out for in the teen years is teams switching, right?


Don’t let them switch attachment teams. One of the best analogies and I’m putting this in my book so spoiler alert, you’ll read it if you get it later. But is that that book, to use that example that I’ll never forget if they were like, what we treat as normal in teens because we’re so teen peer-attached that it is normal, like them hating the parent, them all of a sudden changing overnight into just bitter and wanting to hide out in their room and just angsty and secretive. We treat that as normal and then basically the author just goes, “Would you ever, ever assume that that’s normal if that happened in your marriage? If a spouse just instantly overnight turned bitter, secretive?” The author goes, “What would you immediately think? You would think there’s an affair happening and there probably is.”

So they call it an attachment affair. When you see a teen do that, it’s called an attachment affair. I just think that’s brilliant, profound language that that’s the landmine you have to be looking out for in this stage that I think Jeremy just gave all the solutions to, to kind of hold the relationship tight, hold the heart tight and really lean into that because that’s what happens. If you’re not pursuing their heart, then they’ll give their heart to someone else or another identity is essentially what they’re doing. So, yeah, that’s just the watch-out thing, I think, that we have to be more sensitive to.

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