Helping Your Teen Learn Selfless Living

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

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:

  • Model selfless living by making room in our lives, and by living with passion and action for what God cares about.
  • Teach your teen to champion the cause of the neglected, outcast, and wounded.
  • Impart a Christian worldview which provides God-directed motivation rather than simply outward adherence to certain behaviors.

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.

Copyright 2005 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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About the Author

Marc A. Fey

Marc Fey is with Focus on the Family’s Community Impact Outreach.

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