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Equipping Your Teen with Character

Even teens and tweens learn more by example than by teaching. Modeling proper virtues for your children is important.

Why do today's teens answer the question, "What is character?" with good looking? Since when did physical appearance become a character trait?

Society and pop culture send unchristian messages like:

  • It's all about me.
  • Sex outside of marriage is the norm.
  • Girls must dress sexy to be attractive.

What's at stake with this kind of thinking? Our culture's moral compass — and our sons and daughters' future.

Can we help our teens reclaim Christian values so their lives make an impact for Christ? Yes. Our influence still matters.

The cliché is true: Values are more often caught than taught. Jesus' followers learned to be like him by modeling his behavior. "Follow me," Christ told his disciples. They did, but not without questions, doubts and some resistance.

Sound familiar?

Actions speak louder than words. St. Francis of Assisi put it this way: "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching" (emphasis mine). For years, your teens have followed you — sometimes resisting, sometimes not. They determine what is important based on observing you. If this thought makes you cringe, don't let your past failures stop you from showing love and patience today. Continue to grow in your relationship with God, so that your teens will see your faith and want to know more.

Faith. Hope. Love. So many positive character traits are reflected in the meaning behind these three simple words. If we want our teens to emulate these character traits, we need to live them out at home. Here are just a few to start with:

Humility

As parents, let's make our wrongs right by saying, "I'm sorry." Our sons and daughters will more easily forgive others when they've experienced forgiveness at home.

Gratitude

Teens need to hear us say, "Thank you," when they watch their younger brother or load the dishwasher. Especially thank them if they confide in you. Teens tend to share their secrets and struggles with their friends, so if they pick you to talk to — stop and listen. Let them vent and cry if they need to. Offer understanding and a prayer instead of a long lecture. Ask them if they want your advice.

Self-restraint

When you do give advice, talk about how to handle temptation before your teen attends a party or a game. Encourage firm boundaries. Talk about the consequences of premarital sex. Share your testimony if it relates. To promote modesty, buy a fun and trendy — but modest — prom dress. When your teen is walking out the door, say, "I believe you'll make wise choices tonight."

Preach the Gospel

Who's following your teen? Chances are, someone or some group is observing your son or daughter, whether it's a classmate, teammate or coworker. Teenagers already have the opportunity to spread the light of the gospel. Most of their opportunities for talking about their faith in Jesus will come from first living their faith. This is what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he exhorted, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Encourage your teen to live a life that emulates the faith, hope and love of Christ so anyone who's watching will be attracted to Jesus.

Mercy

Are you showing your teen mercy when they need it?

I don't always. For example, Justin got in trouble for laughing in class so I gave him the cold shoulder. My message? Shape up, buddy, if you want my love! A bad mom moment, I know. Whenever issues arise between me and my son, I try to remember that God's unconditional love for us isn't based on our behavior.

Next time your son or daughter disappoints you, shake things up a bit. Think of Jesus' example with the woman caught in adultery. Offer a hug and forgiveness instead of a hard word and see what happens. There are times when that treatment isn't the best option. But there are also times our kids desperately need grace. The Bible says mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

By offering mercy, my friend Beth saw results in how her teens responded to one another. Once when Beth disciplined her daughter, her oldest son interrupted and asked, "Mom, can you show mercy to her this time"

Compassion

If we show our teens compassion, they learn to be compassionate, which carries into their jobs, college campuses, relationships, and into their marriages. When people are hurting, they need a safe place and understanding — not judgment. Inspire your teens to be that place for someone in need.

Service

In a me-focused world, we need to challenge our youth to see beyond themselves. We start by serving our teen and others in need. Simple gestures go a long way.

Beth served her two teen girls by making their beds for them after they left for school. She helped them when they were drowning in classes and activities.

After driving past a homeless man, Scoti turned around and bought the best meal at McDonalds. Her teenage sons handed the meal to this man and said, "Take this in the name of Jesus."

Our Christ-like examples are the most powerful influence to persuade our teens to be Christ's disciples. We can equip our teens to offer the world something better — something of eternal value. "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV).


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