I counsel adolescents. My clients range in age from 12 to 24. Over the past 8.5 years of doing this, I have noticed some things about this age range:
- They search for an identity.
- They have a hard time realizing anything is more important than the self. This doesn’t mean they are selfish, it just means they struggle to put great effort into causes beyond themselves.
- Peers seem to hold the most sway.
- Roots are put down in their character development that remain for the rest of their lives.
- You can tell A LOT about their ambition and dreams based on who surrounds them. Show me a 15 year old’s friends, and I will make a fairly reliable prediction of their future trajectory.
For the reasons listed above, having your adolescent involved in a faith community is of immense importance. So many of us want to say we’ll be open-minded and let our children choose their own path as adults. That is really nice in theory, but the reality of such a choice doesn’t pan out as well as we might hope. Our adolescents are greatly influenced by who is around them. Let’s address this point by point.
- They search for an identity: An identity given by other teenagers is likely to include things we don’t really hope for our kids. They might get into drugs, partying, sex, or on the opposite end they might think the college they attend is the end-all be-all. They might be like I was and think how fit and thin I looked was everything.
On the other hand, if God is creating your child’s identity, what could be better than that? God loves us, gives us purpose, requires us to think beyond ourselves, and causes us to look at the big picture. Adolescents who have a God-given self-identity seem to look past Friday night.
- They have a hard time realizing anything is more important than the self: When your teenager is consistently in youth group and small groups, they are reminded regularly that they are not the center of the world. Every single week they are asked to come up with ways they can care for others who are less fortunate. Faith communities are rarely self-focused.
- Peers seem to hold the most sway: Do you prefer your teenager’s primary influence be their friends who use drugs and have sex, or do you prefer they be church-type kids? I am not so naive to assume these two are mutually exclusive, but you do find more morally minded teens in faith-based functions than at parties.
- Roots are put down in their character development that remain for the rest of their lives: When teens self-direct their free time, they tend to sneak, lie and push the limits. It’s not because they are trying to be evil, but because they don’t want their parents curtailing their fun. These habits plant seeds that remain long past adolescence. When teenagers are involved in upstanding activities, they are proud to tell you the truth. They are encouraged to be honest and humble. These qualities continue long into adulthood.
- You can tell A LOT about their ambitions and dreams based on who surrounds them: Adolescents drift one direction or another. If their teenage friends are all smoking pot and will attend junior college, your teenager probably aims about that high as well. If all their friends are thinking of how to serve the community, and how to go to university, your teenager is aiming there too. A lot of the high aiming kids are also involved in their faith community.
Even though you don’t feel like it, taking the time to involve the family in church, synagogue, etc. is well worthwhile. You will create lasting habits of discipline, humility, morality, and selflessness. These qualities stave off self-imposed troubles in life that stem from greed, lust, immediate gratification, entitlement and a me-first mentality. Parents, plant a seed; get your family into your faith in God.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT