If there's one phrase that can frighten even the most stalwart parents, it's this one: The Teen Years. We all know stories of teenagers who turned away from their faith or made terrible choices about sex, drug use, alcohol, theft, or violence despite being raised in wonderful Christian homes. These teenagers stand like dark specters in the minds of parents who want nothing more than to find the key to helping their children hold on to their faith despite the challenges of adolescence.
As a teacher and a volunteer, I have observed and talked to teens who continue to walk in the light of faith even when their peers make the opposite, destructive choice. And I've noticed some common threads that seem to tether these teenagers to their faith even in the face of the world's opposition. While there are no guarantees in parenting, I've seen that the most spiritually grounded teenagers have parents who:
1. Speak by example
Pre-teens and teenagers tend to put the actions and words of adults under a microscope. This is part of the healthy psychological development of a teenager who is learning how to live in the world. But it also means that parents need to be active role models during this extremely influential stage. Teenagers examine their parents' actions, and are repelled by any form of hypocrisy. But they are also highly impressed when their parents' lives reflect morality, and will often emulate what they see.
Brad, a teen who volunteers in the worship ministry at his church and is an active member of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), attributes his commitment to faith to the role modeling of his stepdad. When Brad's biological father left the family, Brad became a surly, temperamental child. He says, "I was eight when my mom remarried, and I really kept my eye on my stepdad. I watched how he treated my mom and my sister and how he always tried to do the right thing. I guess I decided I wanted to be like him." The miraculous way Brad turned his life around is a living testimony of the power of a positive parental role model. Let your actions match your faith; believe me, your child will notice. "Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:18).1