One of the most important and life-enhancing aspects of adolescence is the process of looking at a variety of activities and interests. If her childhood interests in Scouts and piano lessons don't continue into the teen years, don't count your time spent in those activities as wasted. She may want to explore drama or gymnastics for a while, and they may become her new passions — or she may discover that the piano really is her true love after all. Your encouragement for her to find and develop her strengths and perhaps to overcome what she (and you) might have considered her weaknesses will pay off in many ways. Not only might she find a niche of true excellence and accomplishment, but all of these activities — even the ones that don't pan out as permanent interests — will broaden her fund of knowledge and experience. Furthermore, your support during these efforts will repeatedly affirm her value.
This is also a time during which many young people develop and hone a social conscience. Altruism often peaks during the teen years, and she may find considerable satisfaction in helping others solve problems and in volunteering to serve in worthy causes. Teenagers can be surprisingly empathetic to the suffering of others, and they may go to great lengths of energy and time to lend someone a helping hand. You will obviously want to encourage selfless and sacrificial behavior — at times you may find your own conscience stirred by your adolescent's willingness to love the unlovely.
You should model practical concern for the needs of others and at the same time offer guidance as to the parameters of your teen's involvement. For example, your daughter might want to rescue a friend from an abusive family situation by inviting her to stay at your home. Perhaps you are able to offer a safe haven — certainly an honorable and meaningful action — but you will also need to walk your daughter through some of the realities and details that may not have occurred to her in the rush to help. If you have a particularly generous and tenderhearted teen at home, you will have to pass along a little street wisdom to help prevent her charitable instincts from being soured by encounters with users and abusers who might take advantage of her.
The adolescent years are a crucial period in an individual's development of a worldview — the basic (and often unspoken) assumptions that govern attitudes, decisions and actions. Young people often make decisions during their teens that will set a course for the rest of their lives. Many make permanent spiritual commitments at church, camp, or other events and continue to mature in their faith as the years pass. But these are also years during which fundamental questions about God and the universe are asked, and parents may find their own beliefs (or lack thereof) held up for inspection.
Many teens feel the need to chart a different spiritual course from their parents during these years, a development that can make parents feel very uneasy. What if he turns away from God and all we have taught him over the years? Before you lose too much sleep over this question, remember that your child must eventually make his own decision whether or not to follow God. You can't do it for him. In fact, to some degree an examination of what he has heard as a child is a healthy process because he must understand eventually how his faith applies to adult situations and problems.
Your primary job will be to keep your own relationship with God thriving — which should include meaningful time in prayer for your child(ren) on an ongoing basis. Spiritual vitality that consistently manifests genuine joy, peace and other positive expressions will ultimately communicate more to your adolescent than a lot of clever (or convoluted) answers to his questions. In matters of faith (and in other arenas as well), teenagers are particularly responsive to honesty and integrity and turned off with equal fervor by hypocrisy.
If his need to assert his independence from you spills into the spiritual realm, you may need to entrust his growth in this area to other adults (or even peers) who can positively influence his view of God, faith and the world in general. Youth leaders, teachers, young couples or single adults, or other friends of the family can often "stand in the gap" for you in this area. Do what you can to encourage these contacts and interactions (without being pushy about it) and then leave the results in God's hands.
Adapted from the Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 1999, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.