James Dobson, a highly-regarded Christian psychologist and best-selling author on family matters, says, “I used to have four theories and no children. Now I have four children and no theories.” Many people have benefited greatly from Dr. Dobson’s advice on child rearing. But realistically speaking, raising adolescents is not like drawing a picture by joining the numbers—it is a matter of molding a person, of assisting in the development of a person of eternal worth. And every person is different.[Jesus’] parents didn’t know what to think. “Son!” his mother said to him. “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.” But they didn’t understand what he meant. Luke 2:48-50
We have very little information about the adolescent years of Jesus. But we do have the account of one telling incident that took place, which is full of great value to modern parents. The twelve-year-old Jesus had traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. At the conclusion of the festival, the great crowd of Galileans set out for home through the wilderness of Judea, down to Jericho, and up the Jordan valley. During the first day’s journey, Jesus’ parents assumed that he was with other friends or relatives among the travelers. It was only at the end of the day that they realized that he was not there. He was missing. So they retraced their steps to Jerusalem (a full day’s journey), hunted for him for three days, and eventually came across the boy. He was unperturbed, engaged in theological discussions with the teachers of the law. When they remonstrated with him, he calmly responded, “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49).
Not for the first time was it recorded that a pair of parents talking to their son “didn’t understand what he meant” (2:50)! The root of the problem was that the parents did not understand their son and the son had little perception of what was in the parents’ hearts. And that is at the root of many problems in raising adolescents.
They all returned to Nazareth, where “he . . . was obedient to them,” and Mary “stored all these things in her heart” (2:51). (We don’t know what Joseph did, though!) The boy was responsive to parental concerns, while the parent was reflective about the boy’s development.
The boy’s development took place in a balanced and God-honoring way. He “grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him” (2:52). In other words, he developed physically, intellectually, spiritually, and socially. And no parent could ask for more than that.
It is without doubt that this should be the parents’ goal. How it is achieved will vary from child to child. But in every case, children need to be responsive, and parents need to be reflective. Imperfect parents never raise perfect kids. But mature parents give their children monumental advantages.