Editor’s note: This post is reprinted from the lead article in our January 2021 CPYU Parent Page. . . a monthly subscription resource available for youth workers to distribute to parents. Why not resolve to get this monthly resource into the hands of your youth ministry’s parents during 2024? . . . for only $5 a month with unlimited distribution! To learn more about the CPYU Parent Page and to subscribe, click here.
Don’t like what you see in the mirror? You’re not alone. It’s not surprising that the top two New Year’s resolutions have everything to do with what we see in the mirror: exercise more, and lose weight. While it is important that we teach our kids to take care of their God-given bodies, they are growing up in a culture where we are obsessed with our outward appearances. Our obsession is less a matter of balanced stewardship, and more a matter of all-consuming idolatry. What we look like has become the foundation on which so many build their identity. I recently read that as of 2017, the “wellness” industry was a $4.2 trillion market, which was up from $3.7 trillion in 2015.
While these messages educate our kids from the moment they emerge from the womb, the time when these messages exercise their greatest persuasive power is when our kids hit puberty. . . which in today’s world starts for many when they are still in elementary school.
Do you remember what it was you were feeling and experiencing when your body was transitioning from childhood to adulthood with what seemed like breakneck speed? It happened for me during my Junior High years and I was consumed with two questions: What is happening to me? And, what do I do with what is happening to me? I can’t imagine what it’s like to navigate puberty in today’s world. Television, film, and social media is pounding them with thousands of images and messages daily, each one contributing to a set of appearance standards that become the benchmark for being normal, acceptable, likeable, and lovable. Parents can and must help kids navigate this confusing new transition of rapid physical growth by playing the following roles:
Be sensitive and affirming as your teen’s body changes. Our children need parents who will openly explain and discuss what is happening to their bodies. Most of these changes occur during the middle school years, when group acceptance is of the utmost importance and when peers – because of their own impulsivity and insecurities – tend to be most cruel and insensitive. A loving and sensitive parent can serve as a buffer in the midst of the type of ridicule that could scar a child’s self-image for life. While dealing with these pressures will still be difficult for your child, your positive input will serve to build resiliency into your teen.
Offer your teen a godly perspective on the changes that are taking place. In addition to modeling the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ during the physically awkward years, Mom and Dad should temper the social pressure to be preoccupied with outward appearance. Take the time to teach your children about the inward qualities of godliness. Be sure you provide an example void of obsession over your own appearance. It’s important to be about the business of developing your own inward character in a Godly direction. You too, are who you are, not what you look like.
Understand the sexual temptation your teen faces. In centuries past, when puberty arrived at a later age and marriages took place when children were younger, pre-marital sexual temptation was present but not as intense. Kids were able to answer the pressure with some resilience thanks to a commonly-held understanding of sexual parameters, right and wrong, and the expectations of society-at-large. The ever-widening gap between sexual maturity and age of marriage has made it difficult for our kids. We must live and promote a Biblical sexual ethic so that they might experience the God-given gift of sexuality in all of its glorious and enjoyable fullness, in the context of a monogamous, life-long, heterosexual marriage.
Ongoing open communication with your kids about their new bodies will not only temper the culture’s message with Scriptural truth, but it will strengthen your relationship with your child.