Focus on the Family

How Your Teen Is Wired

by Joe White, Larry Weeden

Is your teen on the track to a meaningful future? Are you finding out what a joy it can be to help make the most of how God has wired him or her?

Many of us want to help our teens dream big, fulfilling, God-honoring dreams. But how do we do that?

The first step is to understand the great experiment known as your teen. In all of human history, there's never been another person with your teen's exact mix of God-given personality, talents, interests and spiritual gifts. As the two of you get to know that unique wiring through self-tests like the ones in the book Wired by God, you'll start to see which kinds of dreams might make a good fit.

Your Teen's Basic Bent

Here are some questions you can use anytime to find out how God has wired your young person:

And this one from Doug Fields, a youth pastor: "If you could design a specific way to serve God and knew you wouldn't fail, what would you do?"

Remember that your purpose is to listen and learn, to better understand and appreciate your teen's uniqueness. This is not the time for lectures and advice. Figuratively speaking, you need to have big ears and a small mouth, tough skin and a tender heart.

Another way to learn by questioning is to talk with others in your teen's life: teachers, youth group leaders, coaches, school counselors, Scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents of close friends. Ask what they've observed about your child's likes and dislikes, interests and passions, abilities and aptitudes.

Often these people will confirm your own observations. Sometimes, though, they'll describe a side of your teen that you hadn't noticed — or offer an insight you'd overlooked.

Your Teen's Interests and Passions

Here's a way to help your teen pinpoint his or her interests and natural abilities. It's based on "The Vision Quest," a tool developed by Tim Sanford, a counselor at Focus on the Family who works with a lot of young people.

Give your teen these instructions:

On a piece of paper, list the things you've done since the fourth grade. We're talking about academics, sports, social events, the arts, student government, hobbies, interaction with family and friends, personal adventures, youth activities, socials, special events, camps, worship, leadership, volunteer work, mission trips, "helping out," clubs, service projects, job duties, volunteer or assigned tasks, and chores.

You don't have to compile your whole list at once. Allow two or three weeks, adding to it as new memories come to mind. If you don't know whether to include something in the list, go ahead and put it down anyway.

Now give each activity a "positive" or a "negative" rating. How did it turn out? How did it affect you?

After several days, pull your worksheet out and think again about the events to which you gave a negative value. Look for patterns. For example, if events connected with mechanical things (fixing the car, building something, helping with props at the school play) consistently ended in disaster, you're probably not the mechanical type.

Now move to the positive side of the worksheet. Ask yourself the questions below as you look over those events.

Your Teen's Spiritual Gifts

Help your teen discover his spiritual gifts and gain direction in life.

by Joe White, Larry Weeden

A spiritual gift isn't a natural ability with which you're born. It's not an office, position or job you hold.

Spiritual gifts are abilities that allow you to perform specific tasks beyond the realm of human skill. They're given to believers in Jesus Christ only, and they're given as gifts — not as a result of your maturity level, prayer or education.

Whether all spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible are still available today is a controversial issue. But it's generally agreed that every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. It's up to your teen to discover, develop and exercise his or hers. You can help.

Tell your teen that understanding one's spiritual gifting has several phases. He can begin by praying to understand the gift(s) the Holy Spirit has already placed inside him. Explain that you don't ask for a gift, you ask to be made aware of it.

Next, encourage your teen to learn by doing. Help her get involved in situations where she has to depend on God's Spirit to get something done. Let her work on projects inside and outside your church, getting ongoing, honest feedback from spiritually mature friends and leaders. Suggest that she ask your youth pastor, a coach or a teacher who knows her well what gifts that person sees in her.

There's no "complete" list of spiritual gifts, but partial lists are found six times in the New Testament. You may want to read these passages with your teen:

This discovery process offers two benefits for both you and your teen. First, it's one of the greatest "treasure hunts" you could ever embark upon. Second, it lets you steer your teen toward experiences that reveal and cultivate gifts that can be used for a lifetime.

Your Teen's Brain Preference

Your teen's brain has two separate but connected halves known as the left and right hemispheres. Each controls different ways of thinking and perceiving. Your teen uses both sides of her brain but has a preference for one over the other.

