By Stephanie Thompson, Crosswalk.com
As parents, we often walk a fine line between control and empowerment while teaching our teens to make wise choices.
When do you step in to intervene? How do we teach them to navigate through the quest for independence, emotional reactions, and ongoing brain development in order to make sound decisions?
Scripture attests to parents who did their best to follow directives such as those in Deuteronomy 4:6-9 and yet their children still made poor choices. Sometimes. they learned from their mistakes, experienced the consequences and recognized there was a better way. Sometimes not.
Those accounts bear witness to our broken humanity as well as the opportunity to fall into God’s mercies and start over.
God longs for us to make wise decisions. The implications affect both ourselves and others. Here are 5 ideas which, used collaboratively, can aid teens in the process.
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1. Encourage Them to Identify Pros and Cons
This fall, my son enters his senior year of high school. As with others in this life stage, he must make some significant decisions.
Where is he headed after graduation? What college does he hope to attend? Does he know what he wants to do for a career?
So many questions lurk and it feels overwhelming.
However, at many points in life, we encounter situations when figuring out the best solution takes careful consideration. Using the old fashioned method of making a list of pros and cons may help visualize the answer.
This article gives this suggestion: "Discuss how writing down the pros and cons can help her tackle a problem with logic, rather than base her decision on emotion alone... Make sure your teen knows that there isn’t always a bad choice. Choosing between two good colleges will have pros and cons but both options may be good ones. So while it may be stressful to choose, it could be a good problem to have."
Using lists, spreadsheets, and venn diagrams create a visual method of problem-solving. Facts may point to patterns that stand out and help point toward resolution.
This is particularly useful for teens and young adults as life experience is limited and brain development in the areas of judgement and executive functioning are still in process. Many helpful worksheets can be found on the web.
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2. Connect Them to Others with Life Experience
Ancient Jewish culture relied on a practice that equipped people with the “tools” necessary to learn their vocation: being an apprentice. The goal was for the learner to become like the teacher.
Through spending time together, the student learned the skill through watching and hands on training. This practice applied to trades as well as the process of becoming a rabbi.
The significance of learning from each other in the body of Christ weaves throughout the New Testament as well. For example, Paul became a mentor to Timothy and encourages him to lean into the voices that shaped him.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Helping our children build relationships with other adults in our churches and communities enables them to hear new perspectives. Sometimes the relationships happen organically through shared experiences such as a ministry opportunity, community event, or simply being neighbors.
Other times, they develop through implementing practices such as prayer partners, confirmation mentors, or youth ministry leaders. Providing children and teens with a village of other adults who love on and speak into their lives is a gift.
These mentor relationships also give them a venue to vent their emotions about their family in a safe, third party environment that they might not have otherwise. Having a safe space to process these big and deep emotions will help them to work through them without lashing out. Instead, they can work through their emotions but not lose their heads in the process.
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3. Encourage Them to Learn from Mistakes
The Biblical narrative bears witness to imperfect people. That truth is both affirming and humbling. God’s character speaks and moves through broken creation. How we respond to our mistakes shows to others who forms our identity.
However, watching our teens experience the consequences of mistakes can be gut-wrenching. The outcome of hasty decision making can involve disappointment and more layers of new decisions to make. How do we let our them experience the sting of consequences yet provide support?
Actually, by allowing them to suffer the natural consequences of their decisions while they are still young and living in your home, you can be there to help them deal with the fall-out. Learning to process regret without spiraling into a deep place of shame and despair is important. Since our identities are rooted in our Creator who is also a Redeemer, we can embrace that truth regardless of circumstances.
As parents, we have the opportunity to be image-bearers of God’s character and reflect His grace and mercies toward our children. It doesn’t mean that wrongs are not acknowledged. In fact, as humans, the recognition that our actions affect self and others is necessary in order to make better choices.
However, by walking them through the steps of seeking forgiveness of God, others, and self, they become equipped with Biblical tools to use when it happens again.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
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4. Help Them Learn to Recognize God’s Voice
While making decisions using logic can be helpful in narrowing down options, sometimes God speaks to us in ways that can defy it. Scripture shares plenty of examples when people followed God’s purposes for them in a way that made no sense from an earthly perspective.
They felt unqualified, scared of the circumstances, and the implications of choice involved risk-to reputation, relationship, and life. Yet they obeyed.
Solomon’s words of wisdom in Proverbs to a young audience still speak: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
How do we help our teens learn to hear God’s voice?
- Know God’s Word.
“Bind them upon your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they[will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” Proverbs 6:21-22
Teens today can easily access scripture through digital access or the bound canon without literally wearing texts to “speak” to them. However, the more scripture is “hidden in the heart” the more accessible it is when making choices.
- Sense The Nudging of the Holy Spirit
Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as an intercessor after he left this earth (John 14:15-17). When teens are faced with choices with big consequences, it can feel overwhelming to discern between the voices of peers, parents, emotion, media, and the Holy Spirit.
How do help them sense the Holy Spirit’s nudging of clarity in the midst? Remind them that the Holy Spirit’s voice can feel like peace, a thought, and a scripture passage.
Sometimes we hear it through other believers. It should always line up with the context of God’s word.
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
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5. Trust Them
"Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching." 1 Timothy 4:12-13
Although Timothy’s mother Eunice is mentioned briefly in scripture, parts of her narrative resonates with us as parents. She recognized that ultimately Timothy needed to learn to hear and rely on God’s voice. As a mother, releasing your children to the will of God can feel conflicting. Kingdom purposes may come with an earthly cost: geographical distance, risk, hardship, and even death. Yet, Eunice’s sacrifice allowed the gospel message to ripple out across the world.
As my children have become teens and young adults, I have recognized the significance of trusting them to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Sensing clarity can be challenging at times because we all bring our human questions, concerns, and wounds into the conversation.
Yet, I have learned in recent years that, at times, dismissed the way the Holy Spirit was speaking to them. Pushing my own thoughts rather than listening to what they sensed resulted in some painful outcomes for all of us. In addition, the situations didn’t empower them to sharpen their sensing skills.
We love our children and try to instill in them the best practices for making wise decisions. Yet, we must remember that various factors of our humanity make them vulnerable to not always choosing the best options.
When that happens, parents have the opportunity to reflect God’s grace and mercies and help them learn from mistakes. In the midst of it all, let us remember that God never stops working in their lives.
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