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Six Ways to Build Your Teen’s Identity

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Smiling mom and teen daughter standing together, posing for the camera
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Try these strategies to counteract culture by helping your teen develop a strong, positive identity.

In many ways, American teens have never had it tougher. Perhaps a surprising statement, given the United States’ obvious affluence compared to the rest of the world. If you’re a parent today, you know what I mean. Social pressures are more pervasive and destructive than ever before in American history. Parents often feel helpless to equip their teens with the tools to navigate – and steer clear – of harmful relationships, attitudes and behaviors.

Ideally, the process of equipping our kids to live and thrive in an often Christian-hostile world begins as soon as they are born. In fact, parents are the single most important developmental influence in a child’s life, apart from the Holy Spirit himself. But even if time has slipped away, and your teenager seems out of reach, you can begin to lay building blocks to help your teen grow to maturity in Christ and make a positive impact on his or her world. Love, commitment, self-discipline, perseverance and a lot of prayer are required, but you can do it.

Assisting your teen in forging a strong, positive identity is one way to help her form convictions based on truth, and then stand firm in them regardless of what everyone else does.

As parents, we can build our teen’s identity by using a brick mason’s approach. Masonry is an art that requires intense study of the project’s design before setting the first brick in place. The job is messy, and it requires hands-on application and commitment.

Parental brick-layers labor alongside our teens as they experience the joy of discovering their significance in Christ and their identity. Teens today are overscheduled and often lack the skills to communicate or set boundaries. They need our help to decide which bricks fit and which ones don’t.

The challenge? To encourage them to be who God made them to be, rather than who we want them to be.

Brick-by-brick, we can make a difference for our teens and in their world.

Brick #1: Encourage Self Discovery

My husband Derek shared a devotion about integrity with our 14-year-old son Justin and his friend Tim* (name changed). Derek asked them, “How committed are you to integrity?”

“I’m not that committed. But I want to be,” Tim answered.

Derek said, “Telling the truth is integrity. Thanks for being honest.”

“I get in trouble with certain friends,” Tim said. “The pressure to be liked affects me.”

“Until you decide who you are,” Derek told Tim, “you will be like a chameleon, blending in to whatever situation or whoever you are with.”

Derek mentioned a former game show and said, “Will the real Tim please stand up? Until you figure out who the God-designed Tim is, you will struggle with your friends.”

Brick #2: Acknowledge Natural Abilities

Teens yearn for our support and relationship. It’s important to affirm their natural abilities. Be their cheerleader. Attend activities even if they say, “It’s no biggie.”

Encourage athletes to stay involved in sports throughout high school. Challenge the artsy to try a new instrument, audition for a play, take a watercolor class or voice lessons. If they love to argue, consider the debate team. Talk about career choices that use their talents. For example, math skills are priceless for computer software engineers.

Brick #3: Create a Family Motto

When my friend Beth’s three teens were growing up, their family motto was “We aren’t quitters.” Anytime her son or daughters wanted to stop short of a commitment, they heard this phrase. Eventually Beth’s children believed, “I belong to a non-quitting family.”

By creating a tagline, our family identity is established. Then when difficulties arise, our motto serves as a stake in the ground declaring who we are as individuals — and as family.

Brick #4: Value Uniqueness

Physically and emotionally, teens’ lives constantly change. They can feel overscheduled, unknown, abandoned, or even betrayed. Adolescents still want a unique place in our home. They need to know they belong and that they matter.

Encourage busy teens to enjoy down time, which strengthens their creativity and problem-solving skills. Inform your son his sense of humor is missed when he’s gone. Tell your daughter you notice her thankful heart.

Brick #5: Highlight Spiritual Gifts

Ever since our son Justin was little, he has shown kindness to kids that are different. As a high school freshman, he continues to tap the heart of the lonely.

Justin’s gym teacher asked the students to share who their best friend was and why. Both a popular and unpopular guy picked Justin. Their reasons: “He shows interest in me. He makes me laugh. He sits by me. He sticks up for me.”

We affirmed Justin for using his gift of mercy with his friends.

Study verses about spiritual gifts with your teens: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40; Ephesians 4:7-16; and 1 Peter 4:7-11.

Brick #6: Reinforce Spiritual Identity

No brick is more foundational than this one. When teens understand their worth in Christ, they can reject negative thinking that peers, insecurities and problems hurl on them. Just because teens fail — which they will — doesn’t mean they are a failure.

Teens develop confidence when they believe they are loved by God — no matter what. This inner strength will carry them through trials and peer pressure. As they search for significance, our teens can influence their peers to do the same.

Google “Who I am in Christ.” Print and review with your son or daughter. If someone tries to embarrass them about a mistake, say, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ” (Romans 8:1). Don’t criticize them when they are knocked down. Instead extend your hand and your heart.

Construct A Strong Identity Wall

Building our teens’ identity is a long process. The Great Wall of China took years of extensive labor before it fended off enemies. Our teens live in a hostile culture too. They need a wall of protection. As parental masons, we can help them stand up under fire.

The challenge is to be like Beth’s family — and not quit.

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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