When you do something that's in line with your brain preference, it doesn't take a huge effort. But a task that requires using the other side of your brain makes it work 50 to 100 percent harder.

The left side of the brain handles sequential, logical, rational thought. Memorizing, spelling, vocabulary, language and mathematical formulas come easily to it. So do following rules and making decisions based on logic, proof, and facts.

The right side of the brain, meanwhile, is in charge of creativity and feelings. While the left side takes bits of information and arranges them in a logical order, the right side entertains random thought patterns.

What does all this mean for your teen's future? It means she'd better take her brain preference into account as she considers the kind of work she'll do and where she'll do it.

Whether she's at work or in school, her brain will want to stay on the side where it functions most naturally. Forcing herself to use the "other" side of her brain all the time can lead to headaches, fatigue, burnout and frequent illnesses - not to mention procrastination, frustration, mistakes, poor concentration, moodiness, memory problems and a pretty low view of herself.

As your teen thinks about what classes to take, remember that subjects like these may be easier for left-brained people: math (algebra, statistics or calculus), history, civics, reading, technical writing, research, electrical engineering, public speaking, debate team, typing, accounting and bookkeeping.

In which career fields do you find more left-brained people? Corporate presidents, chief financial officers, lawyers, physicians, accountants, bookkeepers, auditors, dentists, electrical and electronic engineers, assembly-line workers, managers and supervisors of all types, operating room and intensive care nurses, mechanics and machinists.

On the other hand - or hemisphere - which subjects in school may be easier for right-brained people? Math (geometry, trigonometry), biology, music, creative writing, foreign languages, drama, dance, choreography, chemistry, physics, art, design, philosophy, sociology and cultural anthropology.

In which career fields do you find more right-brained people? Consultants of all types, philosophers, emergency room physicians, psychiatrists, artists, writers, entertainers, musicians, composers, elementary and high school teachers and coaches, actors, dancers, designers, interior decorators, counselors, chaplains, public relations and marketing people, pediatricians and pediatric nurses.

Your Teen: Extrovert or Introvert?

Being extroverted or introverted isn't a matter of whether your teen "likes people" or "doesn't like people." It's about where he goes to get energy and where he focuses most of his concentration. Introverts find energy in their inner world of ideas, so they require less from the outside world. Extroverts find their energy in things and people; pulled by this outer life of action and interaction, they spend less time with thoughts and concepts.

Can you have both "innie" and "outie" traits? Sure.

Is it better to be an innie or an outie? Neither. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

If your teen is more of an extrovert, he tends to like action and gets along well in social settings. He's likely to be an optimist. He gets bored or impatient with slow jobs and slow people, enjoys talking on the phone, and is generally confident and relaxed. He tends to work well under pressure, like when he takes tests.

What jobs do extroverts tend to like? Look for those that provide lots of activity, variety and stimulating input. Your teen probably will do best where he has plenty of interaction with people, many things going on at the same time, and deadlines to meet. Extroverts also enjoy jobs that let them turn ideas into reality.

In which career fields do we find more-extroverted people? Here are some: marketing, restaurant managers and workers, actors, salespeople and sales managers, dental hygienists, bank and office managers, religious and personal service workers, hairdressers and cosmetologists, self-employed business people, and teachers.

If your teen is more introverted, she tends to focus her energies inward; she's energized by times when she can be alone to ponder her thoughts, let her mind wander. She needs time to reflect before taking action. She's always asking questions (though not always out loud), tends to be more negative than positive in her outlook, and may get tagged as a pessimist. She tends not to work so well under the pressure of exams.

What kinds of jobs work well for introverts? Consider those that would allow your teen to work alone for much of the time, and where the stimulation level is low. She'll probably do best where she can have her own quiet space and work at her own pace. She may prefer an environment with fewer deadlines, one that lets her think up ideas and overcome the challenges that stand in the way of their becoming reality.

In which career fields do we find more-introverted people? Electrical and electronic engineers, chemists and other scientists, librarians, archivists and curators, mechanics and other repair people, lawyers, computer programmers, physicians, health technicians, priests and monks, and college professors.

