1. Faith in God: If faith is important to you, then you have to model it, not just say it. It is easy to say something like, “I don’t want to force my kid to believe a certain thing. I’ll let them decide when they grow up.” In the meanwhile you don’t really expose them to your faith because you don’t want to be pushy. This is a grave mistake. You need to model a strong faith in God if you want your kids to grow up with faith. Your teenagers pay astute attention to whether you react with anxiety or prayer. They notice whether you devote your spare time to helping others or doing what feels good for you. They are watching to see if you turn to scripture or if you turn on the news for your hope in the future. Every single day there are a hundred little choices we have to make to turn towards God versus turning towards our own selfishness, and your kids see almost every decision you make. They copy you. In their future they are more likely to choose a faith if they have been shown how by your example.
2. Finances: Do you buy things you can’t afford? Do you pay for little extras like a daily cup of coffee and then dismiss the cost because “It’s just a few dollars?” Do you get your hair done each month even though there really isn’t a college fund set up yet? Your teenagers are paying attention. They believe they can have anything they want right now it if that’s the example you set. If you are intentional about saving up for things like vacations and a car when you need one, they will learn that behavior instead. When they want something nice, if you help them map out how to work for it and save for it, they will start to really value what they have, and will start to think carefully about how they spend their money. Your kids are also watching to see how you give and how you save. If you invest wisely for the future, and talk about it a little all along the way, they will learn this is important. When you prioritize giving to others, they will value giving. You have a HUGE influence on your teens by your example with finances.
3. Humility: Your teenagers learn an immense amount from you on how to behave in relation to other people. If you are humble in your relationships, your teens will start to act with humility as well (Rick Warren explains humility to mean, “It’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”). I have a neighbor who is constantly doing small things to help out other people. She makes food if you feel sick; she watches your kids for a few minutes if you have to get something done; she asks about that thing you complained about 5 weeks ago to see if it’s better. She is constantly thinking of others. She is subtle in how she does it, and it is certainly not so people will like her. In fact, she isn’t thinking of herself at all. She is simply the walking definition of humble. As her kids have gotten older they have become more and more kind. They are both incredibly sweet to the younger kids on the street. They are polite. They seem to automatically look for ways to serve someone in the smallest things. When they were trick-or-treating last Halloween they both made sure other kids got their candy at the door before they put their hands out. I don’t think they are even conscious of their kindness. I think it’s something they are learning from their incredibly humble mother. These children know how to behave in relation to others. Imagine these two when they are teens. Don’t you want your teenagers to be like that? They are watching what you do, and they are learning.
This blog isn’t written to condemn you for all the things you’re not doing right. It’s tough to be perfect. We are all doing the best we can. All I’m asking of you is to be intentional. Make sure you are showing your children the kind of adult you hope they become. Don’t raise your kids by accident because the default is what is easiest, and that is rarely what is best.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT