Successful Teens

I don’t know about you, but after church my family is always starving. So today, as I was flipping grilled cheeses, the rest of the clan was sneaking food behind my back. Meanwhile, my six-year-old son, Haydn, asked, “Mom, why don’t dogs get to eat lunch?”  Observant questions like these make me a proud mom. It’s also one of the more challenging parts of my job description. I never want to answer with, “Because that’s the way everybody does it.” So I described how dogs do not need as much food as we do, and how Weezy (our labradoodle) usually gets a little treat of leftovers when Haydn is “full.”

With three kids, sometimes I am tempted to just say, “because that’s the way it is.”  While respect for authority and tradition are important for our children to learn, I also want them to think for themselves and ask good questions. This helps them to find their place in the story of life. Of course, some questions are better than others. We have to discern which are motivated by rebellion and ingratitude rather than inquisitiveness and reflection. Jesus was always good at pinpointing one’s motives behind their questioning (usually in the form of another question).

I remember being offered a book on manners as a wedding gift. The assumption was that this book would teach me the socially acceptable way to behave as a wife.  While I wanted to be a biblically faithful wife, I was pretty sure much of what that book contained would maybe make me look like a good wife, but not necessarily be one.

Sometimes our youth are more skilled at recognizing inconsistencies in what we teach and how we live.  And often, they have more boldness than we do in taking a stand for truth. We need to be careful not to squelch that with our manners and niceties.

Francis Schaeffer warned us in his book, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, back in 1970:

“One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity today is not conservative, but revolutionary. To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservatism means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us. Today we are a minority. If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo” (The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Vol. 4, 70).

Revolutionary is a loaded word. Do we really want our kids to be revolutionary? We want them to stand out academically and on the athletic field for sure. But do we really want them to stand out for their beliefs? We know it will bring suffering more than acclaim. They might appear odd. And they might even point out some of their parents’ hypocrisies. Kenda Creasy Dean makes a similar observation to Schaeffer’s, only 40 years later. This is what she says in her book, Almost Christian:

“Successful teens—i.e., those who win adult approval—instinctively apply a veneer of noncommittal niceness to the process that gives a permissive shrug to difference (“whatever”) and avoids particularities hinting at ultimate loyalties. What niceness masks, however, is our tendency to reduce others to replicas of ourselves, which contradicts the nature of Christian discipleship. Following Jesus requires, not the avoidance of particularity but radical particularity, which, along with genuine openness to the other—is made possible only by taking part in God’s particularity and openness through Jesus Christ” (32, 33).

Raising Christian kids can be pretty uncomfortable. And hard. I really want to think seriously about what I consider to be a successful teen. I don’t think that they all will look the same. I imagine a successful teen is one who looks to Christ for their worth. A successful teen probably isn’t afraid to take risks, because their fear is less in being judged, and more in not living the Christian life to its fullness. A successful teen has high standards, but is humble enough to know they are not their own savior. One thing I do know is that I do not want to produce replicas of myself.  And much of how the culture defines a successful teen can do them more spiritual harm than good.

The world values the self-confident teen. Self-esteem is preached emphatically to our kids. They are taught to be ambitiously pursuing their dreams without letting anyone get in their way. Yet Paul tells us, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). That sounds pretty revolutionary, doesn’t it? As a parent, I need to ask myself if I am sending any schizophrenic messages. And, I think the church, as well as the home, should be the very places where our kids are comfortable asking the hard questions.

What do you think?

  1. I did something similar when it came to avoiding pat answers, Aimee. When my kids were little and would ask why I was telling them to do something, I made a conscious decision never to rely on “Because I’m the Dad.” But sometimes I had to remind them that they needed to do what their mom and I tell them to do, so I might start with “Because I’m the Dad” but add the explanation for whatever was going on. most of the time though I skipped the Dad part and went straight to the explanation.

    I think this has helped my kids to see that questions get real answers in our home. Like you say, this should be the place where our kids know they can ask the hard questions. My kids have asked some hard ones over the years! Their successes now that they are both in college may not always look like society’s version of success, but they are growing in God’s kingdom and that’s where real success happens.

    Tim

    • I think the hardest part is when we don’t know the answer, or even worse, when we know the answer is pointed to a change we need to make in ourselves.

    • I agree with your approach, Tim, and I like how you word it. One of our primary roles as parents is to teach our children what it means to be under authority, particularly the authority of God. “Because I’m the Dad” is the most important reason I can imagine for obedience, because it reflects our response to our Heavenly Father. And you are right; with little ones, moving past that to an explanation that makes sense to them is important…they need to understand what benevolence is when it comes to why commands are given. (In the language of theology, they need to see the imperatives in light of the indicatives.)

      My oldest are still 16 (twin boys). So far, it seems to be working. By God’s grace, that is.

      • Doc B, I have twin brothers who are only 11. Twin boys are such a blessing–and a handful!! Good point about the imperatives with the indicatives.

        • 5 year old twin boys here who are already asking very hard theological questions. 2 very different personalities. One is very passionate, which means he is naturally a passionate “fighter” aswell. I try to allow this God given trait in him and not quench it. I don’t want to “squelch” that passion in him and make him a replica of a “nice” boy. Ofcoarse with limitations, I allow him to be the expressive person that he is! I loved this article! Somehow I missed it!?

  2. My daughter’s only fourteen months so I don’t know from direct experience, but I’m actually looking forward to hard questions I DON’T know the answers to. What better way to teach my kids that learning is more than going to school than by saying ‘you know, I don’t know. Why don’t we see what we can find out.’ I’ve learned more since I graduated than in all the years in school, and I haven’t even started teaching yet.

    • Great point, Tabitha. Sometimes it’s better to point them in the direction for learning than just giving them the answers anyway.