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Your Teen's Sensory Preference

Sensory preference has a big influence on success or failure in school and in the choice of a career.

by Joe White, Larry Weeden

Experts have defined three sensory systems through which people tend to "take in" the world: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (touch, taste, smell). Your teen has a sensory preference, too. It has a big influence on whether he's succeeding or struggling in school — and on the kind of career that may fit him in the future.

Sensory preference refers to the type of sensory input that registers most quickly in one's brain. Unimpaired, we're able to use all the senses. But each of us tends to rely on sight, sound or touch for more of our "data collecting" than on our other senses. We feel most comfortable and understood when we get data through our preferred system — visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

Which of the three senses is best? None. All have their place. We can become competent in any of the three senses — but we still have a natural preference for one.

Collecting information through your preferred system comes easily and energy efficiently. That's why you tend to gravitate toward, and return to, environments that reward your sensory preference.

Being visual doesn't mean you need to become a photographer; being auditory doesn't mean you should be a professional musician; being kinesthetic doesn't mean you must throw footballs or potter's clay for a living. But knowing what type of sensory stimuli gets your attention most quickly can help you focus on activities and situations that match your preference. It can also help you to understand why you feel more comfortable in some environments and less comfortable in others.

Auditory people tend to prefer careers that let them use their ability to listen and talk. In which fields do we find them? Here are some examples: musicians, singers, instrumentalists, psychotherapists, counselors, speech therapists, talk-show hosts, public speakers, radio broadcasters, telephone communicators, and foreign language translators.

Visual people tend to gravitate toward careers that allow them to use their sensitivity to appearance — both in absorbing information and in expressing themselves. They usually excel at tasks that require "eagle eyes."

In which career fields do we find visual people? Here are some examples: airline pilots, firefighters, sharpshooters, marksmen, TV or movie entertainers, designers, models, sign-language translators, and air traffic controllers.

Kinesthetic people tend to select careers that allow them to express themselves in physical ways and in tasks that require "the right touch."

In which career fields do we find kinesthetic people? Here are examples: athletes, dancers, surgeons, therapists (physical, occupational, or massage), computer programmers, artists (painting, pottery, sculpting), sign-language translators, mechanics, machinists, chefs, and cooks.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Experts say it's best to structure your life so that about 70 percent of your waking hours are spent in areas where your preferences naturally lie. Life is much more than a career, of course, but since a job takes up a large part of those waking hours — working and thinking about work — your teen will be much happier if her career fits her preferences.

Even within a career field, it's good to look for a niche that fits your teen best.

Even within a career field, it's good to look for a niche that fits your teen best. For instance, pediatrics is normally better for a right-brained nurse, while the intensive care unit usually will be a better fit for a left-brained nurse.

If your teen chooses a career that doesn't match her brain preference, she'll need to make up for it in other areas of her life. If right-brained Kevin's job requires him to manage, schedule and make decisions, he'll want to allow plenty of time for walks in the park, journal writing and singing on the church worship team. These activities will give relief from the brain strain he feels at work.

If your teen is left-brained and extroverted, look into careers that involve negotiating, leadership, goal setting and decision making, management, mechanics or repair.

If your teen is right-brained and extroverted, consider careers that involve troubleshooting, entrepreneuring, self-directed activity (consultant, small business owner, truck driver), marketing, public relations, teaching or counseling.

If your teen is left-brained and introverted, explore fields that involve researching, diagnosing, accounting, bookkeeping, engineering and following detailed instructions accurately.

And if your teen is right-brained and introverted, check out occupations that involve computer programming, acting, music, composing, guiding, counseling, pastoral activities, self-directed work situations (resource specialist or consulting), or designing new things.

Here are three steps counselor Tim Sanford recommends to a teen piecing together her personal puzzle:

  1. Observe and become aware of who you are. Psalm 139:14 says, "I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Do you really believe God values you and has created you with unique abilities?
  2. Evaluate yourself honestly. Psalm 139:23-24 says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Have you asked God to show you your weaknesses as well as your strengths?
  3. Get honest feedback from others. According to Proverbs 11:14, "In a multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14, KJV). How many "counselors" (parents, friends, pastors, teachers, etc.) have you asked for help in figuring out your future? Are you open to hearing things from them that make you a little uncomfortable? Or do you listen only to people who agree with you?

