Character is the one thing that we must foster in our teenagers. Why do today’s teens answer the question, “What is character?” with good looking? Since when did physical appearance become a character trait?
Society and pop culture send unchristian messages like:
- It’s all about me.
- Sex outside of marriage is the norm.
- Girls must dress sexy to be attractive.
What’s at stake with this kind of thinking? Our culture’s moral compass — and our sons and daughters’ future. Can we help our teens reclaim Christian values so their lives make an impact for Christ? Yes. Our influence still matters.
The cliché is true: Values are more often caught than taught. Jesus’ followers learned to be like him by modeling his behavior. “Follow me,” Christ told his disciples. They did, but not without questions, doubts and some resistance. Sound familiar?
Actions speak louder than words. St. Francis of Assisi put it this way: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” (emphasis mine). For years, your teens have followed you — sometimes resisting, sometimes not. They determine what is important based on observing you. If this thought makes you cringe, don’t let your past failures stop you from showing love and patience today. Continue to grow in your relationship with God, so that your teens will see your faith and want to know more.
Faith. Hope. Love. So many positive character traits are reflected in the meaning behind these three simple words. If we want our teens to emulate these character traits, we need to live them out at home. Here are just a few to start with:
As parents, let’s make our wrongs right by saying, “I’m sorry.” Our sons and daughters will more easily forgive others when they’ve experienced forgiveness at home.
Teens need to hear us say, “Thank you,” when they watch their younger brother or load the dishwasher. Especially thank them if they confide in you. Teens tend to share their secrets and struggles with their friends, so if they pick you to talk to — stop and listen. Let them vent and cry if they need to. Offer understanding and a prayer instead of a long lecture. Ask them if they want your advice.
When you do give advice, talk about how to handle temptation before your teen attends a party or a game. Encourage firm boundaries. Talk about the consequences of premarital sex. Share your testimony if it relates. To promote modesty, buy a fun and trendy — but modest — prom dress. When your teen is walking out the door, say, “I believe you’ll make wise choices tonight.”
Are you showing your teen mercy when they need it? I don’t always. For example, Justin got in trouble for laughing in class so I gave him the cold shoulder. My message? Shape up, buddy, if you want my love! A bad mom moment, I know. Whenever issues arise between me and my son, I try to remember that God’s unconditional love for us isn’t based on our behavior. How many more stories of young people taking lives must we listen to in order to understand that they do not “get” mercy?
Next time your son or daughter disappoints you, shake things up a bit. Offer a hug and forgiveness instead of a hard word and see what happens. There are times when that treatment isn’t the best option. But there are also times our kids desperately need grace. ”
If we show our teens compassion, they learn to be compassionate, which carries into their jobs, college campuses, relationships, and into their marriages. When people are hurting, they need a safe place and understanding — not judgment. Inspire your teens to be that place for someone in need.
In a me-focused world, we need to challenge our youth to see beyond themselves. We start by serving our teen and others in need. Simple gestures go a long way.