Helping Teens Make Healthy Decisions
By Duane Smith, Small Church Ministry Architects
One of my favorite periodicals is Youth Culture Update, a monthly publication produced by the Center for Parent /Teen Understanding, to help parents and youth workers understand the influence of modern culture upon our teens. With today’s cultural influences comes increased pressure on parents and youth workers to help guide teens in making healthy choices, and with the Sticky Faith initiative and other studies like the National Study on Youth and Religion affirming the influence of parents and mentors, we know that parents and youth workers still make a difference.
Paul Robertson, an associate staff member at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, wrote an article on this subject. He notes that, “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 every 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. Parents are also nervous as more and more kids seem to be making unhealthy choices. 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.”
I couldn’t agree more with these thoughts. It is getting harder for kids. Parenting today may be tougher than a generation ago, but that’s no reason to give up hope. With that in mind, Paul goes on to share steps we can take to guide our teens toward making healthy decisions.
First, we must ask ourselves, “what do I believe?” What he means is that we need to consistently live the standards we hope to pass on to our kids. 94% of teens recently interviewed said they look to their parents to demonstrate real faith and purpose in life. We must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk consistently day in and out.
Second, we need to teach our kids to think through all the facts before making a decision. We need to help our kids learn to think about what God has to say about every decision we face. Again, this comes down to modeling this type of decision making in our own lives.
Third, we need to challenge our teens to set and manage 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 must be to get them to think for themselves in healthy ways.
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. Here in lies one of our greatest challenges. Peer pressure works mightily against us seeking to cause teens to think for the moment and how their peers might react should they go against the flow. But our children need to understand the positive and negative consequences of the choices they make. Sharing the consequences of decisions we have made in our lives can go a long way in cementing these lessons into the heads and hearts of our children. In other words, we need to be talking to our kids about mistakes we’ve made.
So why is this so relevant in a smaller church? It’s a tough world and our teens need every ounce of guidance and support we can provide. Most smaller church youth ministries are staffed by volunteers or parents. Don’t under-estimate your role and influence. Realize that more important than provide the latest and greatest activity is modeling the faith.
If you’re a parent, a youth leader, or both, hang in there and don’t lose heart! You’re making a difference by simply loving and caring for the teens in your church.