Stop Giving Advice

As a youth pastor, one of the most challenging things to do is to give advice to the teenagers that I work with.  This is primarily because I hate to watch them ignore this advice and walk head on into trouble that they could have avoided by taking advice.  I am sure that as a parent of a teen, you struggle with the very same thing.

Giving advice to a teenager is very easy; however getting a teenager to take that advice is another matter altogether. It’s not only a case of the advice ‘falling on deaf ears’, sometimes the teenager seems to go deliberately out of their way to do the exact opposite, that’s when you know you’ve got a problem. So how do you go about giving advice to a teen?

The short answer to this question is “don’t”. Now at first glance this probably sounds ridiculous, after all parents have more experience and most would agree that a parent’s job is to pass this experience onto their children.  The problem with giving advice is that it’s really just a way of maintaining control. We often cover it up by saying we know what’s best in the situation, we have the experience and knowledge, but in reality what we’re saying is what we want to happen, this is what we want you to do.  My advice is not to give your advice unless it is solicited by your teen.  Now I know I am going against what I just told you to do with advice, but listen to the rationale. 

Adolescence is a very important time for learning to self-manage.  It is a time for your teen to learn to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. It’s an essential process if your teen is to become a well-adjusted, fully functioning adult ready for the real world, becoming an adult, and a fundamental part of the process is learning to hand over control to your teen. 

For most parents this is a really scary thought. I know that you are concerned over what will happen if you do give over control.  You are worried that if you give up some control it will mean that you will lose all control. The truth is that you will still need to be there with consequences and boundaries for when they do make poor choices, but they need to learn how to take responsibility for coming up with solutions to the challenges they face in their day to day lives.  The desire to protect your teen is a good one, but it must not hinder their ability to learn to take the initiative to chart the course for making decisions for themselves.  Here are a couple truths about handing over control to your teen for the decisions that they make. 

Firstly, handing over control at this stage is more about handing over responsibility and accountability on how to do something, not handing over total control. It’s about letting your teen have an involvement in how to solve a particular problem, it’s about teaching them problem solving skills. If you always provide the solution how will they ever learn to do it for themselves?  Do you really want a fifty year old child who is incapable of making a decision without consulting you first?  God’s plan is for us to lead them to the ability to make grown up decisions for themselves, and the teen years are a great opportunity for us to do that. 

Secondly, your teen is very likely to get it ‘wrong’ and make mistakes.  We as parents, have to learn that there is nothing wrong with them making mistakes.  In fact it is healthy for our kids to make mistakes.  Mistakes are a great platform to teach them from.  When you let them make mistakes, you’re teaching them how to self-correct, just as they did when they first learned to ride a bike and kept falling off. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process; more learning comes from making mistakes than comes from getting it ‘right’. How much does it really matter if they don’t get it ‘right’ first time or choose the ‘best’ alternative?  As the parent be there to help pick them back up, dust them off, and encourage them to try again. 

Finally, is your solution necessarily the best solution? It’s easy to forget that our teens are different than us when thinking about a solution to the problems that they face. The solution that may be the best one for you is not always the best one for your teen.  As parents it is important to include your teen on arriving at the best decision for them individually. 

Giving advice by telling our teens what to do is only one way of passing on your knowledge, there are other ways of achieving the same outcome, most with a higher likelihood of success.  As a parent what is most important is not getting our teen to just do what we would do, but to help them learn to navigate the path for themselves that gets them to what God has in store for their lives.