Note: This is part 1 of a 3 part series on morality in teens - introduction & explanation can be found here.
We want to be independent. Or rather, we think we want to be independent. But in reality, none of us wants true independence – we want others to depend upon us, and we want others to be there for us to depend upon. Though we have this romanticized view of independence, we don’t really want that.
And neither do teens. More than us, probably, they want to feel a part of something – they want to know they’re not going it alone.
More than teens realize, and more than adults know – teens need us. And I don’t mean that we are needed for our money or housing or food or clothing. I’m talking about being that reliable, safe, trustworthy, accountable, old-steady, even-steven sort of partner for a teen.
Teens need at least one adult they can rely upon and trust.
That’s it – that’s the first key. We all want teens to make good choices – and we can probably all tell them the right choices to make. But how many of us are listening – are letting the teen take us through the trials of their day to understand their challenges?
Teens need an adult to listen to them, to encourage them, to believe in them, to love them. Ideally, this person would be the parents – and hey, that’d be two people! Sadly, it too often doesn’t quite work out. Quite often, well intentioned parents end up lecturing more than listening and preaching more than encouraging. As a teen, I would sometimes avoid talking to my mom. I could tell when she was more in the mood to lecture than listen. If I did start sharing something at one of these times, when I would start telling her about my day, or something that happened at school or with my friends, I’d get jumped on. It seemed like she sometimes listened to my stories, waiting for that one thing that I or someone else did wrong. I felt constantly judged – and not encouraged. My mother wasn’t trying to be mean or difficult, she wanted to protect her son and help him make good decisions – but her method was not one that would encourage communication. (I do have a wonderful, loving mother – this one area happened to not be her strong suit.)
I say it is ideally a parent because that is the framework for our culture – the cornerstone is that family – and hopefully, the safe adult can be the parent. We all know that it doesn’t always work out that way – and teens can thrive with other people working as mentors, as sounding boards, as life-coaches, and as spiritual challengers.
I’m not saying that it is easy to be that person – the life of teens can often sound like they are wrapped up in pettiness, in unimportant matters and in tasks that aren’t as challenging as they are. Or it can sound like things are already out of control. But that is the real world perspective of the teen – things are bigger deals, poor choices are made constantly – but if we believe in our teens we will listen to them – show them respect – encourage them – challenge them to think of things in a bigger context – ask about the right choices… in a loving, patient, not attacking – but not backing down – sort of way, we can enable and empower them to make the correct choices for themselves. Our teens need our love and support. They don’t need more bully pulpits or brainwashing. Let’s be the ones to love, support, listen, talk, encourage and pray with our teens.