When our son, Austin, was 15, he won a celebrity look-alike contest. (He was a dead ringer for Justin Bieber.) It came with a $500 prize and an appearance in a music video. He was elated at being chosen.
We soon learned that the video had some foul language in it and was actually a spoof, mocking the celebrity my son resembled. My husband and I wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing, but we kept quiet. Let’s give Austin a chance to think about this on his own, we reasoned.
He knew the content of the video was problematic, but the pull of $500 was blurring his decision. He asked us for a few days to decide. While it was hard to hold our tongues, we agreed to the time, fully prepared to play the parent card, if needed. A few days later, I asked Austin about the video. “I emailed them and told them I wasn’t doing it,” he responded.
Teens have one foot in adolescence and the other foot in adulthood. They’re learning to make big decisions on their own, yet still require accountability and a compass that guides them in the right direction. Internally, they’re asking questions — bout themselves and about their relationships — that we need to help them answer. These questions often stem from five core needs: security, belonging, identity, purpose and aptitude.
Who can I trust?
Does your teen feel secure with you? Do you keep your word? Are you dependable and responsible? When you mess up, do you own your mistakes, apologize and ask for forgiveness?
Teens are still learning discernment about who they can trust and who they cannot. That trust starts with their parents. They can trust God to guide them (Proverbs 3:5-6), and it’s foolish to trust their own thoughts (Proverbs 28:26).
Who accepts me?
We all want to know that people believe in us and accept us for who we are. Teens especially long for this from their parents and from God. Do our kids know they belong no matter what? Accepting your teen doesn’t mean supporting all choices or agreeing with all opinions. No, accepting means acknowledging and recognizing the reality of your child’s circumstances. Accepting is about being a safe person to be honest with — one who listens, shows compassion and empathy, and leads with love.
Who am I?
One of the toughest challenges for our teens is figuring out who they are. Kids who don’t have an answer to that question will more readily succumb to peer pressure, trying to discover who they really are. The more our kids are grounded in Christ and His truth, the stronger their identity will be. To have a healthy identity, all teens need to recognize two spiritual truths: They are known (Psalm 139:1), and they are loved (John 3:16). Some time after Austin declined to make the spoof video, he told us that knowing who he was in Christ helped guide his decision.
Why am I alive?
Our teens need to recognize their purpose in life, that they have something to offer others. They also need the truth of Isaiah 43:7, which declares they were made to bring glory to God. This was also key to our son making the decision not to do the video — because it most certainly wouldn’t have brought glory to God. Cast a vision for your teens about their God-given purpose. Serve your community together, giving your kids a glimpse of their purpose for making a difference in this world.
What do I do well?
Our teens need to know their strengths, but they’ll learn those by trial and error. Let them know that failure is actually a good thing — a time of learning and evaluation and growth. As they identify the things they do well, our teens need to understand that God wants them to be responsible with the gifts and opportunities He sends their way — a spiritual insight vividly portrayed in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
Too often during the teen years, we deal with external issues of behavior rather than internal matters of the heart. Look for ways to weave spiritual insights regarding their security, identity, belonging, purpose and aptitude into your everyday conversations. You’ll provide your teen with a spiritual foundation that will carry him or her into adulthood.