Unbreakable: Raising Godly teens
By Kirk Noonan
For many teenagers and 20-somethings, spring break locales aren’t just destinations, they’re booze-laden, sexually promiscuous rites of passage. This month, tens of thousands of young adults will descend on vacation resorts from Hawaii to Madrid and everywhere in between.
If the advertisements of travel companies — which book such trips — are any indication of what will happen over spring break, parents should be alarmed.
“Who hasn’t heard that Amsterdam is a pot-smoker’s paradise?” asks one advertisement on an Internet site that sells spring break vacation packages to students. “The myth is true.”
Many sites also eagerly point out that the drinking age in most countries is significantly lower than in the United States, and the liquor is cheap and flows late into the night. But it’s not just travel companies who try to cash in on spring break debauchery.
MTV, the most recognized network among kids and young adults ages 12 to 34 — according to Nielsen Media Research — devotes much of its March programming to spring break festivities. MTV bombards viewers with raunchy fare featuring scantily dressed, and many times intoxicated, coeds taking part in sexually explicit party games and stunts.
According to the Parent Television Council, a media watchdog group, an MTV special aired in 2004 called Spring Break Fantasies had the highest sexual content, with 32 sexual segments per hour of programming.
Though MTV would have viewers believe every normal young adult in the nation is partaking in such revelry, the truth is, most are not. Some don’t participate because of financial or employment constraints. Others have family and academic obligations or parents who simply won’t let them travel alone. But there are also young adults who abstain because of moral and religious objections.
It’s that latter group, though small in contrast to the other segments, who raise an interesting question for parents: How do we raise kids like these?
Explain your faith
Buddy Hackett, the late comic, used to say his mother gave him two choices for dinner: take it or leave it.
Many Christian parents use the same tactic when it comes to passing their faith on to their children. In encouraging their children toward a relationship with Christ, some parents unintentionally rely too heavily on the church for their youngsters’ spiritual development.
“Nowhere in the Bible does it give the responsibility of discipling our children to the church,” says Rick Osborne, author of What Mary and Joseph Knew About Parenting. “The church is a helper, but not the main source.”
Wade Mumm, pastor of Greeneway Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Orlando, Fla., and author of A Dad’s Many Hats, agrees.
“If parents expect a church to do what they should be doing, they’re deceiving themselves,” he says. “It’s impossible for the church to do everything a person needs spiritually. Some of the greatest faith lessons are only learned through a parent’s godly example.”
According to Osborne, that means parents should be practicing regular spiritual disciplines such as attending church, praying, studying the Bible and tithing in open view of their teenagers.
One Gallup poll reported that only 58 percent of teenagers who claim to be “born-again” Christians believe the Bible is the actual Word of God. To increase that number and give teens a faith that is hard to walk away from, Osborne implores parents to tell their children why they believe as they do and why they use the Bible as a guide. Unfortunately, he says, many parents don’t do that enough.
“If we taught our children math and science the way we teach them about our faith, they would never graduate,” says Osborne. “Yet, the most important thing Christian parents say they need to pass on to their kids is their faith.”
Mumm encourages parents to look for quality moments while spending quantity time with their children. Playing games, going for a walk, attending sports activities and even making a trip to The Home Depot on a Saturday morning are great opportunities to invest in a teen’s life.
“If you’re driving to an event with your teen and another driver cuts you off, do you honk your horn and curse?” asks Mumm, “or do you deal with it?”
Dealing with it, he says, means reacting as Christ would — then explaining a biblical precept such as controlling one’s temper or putting others first.
“Parents need to find moments in their lives to connect on a spiritual level with their sons and daughters,” he says. “Those kinds of moments speak volumes.”
Walk with them
Cheryl Reccord, co-author of Launching Your Kids for Life, relates the account of some high school students who left school grounds to smoke marijuana. After their Christian school expelled them for breaking its code of conduct, the parents of the dismissed teenagers sued. Reccord was dismayed.
“Sometimes teens will make wrong choices and there will be consequences,” she says. “It’s a parent’s job to help them live with those consequences.”
Mumm, who also is a college professor, agrees.
“Even in college when students should be dealing with their own problems their parents will bail them out,” he says. “When parents do that their children believe there are no real consequences. Eventually, you produce a 30-year-old who can’t deal with the real world.”
Many parents are quick to bail their teens out, says Reccord, because they aren’t looking at life’s big picture and they’re worried their children will be marred for life. She also worries that parents too often embrace their children’s failures as their own.
“Some Christian parents believe if they do everything right their children won’t rebel,” she says. “But they have to realize they’re not ultimately responsible for the choices their children make.”
Parents are responsible, she says, for doing everything they can to raise teenagers according to biblical principles. When that has been done, a parent has effectively set his or her child on the right course and it’s the child’s prerogative to stick with it.
“The training we give our children according to the Word of God sits on their shoulders for the rest of their lives,” says Reccord. “When they face decisions, that training will speak and tell them what’s right and wrong. At that point the child has a decision to make and he or she will know when they are making a wrong decision.”
According to a recent survey, 61 percent of teenagers find out about issues such as sex, AIDS, violence, and drugs and alcohol from the entertainment media. The survey highlights an unfortunate fact: Parents are not talking to their children about serious life issues, which can include doubts about one’s faith.
Curt Harlow, a Chi Alpha leader based in Sacramento, Calif., says parents will find it difficult to communicate biblical truths to their college-aged child if they haven’t built strong lines of communication during the adolescent and teen years.
Because of that, Harlow implores parents to engage their teens in open and honest conversation.
“They’re going to have discussions about their faith, and it’s better they have those conversations with their parents,” says Harlow, noting that college peers and professors might try to dissuade them from their beliefs. “In those conversations be honest because honest dialogue will help you pray better for them and it will help them get to the point where they find the answers to their questions from the Lord.”
Steve Pulis, a Youth Alive missionary, says most teens want to talk with their parents but they don’t know how to do it. That is why, he says, parents have to be the ones who initiate conversations.
“One of the top influencers in a teen’s life is his or her parents,” says Pulis, noting that parents need to be patient, willing to listen and ready to give advice. But one of the most important things a parent can do, adds Pulis, is to be genuine.
“Teens know when someone is being real or not,” he says. “But they can also quickly sense the love when a parent is trying to connect with them.”
No matter how great a parent you are, you’re going to need the Holy Spirit’s guidance in raising your children. The most effective way to get that assistance is to ask for it.
“The issues and challenges teens face require parents to seek God’s wisdom,” says John Maempa, director of the Assemblies of God’s National Prayer Center. “Only by staying in tune with God can a parent provide the counseling, direction and understanding a teen needs.”
Harlow says it’s imperative parents have an active and healthy spiritual life.
“Before parents pray for their children they should pray that their own spiritual life will be ignited,” he says. “To pray effectively for their children, parents need to be close to the Lord.”
Maempa advises parents to pray that:
• Their teen’s heart, mind and body will be protected.
• Their teen will form strong relationships with other believers who share their morals and values.
• God will give their teen courage to stand for what is right.
“Prayer is not an option,” says Maempa. “To fail to pray is to abdicate an important responsibility that every parent should be embracing on behalf of their children.”
The road ahead
If you have teenagers it won’t be long before you release them from your care. When you do, they’re going to be forced to make tough decisions that will define who they are and what they become.
If you’ve raised them as God intended, you’ll have peace knowing you’ve given them the tools to make wise decisions — even during spring break.
Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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