Helping teens make healthy decisions
Helping teens make healthy decisions
North America is a pretty decent place to live. Materially speaking, there's little we do without. At first glance, most children enjoy prosperity, opportunity and better health than any generation before. Plus, they have more disposable income than ever before.
But there's a growing unease that grips many adults when they look at today's youth culture. Many sense something is going very wrong in the way we raise our children. The recent rash of school shootings haunts us. Drug use is still high. Kids are depressed, pressured and pushed. Parents are nervous, as more and more kids seem to be making unhealthy decisions.
A recent article in USA Today confirmed these parental concerns. Entitled "A Culture Purposefully Damaging," the article quoted the latest data on parenting from a poll of parents and professional experts from across the country.
Consider these findings from that poll:
About nine in10 parents said it's harder to raise kids to be "good people" than it was 20 years ago.
Two out of three say parents are doing a worse job.
76 percent say TV, movies and pop music are negative influences on kids.
While 75 percent of parents say they've taken steps to shield their children from outside "undesirable" influences, 73 percent concede kids cannot be shielded from the pervasive influence of our culture.
Over 50 percent of those polled agree with this statement: "There are so many bad influences out there that even for parents who do a good job, there is a good chance their children will get into serious trouble."
Six of 10 say the "lack of a close-knit neighborhood or community" is a problem.
It's gotten harder for all kids. While things may look okay on the surface, they're faced with a growing number of choices in an environment where parental input and guidance seem to be on the decline.
Not along ago I met with a good friend who lamented that he had no idea what he was going to do with his 16-year-old son. Things had gone from bad to worse. Dedicated Christians, he and his wife have done everything they can to help him make the right choices, but their son was still struggling. Fearing his son was involved in the drug culture, the father secretly wire-tapped the family phone. As the parents feared, they learned their only son was very involved in the buying and selling of illegal drugs at his private school. When confronted, the son didn't deny his involvement. His attitude that "everyeone's doing it" alarmed his parents, but it's typical of the morally relativistic response often heard in today's culture. My friends can't figure out how their boy, brought up in a loving Christian home, could make such terrible choices for his life.
Making bad choices seems to come naturally for many. In his book "Right From Wrong," Josh McDowell offers evidence of the many wrong choices Christian kids are making. McDowell found that Christian kids admitted to participating in the following behaviors during the prior three months: 66 percent had lied to an adult; 36 percent had cheated on an exam; 27 percent had sexual intercourse; 23 percent had smoked a cigarette; 20 percent tried to physically hurt someone; 12 percent got drunk; and 8 percent had used an illegal drug. And the gap between the choices Christian and non-Christian kids are making is shrinking.
Parenting today may be tougher than a generation ago, but that's no reason to give up hope. Yes, there are many influences in the lives of our kids. But parents still play the major role in raising kids. With that in mind, what are some of the steps we can take to guide our teens into making healthy decisions? Here are a few I've found helpful:
First, we must ask ourselves, "What do I believe?" We need to consistently live the standards we hope to pass on to our kids. We have to live out what we want our kids to become because they usually grow up to live out who we are. In one survey, 94 percent of the kids interviewed said their parents are "very important" role models.
Second, we need to teach our kids to think through all the facts before making a decision. This applies to all decisions- both large and small. We need to help our kids learn to think about what God has to say about every decision they face. Our role is to show our children what Scripture has to say about matters of honesty, integrity, character, work ethic, sexual behavior, substance abuse, vocation, athletics, time, dating, authority, etc. Making a decision based solely on how something "feels" is a dangerous way to live.
Third, we need to challenge our teens to set and manage healthy patterns of thinking by asking them "why" they do what they do. As our children move into the early teen years, they become intellectually capable of wrestling with various options. Our goal is to get them to think for themselves in healthy ways. Chuck Swindoll says, "Training should prepare the child to think for himself. Overprotective parents, as well as easily threatened parents, are weak here. Insecure moms and dads have great difficulty inculcating solid, biblical principles in their children, apart from a long list of do's and don'ts."
And fourth, we need to help our kids think through the consequences of their decisions by asking them to consider the long- and short-term implications. Our children need to understand the positive and negative consequences of the choices they make. We need to help them think through the implications of keeping their word, drinking and driving, sexual activity, honesty, cheating, and the commitment to hard work. Sharing the consequences of decisions you've made in your life can go a long way in cementing these lessons into your child's head and heart.
Every parent must remember that kids who grow up in today's youth culture face lots of confusing choices. It's a tough world out there. They need your guidance and help. Will you give it to them?
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For more information on resources to help you understand today's rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding