One of your tasks as a parent is to create a home full of green lights; to support your teen's interests – in academics, sports, music, church or community service, the arts, technology, cars or whatever. This support takes the form of time (attending sporting events or science fairs, for example), effort (helping your teen practice the sport or build the science project), money (for lessons, supplies and equipment), and encouragement.
Peers are not nice to each other. Many teens are catty; they cut and they gossip. They don't encourage each other to pursue meaningful goals. If a teen and her dreams are like a steam engine that needs to have coal shoveled into the boiler every day to keep running, peers are often coal thieves. They steal that source of energy with their snide, envious remarks. But we parents can supply every day the coal – true, sincere encouragement – that will fuel our teens' fire.
During the day, raided by negative peers, negative coaching, negative teachers and a negative school environment, a kid runs out of coal. His little bank of confidence burns up. But a parent has a chance to spend the evening with a child. At the dinner table, out shooting baskets, helping with homework, before bed, the parent has lots of opportunities to praise.
Some parents assume their opinions no longer matter to their teens. It's true that peers are of great importance to teens as they establish their individuality and prepare for independence. But all teens – including yours – still long to be loved and affirmed by Mom and Dad. No one else's praise and support means more.
When it comes to encouragement, the more frequent and specific the better. That's why, at our Kanakuk football camps each summer, we make it our goal to encourage each teen by name 10 times a day. We want every kid to hear his name – and something specific that he's doing well – at least that often. Some of our kids will start in Division I, and some will never put on a helmet in a college game – but they all walk away from 26 days of Kanakuk feeling as if they can run through buildings. They love it!
If he's running the ropes – an agility drill – a camper will hear things like "Great job with your knees, Bill! Your eyes are up perfect! Great quick feet, Bill!"
A guy running sprints will hear "Way to sprint, John!" or "Super job, John! Man, I love the way you do your backward run!"
Those things may sound tiny. But when a kid hears them 10 times or more a day, every day, with his name attached, he begins to believe in himself.
What works with adolescents at Kanakuk football camps will work with our teens at home. The more we encourage them, and the more specific our praises are, the more coal we'll provide for their boilers. If your teen is a budding artist, for instance, your comments might include things like "I love your way with colors, Mary!" or "That fruit in your picture looks so vivid, I'd like to grab it and take a bite, Kevin!" or "The combination of textures in your sculpture is fascinating, Sue! I could look at it over and over and see something different in it every day!"
A teen who gets that kind of encouragement will keep pursuing her dreams.