A teenager's little corner of the world is often a pretty convenient place to live. In "teen world," the toilet paper magically grows on the roll, clothes miraculously show up clean and folded, and commercials make available everything a teen could want. Websites like Facebook further emphasize the message that the world revolves around teenagers. Whether by parents, schools, the advertising industry or the Internet, this generation of young people is constantly being served. So how is a parent supposed to teach a teen to care for others when culture is teaching teens that it's all about them?
I saw a good example of this prevailing attitude a few years ago on a Sunday morning the day after Christmas. The kids at church were chatting about all the presents they had scored the day before. I walked up to one group and asked them, "What did you give for Christmas?" Prepared only to talk about what they had received, the teens looked dumbfounded, stumbling to recall what they had offered to others.
Caring isn't natural
The truth is that it's not natural for us to care about others. Humanity is born self-centered and greedy, and teens are no exception. We need to recognize that the real issue here is the heart. If we simply try to change our teens' behavior, we're not really helping our kids to draw closer to Jesus; we're just filling their time.
In teaching teens to care for others, youth leaders often point to the apostle Paul's words: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).
But even as we teach this important Scripture, we often skip verses 1 and 2 that explain: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose."
Pointing to the source
In other words, our ability to care for others doesn't come from sheer willpower, and it definitely doesn't come from cultural influences. In those verses, Paul is saying that if your encouragement is in Christ, then you can put others first. If you have comfort in Jesus' love, then you can care more about your neighbor. But when your walk with Christ is nonexistent, then you have nothing to offer others.
If we want teens to care about others, we've got to be more aware of what fills their lives. Strategic parenting begins with an emphasis on making Jesus real to our teens. When that happens, their hearts will naturally overflow to those in need.
Filling our teens with the Good News of Jesus is where caring begins. Next, we have to model it ourselves. When I was a boy, I didn't have a conversation with my parents about what it means to care for others. All I had to do was watch my dad. He always made a point to speak to people, to ask questions. After awhile, I realized he just cared for people. My dad consistently modeled Jesus in big and small ways.
Modeling your care
Teens look to see that a caring attitude is exemplified at home. Start with little ideas. Consider the chores you already have, and offer to help someone else with those chores as well. Do you need to cut your grass? Well then, perhaps you can mow your neighbor's yard, too. Or how about volunteering to set up and tear down the chairs at church or going with the youth group to serve in the soup kitchen? As you model Jesus' care for others, your teens have a tangible experience that reflects tenderness and compassion out of the overflow of your relationship with Christ.
By your actions as a parent, you can introduce your kids to life beyond their little corner of the world.