Following these three steps will help your teen develop mentally, physically, socially and spiritually (see Luke 2:52) into the person God has designed him or her to become.

Helping Your Teen Narrow the Career Field

Many young people have yet to zero in on a specific dream for the future. One of the simplest — and most effective — ways to help is to encourage them to try a wide variety of activities:

Some of these efforts won't go so well, but that's okay. Your child may learn which interests not to pursue — an invaluable lesson. Other efforts will show promise, meriting further study and practice. Sooner or later, one may prove to be the most enjoyable and natural fit in the world.

Teaching Teens the Life Skill of Renewing Their Minds

The world is full of counterfeit truth claims, but you can teach your teen to live according to God's reality.

by Marc A. Fey

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

The most important skill you can teach your teen is the renewing of his mind. The mistake many parents make is to try to renew their teen's mind for him. Renewing the mind is a day-to-day process of thinking biblically. You might remember in our last issue we talked about how to choose God's reality as the Bible defines it rather than alternate and counterfeit versions of reality. The car commercial that promises significance through horsepower and luxury is presenting a "truth claim" that is counter to the truth claims of the Bible.

The world is full of counterfeit truth claims, but you can teach your teen to live according to God's reality. When the mind is renewed, God's will and reality become clearer. You may be thinking, But how do I teach my teen the skill of renewing the mind?

To get started, you should first prepare your teen.


Begin by making sure your teen has the right set of expectations. Some people approach God's Word with the wrong set of expectations.

For example, does the Bible promise that if you follow all the commandments, you will have no struggles in life? Of course not. But it's not uncommon for a person to read the Bible with this kind of faulty expectation.

When your daughter opens the Bible, what should she expect? Teach her to look for who God is and what His world is really all about.

Next, help her understand that reading the Bible is having a conversation with God. As she reads, she can look for things that apply to her own circumstances and place in life.

The next step in helping your teen to renew their mind is to give them a biblical perspective.


Put God's Word into the context of your teen's everyday life. Many parents make the mistake of assuming their teen's world is the same as their own world.

Start by looking closely at your teen's world. Walk in his shoes. Listen to the messages he gets when he walks into the classroom every day where a biblical worldview is challenged.

Consider the effect of video games he plays or TV he watches. Your first challenge is to step back and evaluate the messages your son is getting throughout the day.

Next, help your son gain a biblical perspective on these messages. Ask:

Speak about God's truth in contrast to the other messages. You might say: "The Bible says you and I are going to live forever, and we have a unique opportunity every day to do things that will last into eternity. What do you think we could do today that would last forever?" Or, "When God looks at you, what does He see?"

In addition to helping your teen gain a biblical perspective, you should also teach them about spending personal time with God.

Personal Time With God

Help your teen carve out regular, daily time with God to study the Bible and pray.

When I was a new Christian at the age of 17, a Young Life leader said to me, "If you read your Bible every day, God will tell you all kinds of things that will help you know how to live your life!" Boy, that got my attention.

Encourage (don't nag) your teen to commit to a specific time every day. Have him pick the time and spot.

In my own parenting, this challenge led my wife and me to talk with our 14-year-old son about canceling all the video game time for the rest of the school year to make room in his life for prayer. Commitment takes sacrifice.

Here's another suggestion:

Start out small (perhaps 10 or 15 minutes to begin). Divide the time into three simple activities:

Quality Time With God's People

Learning from God's Word is a corporate activity. Your teen should learn from God's Word with other people, starting with you.

Listen to Dr. Dobson or another radio teacher on a regular basis, discuss Sunday's sermon at the dinner table on Tuesday or attend a family camp this summer.

Psychologists say your teen's peer group is important to his development as a person.

Find rich environments where your teen can learn from God's Word with his peer group. Often that will be a Bible-focused youth group, but it also might be a Bible study you start in your home, or a conference teens attend together. Continually evaluate the quality of the teaching and converse with your teen about what he is learning.

Finally, in helping your teen to begin renewing their mind, emphasize the importance of the quest for truth.

Quest for Truth

Discovering what it means to live out our faith is a lifelong journey as we integrate what we believe with every area of life.

God will be with us, which is the most important part of the quest.

Teach your teen that God desires to reveal His truth to us. God is personal. He talks to us all the time: through creation, through others, and most clearly through His Word.

We can trust God's Word, expecting that He will do what He promises: speak to us, lead us, provide for us, give us everything we need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus.

Share your own quest with your teen so he knows the power of your story. Learning to think like a Christian requires renewing the mind. Teaching your teen how to do this and live according to God's will — and why that's important — might be the best gift you can give.

Learn the art of asking great questions. Jesus asked so many good questions. In fact, He often answered a question with a question!

Start by carving out time for you and your teen to talk. Engage your teen with life questions that apply directly to your teen's circumstances. For example, you might ask, "Have you ever read anything in the Bible that might apply to that?" or "Have you looked at Proverbs to see what God might have to say about that?"

What you can't do is ask a question that has an obvious answer or that implies you already know what the right answer is, kind of a "warmer, warmer" sort of hunt for the answer. Make the question a legitimate one so your son finds the answer on his own.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules. Recently my son accompanied me on a business trip where we had a heart-to-heart talk. I was ready with life questions to get us talking. Before I started rattling off the questions, I asked God what He thought I should focus on. His answer surprised me: "Ask him what was his favorite part of the day."

Be Your Teen's Role Model

How parents can be good role models.

by Michael Ross

What is a role model?

When we say someone serves as a role model, we mean the individual is someone others admire or try to emulate. For teenagers this often means the person is someone they want to be like — whether it's because of the person's lifestyle, athletic prowess or the attitudes the person shows.

Some of those role models are celebrities out of your teen's reach (athletes and movie stars), while others are in his or her own circle of influence (youth ministers, teachers and other parents). What do those people have that make them attractive to your teen?

What teens crave

Why do teens look up to the other adults in their lives? Whether or not we like it, parents are sometimes considered the enemy. Teenagers might see their moms and dads as judgmental and unconcerned about their lives. Two qualities, therefore, are crucial to being a role model.

  1. A role model is understanding, not condescending.

    When 13-year-old Jenny seemed especially upset about a boy not liking her at school, her father said, "That's nothing to worry about. You're too young to even think about boys." When the dad spoke those words, he was telling Jenny that her concerns were not important. Yet it was serious in her 13-year-old world. Role models try to connect with a teen to understand what he or she is going through. They do so without belittling the teen's problems or downplaying the triumphs.
  2. A role model is a friend but also a leader. We often think that to be a role model to our teenager we must know the name of every new movie or be able to use teenage slang. That's not necessarily true.

    While most role models understand the teen's life and are friendly, they also take on a leadership role with them. Role models provide answers, insight or suggestions about the teen's struggles — oftentimes from their own experiences.

How parents can be good role models

Being a role model to your teenager may seem like an impossible undertaking. But realize that your young person needs someone just like you — someone who loves him or her and who can point in the right direction.

Helping Your Teen Learn Selfless Living

One of the biggest challenges parents face is training teens to consider the needs of others over their own needs.

by Marc A. Fey

OK, let's be honest. One of the biggest challenges facing parents is training your teen to consider the needs of others over their own needs and desires; to serve instead of being served; to give instead of getting.

While I would consider my 15-year-old son a considerate and kind person who strives to meet the needs of others, when I look at my own struggle with overcoming self, I know that my son has a long learning curve before him. I also have the same learning curve trying to teach him how to live a selfless life.

To move from a place of selfish to a place of selfless is the challenge of a lifetime. And yet that is exactly what God calls us to do. Moreover, God's word promises that this is the place where we will find the greatest significance and purpose for our lives.

When teaching your teen what it means to live a selfless life, consider the following:

Making Room For Selfless Living in Your Family

Several years ago two psychologists conducted a study of seminary students to see who would stop and help a man in distress. The study, of course, was inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan.

You remember the story in Luke 10: Jesus had commended a young man in answering correctly that the whole Law could be summed up in the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself.

Next, the young man, wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" At that, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

So, based on the truth in this story, the psychologists set up a scenario that asked seminary students deliver a short talk on a biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building to present it. On the way over, each student ran into a man slumped down, coughing and groaning, clearly in distress. Who would stop to help the man?

