Karen didn’t even need to glance at her daughter’s facial expression—she just heard the vocal equivalent of an eye roll. Her teenager was giving her the usual speech about not wanting to go to youth group at their church … again. Karen knew there was no easy way to require her daughter to attend youth group that evening without encountering a dramatic blow-up followed by the silent treatment. Now that the teenage parenting years were upon them, Karen and her husband were troubled by the way their daughter was pushing back against their authority and pulling away from some of the activities and priorities they had in place to protect their family’s faith and values.
As you observe your own teens, you might have noticed a similar trend in their behavior: they’re starting to push away, not just from you and your spouse, but also from some of the beliefs you hold dear. It can be heart-wrenching to see this happen, as you fear your teens will reject the values that you’ve tried to instill in them since they were children.
This is definitely a sensitive subject, and it touches on that very strong need in teens for freedom while at the same time creating a sense of fear in parents. We want our teens to adopt the same belief system and worldview as we have, but in all honesty it is impossible to force this on them.
So what’s the best approach? I have a few suggestions:
Resist the urge to push.
The most important piece of advice to parents of teens is: resist the urge to push. Remember, your child has to dismantle your “components” before they know whether or not they want to keep them. So the harder you push your identity, beliefs, and opinions on them, the more urgently they will feel compelled to distance themselves from those specific things in order to become their own person. After discussing it privately, Karen and her husband decided not to require that their daughter attend youth group that night. While they wanted to ensure that in the long run she didn’t give it up completely, on that evening they felt it was important to respect her decision and her commitment to academic excellence.
Live by example—your teen is watching.
While not pushing your beliefs and opinions on your teen is something to avoid, living by example is something to pursue. Your kid would probably never be so uncool as to say so, but they’re watching your actions closely. And at least some of the stories and life experiences they share with you (“This guy fudged on his time card…”) will provide opportunities for positive social reference if you’re on the alert. While their daughter stayed home and studied, Karen and her husband went to their church activities that evening as usual. They knew she was observing their faithfulness and commitment, whether she said anything about it or not.
Be generous with encouragement and affection.
As you get to know the person your child is becoming, you may sense their hunger for appreciation. We can’t help noticing our teen’s negative behaviors, but they still need our encouragement and affection—even though we sometimes feel that giving it is a like hugging a porcupine! Karen and her husband praised their daughter’s desire to do well in school and pointed out how her studying was paying off in good grades that semester. Those encouraging words gained them a listening ear and gave them the opportunity to share why they felt youth group and their other church activities were so important.
Showing patient love, providing an example to follow rather than pushing our own views, and encouraging our teens consistently can have a powerful, positive effect on the choices they make and the values they choose—for life.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Rest: A Women’s Devotional for Lasting Peace in Busy Life, focuses on a journey to rest even with life’s constant demands.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.