4 Feb 2017

You are the best parents for your child(ren): helping your teen know her values

What if our children lose it?

So apparently, there was this Clothes-Swap Challenge - is this fun or is this off-colour?

All parents get jumpy as we watch our once cherubic little ones grow and sometimes, morph into total strangers. We cling to what is familiar and dread being greeted by more surprises of the unpleasant kind.

The reality of how much our children's lives are informed and shaped by forces beyond us frightens us. They are digital natives who seem to draw their lifeblood from Snapchat, Instagram, and online news which we know is mostly sensational balderdash.
Friends become more important.
Dress sense starts to get expensive, weird, minimalist (as in too little coverage).
Words get haughty.
Patience wears thin.
"We don't get it", they sigh.

What if they lose it?
Signs of waning interest in spiritual matters.
Loss of motivation towards school performance.
Pre-mature romance (and gasp, pregnancy)

Why are we anxious?

We believe some things are right while others are wrong.
We understand some things must come before others.
We experience that compensation and reward do not come to those who idle.
In other words, we have life values.

value = something (a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable
We can provide a haven
We can impart wisdom
We can insist on habits
We can corral behaviour
We can bequeath material wealth
But, we cannot, simply, download values.

Values are by nature a product of time and experience.

This is where middle class, Christian homes, sometimes don't foster deep, strong, abiding values in our children.

What do we fill our time with?
What sorts of experiences do our children grow up with?

Often, the middle class home is one where success, routines and respectability typically rule. Our kids rarely know hunger. We are there to ferry them around. Problems are anticipated and resolved without much struggle on their part. They are mostly taught and trained to behave and believe to conform to our image of a decent, good, even Christian family. We try to be proper Christians who go to church and do what's right. In Asia, there is often an additional subtle layer known as 'face' or 'honour'. We go about all this sincerely and with earnest.

But this means not ruffling too many feathers. Or taking much risk. Or suffering any real pain.

A whole 'nother world from the world I grew up in. Cursory notes with other parents confirm this to be true. We all recall experiences where we have no choice but to figure out what matters and what we would stick our neck out for.

I would not like to visit my growing up style on my children. My parents received little formal education and their lives were bound up with making ends meet. I literally had to figure life out, I made my own choices of school, friends, whether I should buy an item or eat a meal, what it means to be a young woman, a Christian, a leader.

I have met a good variety of young adults who have emerged from our middle-class families.
Some have lost faith in faith and are glad to move on from a family culture they consider too narrow and limiting.
Some have finally been given permission to make personal choices, like this young woman who after five years in medical school, intends to do something totally different. Medical school was for the parents.
Some struggle with a clear sense of self, as growth necessarily means emerging selfhood, but strong parents have made the journey of assertion too painful to embark on. 

We have sad, mad and fearful young adults. (Of course, we have many wonderful ones too).

It is not their fault that our children are growing up in a different, more privileged world. But how they fare in the large world out there begins with the world we create for them in our homes and family life.

My mighty teen is entering young adulthood in a few years. She is aware of her weaknesses and is honest with her faith struggles. She turns to us for answers. It is all too easy to offer answers. We even work at listening real hard, built on the hard-won bond of many years of parental love and involvement. But then I notice something. She is agreeing to what I say, but it is not settling into her being. Some questions re-surface. The verbal assent is not matched by behaviour. The values are not solidifying.
So the inner chaos that is churning bubbles over now and then. If we are not careful, we can put a lid on it all too soon.
We also tend to use large ideas like, 'developing our identity', 'grow to be like Christ' which can be way too vague for them.

How can we help them to cultivate grater self- awareness, coach them in their choices, and help them to develop and test our their values?

As the Search Institute's Developmental Framework puts it succinctly,

Chaos + support = change

Support here is not about providing answers, rescue or planning ahead for them. It is getting down in the trenches with them. They have to do life and know it is something they can do.

The window we have for this varies from child to child, but typically begin around 14-16 and pretty much goes on for the rest of their lives. Even we have to keep figuring our values out as new experiences come our way (is retirement biblical? do we live with our elderly parents etc. So we need support too, but that's a different topic.).

How can we give the kind of support that shapes chaos into form and a framework for living strong and faithful? As I thought about my experience as a youth leader, a pastor and of course a a parent, I think the form of support needed is to help them realize and grow muscles of values that will help them navigate life. The key to this is Dialogue.

Here are some opportunities for dialogue:

a) Value development with real scenarios
No umbrella?
Did not top up ezlink?
Not packing for camp according to the list given by the school?
A fall-out with a buddy?

Scenarios can unfold or come to our attention after everything has blown up. They are great for asking qustions such as:
Why did you choose to/not to...
What is important to you about this...
How are you feeling now...

not questions like:
How can you forget
Did you ...again
You are so...

I admit to being totally guilty at using many of the latter kinds of questions and statements which label and describe rather than invite and open up the conversation.

b) Value development with anticipated scenarios
From topics they bring up, to new articles, to impending situations of concern, we can help our teens figure out their values. This takes some stomach because they can say startling things. Many of them for example are extremely sympathetic towards their friends and in a post-modern milieu would excuse everything 'as long as it makes them happy'.

It takes patience and a readiness to remain open-ended. If you emphatically say that something is wrong because 'the Bible says so', it may not work very well.

A personal and thoughtful sharing about your values for such situations is far more helpful.

c) Value development with Scripture
The stories in the Bible make for great discussion. What if David decided that Goliath is too huge a challenge? What if Jonah decides to lay down and die inside the fish? It's poignant to point out how these characters made their choices. Even the New Testament injunctions should be talked about. Isn't it creepy to 'rejoice always'? Where is the place for sadness, in the very real world of a teen's mood swings? Bring in the research and evidence that proves that Scripture is describing and prescribing a life that is lived well.

Connecting all-too familiar Scripture with real life is what they need. I once told my mighty teen, "I know you know all the stories, but you have yet to know the point of the stories in a deep way. Even I am learning....".

Share what Scriptures help anchor your priorities and choices.

d) Value development with a mentor
I wish that all teens and young adults could have a mentor, someone who's a mere generation away and feels more 'like them'. Blessed are the kids who have such mentors. But don't despair yet. Books, good sermons and even great music can be very able mentors. You just need to find them (some links at the end).

All relationships are characterized by a dynamic give and take that shapes who we are as we grow and change. As parents, we struggle too with our own values. A real faith, middle, lower or upper class calls for an authentic discussion of our struggles.

Values are a product of time and experience.

What are our family times about, and what experiences are we willing to explore and engage in as Christian parents?

It's never too late to start with small steps. Brave it. And if it feels late, remember, it's never late with God. He is not bound by time and His boundless Love has a way, always.

Here, some mentoring resources I hope you find useful.

Gals ~
 More To Be
Set Apart Girl

Ransomed Heart
Bravehearted Christian

Both ~
Family Life - passport to purity/identity
Growing Leaders

In Singapore (not exhaustive):

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