To try and predict who would stop, the psychologists studied the seminary students' motivation for entering the ministry, and their beliefs about helping others. They also primed them by reviewing the story of the Good Samaritan before they crossed the road. However, psychologists discovered that none of these factors indicated with any accuracy who would help the man.

However, there was one factor they discovered was an accurate predictor: time.

Each seminary student, prior to crossing the road, would receive one of two directions. The experimenter would look at his watch then say either, "You're late. They were expecting you a couple of minutes ago. We'd better get moving" or "It will be a few minutes before they're ready for you, but you might as well head over now."

Wow. Do you catch that? The determining factor in whether the distressed man received help was whether or not the student had time to do it.

Action Point

Take a hard look at your schedule and the routines in your life and your family's life. To create room for selfless living, cut out some things. Allow a margin for working on behalf of others. You may not see the man in distress right now, but you can be sure that if you make room for him now, not only will you see him later, you will also have time to stop for him.

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Encouraging Teens to Champion the Outcast and Wounded

Why do we act on behalf of the outcast and wounded? Because God does. And He calls us to do the same.

by Marc A. Fey

I told my son the story of what happened to me in ninth grade. There was a particularly awkward and painfully shy boy in my P.E. class who was often the target of merciless teasing, bordering on harassment.

I didn't participate, but like many of the other students, I got used to standing by and seeing it happen.

One day, things went too far. One thug in the class started pushing this boy, then for no apparent reason except for sheer cruelty, he punched the boy in the nose. Before anyone knew what was happening, blood came gushing out this boy's nose. Everyone scattered.

Even today I can hear the question the principal asked me later that day as I sat in his office explaining what happened: "Why didn't you do something to stop it?"

That question, of course, changed what I did in every circumstance from that day forward. And it serves as a great picture for my son, when I ask him, "What would you do?"

Why do we act on behalf of the neglected, outcast and wounded? Because God does. And He calls us to do the same.

To revisit the story of the Good Samaritan, do you remember what the young man's question was? "Who is my neighbor?" As was often the case, Jesus didn't answer the man's question, but rather dealt with the underlying issue. Instead, Jesus told him what a good neighbor is. Then, in effect, he said, "Go and be a good neighbor to everyone you meet who is neglected, outcast, or wounded."

Action Point

Engage your son or daughter about what he or she sees and experiences at school. Rehearse what standing up for a person who is the target of teasing might look like. Help your teen to consider what it might cost to stand up, then to be prepared to pay that price on behalf of this person.

Using Selfless Living to Foster a Christian Worldview

Last Christmas, as a family, we pooled some of the money we had set aside for presents and used it to impact others.

Samaritan's Purse Ministry gave us the opportunity to purchase practical presents like a chicken, or a goat, or a month of education for a child. Or, for a few hundred dollars, we could purchase a child slave out of slavery in a third world country, and give him or her a chance for freedom.

What a powerful experience it was for our family to sacrifice a little bit to have a role in setting a child free from slavery!

From this experience, my family engaged in discussions about God's character and heart to set us free.

Imparting a Christian worldview is, at the core, about getting to know God better. As you journey with your teen learning to live a selfless life, if you make the target knowing God, you will be better able to see the world as God does.

Helping Too-Busy Teens Beat Burnout

Concerned parents want to know how to help their stressed out, overworked, too-active kids.

by Tim Geare, Tim Sanford

Today, more than ever it seems, teenagers are at no loss for involvement in activities. Family, school, church, friends, neighborhood sports leagues and clubs. But can anyone — even an energetic teenager — do it all?

It's tempting to look at young people as having unlimited energy reserves, but they don't. Concerned parents want to know how to help their stressed-out, over-worked, too active kids. And with good reason: Stress, lack of sleep and constant emotional and physical overexertion can wear on teens, just as it does on adults.

Maybe you're asking yourself what many parents have asked: What can I do about my teenager having too many activities that can lead to burn out? How do I deal with emotional distance as a result of fatigue? How can I help my teen who is just plain stressed out from being on the go too much?

You're not alone. Other parents want to know how to help their kids slow down, too. Noticing there's a problem and asking for help is a good place to start.

Too Many Activities

Q. My teenager is involved in so many activities: school, babysitting, church, sports. She just can't say no to people, and I'm afraid she's a candidate for burnout. How can I help her find a healthy balance in her life?

