I glanced at my daughter's cellphone screen and scanned the conversation she was having with a boy who was her friend. At one time I thought our five kids would need my husband and me less during the teen years, but after reading her innocent flirting that might be taken more seriously by her friend, I realized they actually needed our guidance more. We not only had a discussion about the misleading direction of her text messages, but we also started to remind her of valuable spiritual truths.
My husband and I found that staying ahead of our adolescents was one of the toughest parts of navigating the teen years. Teens are exposed to strong messages from the entertainment industry, advertising and social media — and those messages are relentless. The lies our children hear about identity, sexuality and relationships often plant seeds of confusion in their minds. That's why we, as parents, need to make sure our teens know four key spiritual insights:
Absolute truth does exist
In this world of moral relativism, right and wrong is often based on how culture feels about an issue. Society's influential voices are screaming that the world is gray while God's Word declares that black and white — right and wrong — do exist.
One evening I found myself sorting through this confusion about relative truth with one of our teens, whose friend insisted there were many paths to God. Our son was trying to make sense of this argument, so we opened God's Word to John 14:6 — "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
We followed that up with John 8:32 — "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." My teen needed to be reminded of this key spiritual insight as he navigated discussions with his friend.
Rules are designed to protect us
Rules exist to shield us from negative and painful consequences. God gave the most well-known rules, the Ten Commandments, for the well-being of His people. He wanted to guide them so they would stay on the straight and narrow in the same way a car needs to stay on the road and out of ditches.
Our teens need to understand that good rules — whether at home, at school, in the Bible or through the legal system — are designed to shelter us from unnecessary pain. When one of our sons received a speeding ticket, he needed the spiritual insight of Titus 3:1 — "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work." We talked about how the ticket was actually protecting him from causing an accident and hurting himself or someone else.
Perseverance and commitment are essentials in life
Perseverance and commitment are waning in today's environment of instant gratification. But when life gets hard — and at some point, it will — our teens need to learn the importance of remaining "steadfast under trial" (James 1:12) and of not giving up (Galatians 6:9). They need the spiritual insight that "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Romans 5:3-4).
The younger that teens can learn this, the better, but this lesson often has to be revisited. We had a conversation about perseverance with our youngest son in his post-college job search. He had expected the search to be easier and faster than it was. His struggle was a good reminder that sometimes life is challenging and we have to persevere.
Wisdom comes from God
The world encourages both self-created and others-created wisdom. Our teens are tempted to turn to the internet and friends for wisdom, but they need to seek the real wisdom that comes from God. This is where our future adults can use the spiritual insight of Proverbs 28:26 — "Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered." When our daughter wanted to make a relationship decision based on feelings rather than wisdom, we reminded her of the importance of looking for guidance in God's Word. It wasn't an easy conversation with her, but it was a necessary one.
Our teens desperately need us to connect the dots between real life and God's truth. They may resist it, but when we lead with love, listen well and resist lecturing, we can plant seeds of truth in the soil of their maturing hearts.Jill Savage is the author or coauthor of 12 books, including No More Perfect Kids.