Many young people have yet to zero in on a specific dream for the future. But you don't have to wait to get started. One of the simplest – and most effective – ways to help teens is to encourage them to try a wide variety of activities:
- Does your son think he'd like to play the guitar? Rent an instrument, get him some lessons and encourage him to work at it for at least six months.
- Does your daughter like to run? Buy her some good shoes and shorts, and encourage her to go out for the cross-country team.
- Does your son think he might like to work with children, maybe even become a teacher? Encourage him to volunteer with a Sunday school class at your church.
- Does the medical profession appeal to your daughter? Encourage her to volunteer at a local hospital and to interview your family doctor about "what it's really like."
Some of these efforts won't go so well, but that's OK. Your child may learn which interests not to pursue – an invaluable lesson. Other efforts will show promise, meriting further study and practice. Sooner or later, one may prove to be an enjoyable and natural fit.
We could call this the Ephesians 2:10 search: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." If God has prepared good works for our teens, then encouraging them to try different things will help them find areas of service for which the Lord has already wired them.
Another way to create a house full of green lights is to say yes as often as possible when your teen wants to try a new activity or take the next step in pursuing an interest. That sounds simple, but it's not.
For one thing, saying yes can be scary for a parent. If your teen hasn't enjoyed much success lately in drama tryouts or getting elected to student council, you might fear her heart will be broken again. If he wants to take up hockey, you might fear physical injury. Those are both legitimate concerns.
Your yes can also mean a commitment of your time, money and energy. Say yes to an interest in art, for example, and you may be buying paints and pencils and sketch pads and canvases and lessons for a long time. Say yes to a sport like softball and you may be buying gloves and spikes and bats and other equipment for the next decade, not to mention taxiing your teen to a seemingly endless string of practices, games and tournaments.
If at all possible, however, say yes to the things your teen wants to pursue. Yes is a door opener. It's a switch that turns on lightbulbs inside kids. It fires the imagination, stimulates creativity and opens the door to a world of opportunities.
When my daughter Jamie was 5 years old, I told her about the idea of sponsoring a needy child in another country through a Christian ministry. I gave her a picture of a Cambodian child. Jamie thought about it, then asked if she could use her Christmas gift to begin supporting that child. My wife, Debbie Jo, and I said yes. Jamie put the picture on her bulletin board and developed a feeling of connection to that child.
A few years later, as a high schooler, Jamie started a clothing company. She wanted to give any profits to help hurting children in the U.S. and abroad. Again Debbie Jo and I said yes. Jamie's company made $300,000 over the next several years – and Jamie did indeed give it all away! Hundreds of needy kids continue to benefit every year as a result.
Not every teen is going to start a business and generate that kind of income, of course. But saying yes to possibilities and passions, thereby sowing seeds of opportunity, applies to every parent and teen. As your young person explores gifts and talents and interests – whether that means taking piano lessons or joining a gymnastics team or helping to build a house with Habitat for Humanity – say yes whenever you can. Your teen will learn, and the dreams will grow.