A. Kids learn by example, and most parents are over-committed themselves. You may have passed this "trait" down without even realizing it. Remember, every time we say yes to something, we must necessarily say no to something else, whether we want to or not. I guarantee it.

Keep this principle in mind: Choose your no's carefully. Before saying yes, stop and identify exactly what you will be saying no to. It's usually life's less tangible things — down time, sleep, family, quiet time with God — that get pushed aside. Those are the items we say no to most frequently.

Before making a new commitment, consider what might be sacrificed. Then ask yourself, "What will be the cost of saying no to (X)?" "Can I afford to say no to (X)?" "Is (X) wise to say no to?" Be honest with yourself and ask God to reveal the best option. Base your decision on your ability or willingness to say no to (X) rather than your desire to say "yes" to something new. It's harder than you might think. Most choices will not be between the bad and the good; they'll be between the good and the better.

Telling someone yes is easy. That's why so many adults — and teens — are overcommitted and bordering upon burnout. Also, insecurity can drive us into "performance" mode and make us reluctant to say no to others out of fear of rejection. Your daughter needs reassurance that her value lies in who she is, not how many hoops she jumps through for the people she wants to please.

One more note for parents: If you're overcommitted, you may need to say no to some good things in order to say yes to the best thing . . . your teenager.

Emotional Distance

Q. My son seems burned out, but when I ask him, all I hear is "I dunno." How can I get past that invisible wall?

A. I understand your frustration. His response is just another clue that you may be right about his being burned out. When pushed beyond their limits, teens can lose perspective on their own busyness. That's why your sensitivity to his state is crucial to healing.

First, assist him in evaluating his life. Simply reviewing his schedule may help illustrate that a problem exists. Then ask him about — and observe personally — sleeping patterns, study habits, relational demands, etc. Once you agree a problem exists, you can begin to develop solutions together.

In his "burned out" condition, it would be natural for conflicts to bubble up. If issues surface here, deal with them before trying to pull him out of the more general rut of burnout. Then brainstorm some options for healthier overall balance. Can he cut back on work? Adjust class schedules? Delay a project? Get some help with relational issues? Be sure to reserve time for fun, relaxation and "recharging the batteries" so to speak.

This process should develop a sense of hope and direction in your teen, as well as accountability. Monitor and encourage him, but also make him responsible for following through on the changes discussed. If you don't see improvement, it may be time to consult a professional counselor (or your family physician to rule out medical problems).

As a caring parent, you can lift your teen out of the burnout ditch by

  1. gathering data together
  2. creating new lifestyle options to reduce stress
  3. following up to assess progress

Stressed Out

Q. As a youth pastor, I see many teens who are stressed out from being too busy. Is there a way I can help them?

A. Sure. First, plan a "Stress Release Weekend." No schedule. No agenda. Pick a relaxing place and simple meals. The ultimate goal is to "detox" from the pressures of daily life.

Second, plan a "Day Alone with God" at a retreat center, park, lake — any place where the teens can spread out, have privacy and avoid distraction. (You may want to get each teen a copy of How to Spend a Day In Prayer by Lorne Sanny.) The focus of this time is not to keep busy praying. Rather, use that dialogue (which includes quietly listening to God) as a way of slowing down and regaining perspective on life.

Finally, be sensitive to the amount of youth group responsibility you assign to any one teen. It's easy to overload a reliable youngster without realizing it — simply because you know you can count on them to do the job right. You can lighten the load.

Action Steps

  1. Do a "too-busy" checkup:
    • List all the activities you're committed to — daily, weekly, seasonally, occasionally
    • Divide them into 3 groups: essential, important and pleasurable
    • Beside each, write down something you must say "no" to in order to make that item a priority. Take your time and be honest.
    • Determine if you're doing too much, and how you can adjust your schedule
  2. Schedule a prayerful "Day Alone with God" in a quiet, secluded place.
  3. Consider picking up these related resources at your local Christian bookstore:
    • When I Relax I Feel Guilty, a book by Tim Hansel, David C. Cook
    • "Adrenaline and Stress," Focus on the Family broadcast CD (Available by calling Focus on the Family at 1-800-232-6459.)

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources for parenting teens

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