Teenage boys are under a lot of pressure. Just as they begin tossing about for a true identity, the world begins tossing definitions at them that ultimately preach, “be your own man at all costs; don’t let anyone tell you who you’re going to be.” Additionally, the world understands that teenage boys can’t define themselves in a vacuum: they need mentors and friends to help them recognize who they are and who they should be. The world is more than happy to provide these models to teens, pulling them toward a definition of self that fits well with who it wants them to be.   

To counter this, it is the Christian youth leader’s job to model Christ and connect to teens, providing a healthy, firm example of faith and love so that they might know the truth that sets them free. But this is not an easy task. How can it be done?

thESource editorial staff had a chance to talk with Rev. Dan Gilbert, father of twin sons and two daughters, about the importance of providing a firm Christian example for teens. This resulting article is aimed at Christian fathers, but it also serves as an excellent resource for male and female youth workers seeking to fill the gaps present in many teens’ lives.

So how did a dad who has, by God’s grace, raised two sons into their 20’s stay connected with his kids through their teenage years? One thing: I prayed. Then I prayed some more.

The single most important thing a father can do for his children is pray. Pray for them over and over again from the day they’re born until the day you die. Pray with them when they’re little, and continue to pray with them as they get older. Then, model prayer for them and let them know you’re praying.

I remember a time when our children were in junior high and we had some friends staying with us–another pastor and his family. One evening, the wife/mom asked me if I had been upstairs praying earlier. I said I had, and she replied, “Well, I asked one of your sons where you were, and he said you were upstairs praying.  I didn’t know whether to believe him or not.” Our sons knew that most evenings I was (and still am) in the bedroom praying with the door closed from about 6 to 6:20 p.m. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but they knew what I was up to. They knew their dad was praying.

When you pray, be sure to tell your sons (and your daughters) what you’re praying about. Tell them that you’re thanking God for them, praying that they will always love the Lord, that sin will be distasteful to them, that they’ll follow His lead to the education and work He wants them to have, that some day they will both have and be a godly spouse, that they will both have and be godly friends, that they’ll love God’s Word, love to pray and love to carry out the mission, that they love each other.

Pray daily that you’ll be a good and godly parent and spouse.

Then, in between prayers, work with your sons, especially when they’re little. Work with them on faith formation in Word, prayer and worship. Teach them right, wrong and consequences. Keep the boundaries tight while they’re little.

Doing this allowed us to give our sons and daughters a lot of freedom when they reached adolescence because the foundations had been put in place.  As one of our kids said, “All of a sudden we were in high school and we hardly had any rules any more.” They didn’t need the rules. They already knew right from wrong, and the Lord had given them grace to love Him.

Also, talk with your sons as they become teenagers about the years just beginning. My wife and I acknowledged with them that the years ahead would have some difficulty, but that these years could also be a lot of fun and very rewarding and that we wanted to enjoy them together. We acknowledged that they would have an increasing need to exercise freedom, and that we wanted them to have that freedom, but that there would be tension sometimes between their need for freedom and our responsibility to be their parents and give them boundaries. We also agreed that we (the parents) would do our best to respect our sons by refraining from discussing disagreements while angry or upset that we’d wait until we cooled down before talking about these disagreements.

And then, we prayed. We all prayed, a lot.

Published February 2004