I struggled. Secretly. For years. In my teen years through to my early 20′s, I fought a constant battle on the edges of an eating disorder. It took me years to admit the problem was even there, that it was ever really an “issue.” But the classic symptoms prevailed during that time - insecurity, low self-esteem, obsession with calorie counting and exercise, eating in secret, the list goes on. By the sheer grace of God, He set me free from this battle before I tumbled further down its slippery slope.
Maybe that’s one reason why the recent news about Victoria’s Secret targeting young teens in its new marketing line, Pink, bothered me so much. It struck a chord…deep within my soul. I remembered. It took me back to the years of what it was like being a teenager – one who desperately wanted to fit in, be accepted, and look as perfect as the magazines said I should look. The problem was – I was me. Forever imperfect. Flawed. Weak. And that’s where things can get messy.
Now, years later, I know who I am in Christ. I am confident in Him. I know I’m not perfect, I know I am flawed, I know I’m in desperate need of my Savior. That is the very truth that set me free to really LIVE! That is the reality of what I hold onto every day. But often that knowledge comes over time, revealed bit by bit, to a heart who seeks after God. Our young daughters and sons may not yet live with that deep spirit conviction. That’s why we are there – to parent them – protect them – teach them - raise them to make wise choices. Our main role in life during these years is not to be their best friend! We need to wake up. We need to live in awareness. We need to set boundaries. We need to be present.
There’s a desperate battle over our children today - over our marriages – over our families. We have a very real enemy in this world. And his utmost goal is to destroy.
My heart goes out to so many young people who live as I once did. Still searching for significance. Forever longing to fit in. Hearing mixed messages and trying to make sense of it all. Victims to the bombarding media onslaught of who they should be, how they should live, and what they should look like. Constantly facing the intense battles of this sex-crazed world in which we live.
As parents we can’t be there 24/7 to watch our children’s every move and protect them from each potential battle – it’s crazy to think we could and incredibly stressful to even try. But there are definitely some things we CAN do to help raise our sons and daughters to walk wisely and confidently in this world today.
1. Be aware. Know what they are watching. Know who they are texting. Know what they are listening to. Know who their friends are. Know what they are wearing. Know what they are reading. Know who their social network followers are. Know what they are “into.” Know who they look up to. Know what games they’re playing. There is simply just no time whatsoever to ”check out” when you’re a parent. If you’re not good at technology – get good. Learn it. Surprise your kids with how smart you really are. Our kids, at all ages, need us to be aware of their lives. Keep the computers and TV’s in common family places. Know the passwords of the cell phones, accounts, and electronics.
2. Listen. Keep communication open, honest. Give them time to talk. Sometimes as parents, we need to stop talking so much and just listen. (ugh, talking to myself here!) Be OK with some silence before deeper, heartfelt words come. Help them learn how to work through tough problems without trying to solve everything for them and give advice for every scenario. Talk things through. Ask open-ended questions. Maybe offer words like, “what do you think might be the best thing to do?” Inspire a wise heart in your kids. Be timely in your advice, help them to learn to process. Hold emotions in check, hold back the urge to “react,” but choose to respond in love and wisdom through your words. Teach your kids to listen to their “gut,” to listen to God’s Spirit leading them, and if they find themselves in an uncertain place, to know it’s OK to get out.
3. Speak encouragement and truth to their hearts. Speak it out. Tell them they are beautiful. Tell them they are strong. Remind them that God made them for a great purpose. Inspire them to know they are meant to change the world. Tell them they are influencers, they are warriors, and they are cherished by God. Tell them that their value is never to be found in the approval of others, their weight, or their successes in the world’s eyes. Tell them they are smart. Tell them they are valuable. Tell them that you love them. Unconditionally. Forever. No matter what. Let them know it’s OK to mess up, that they don’t have to be ”perfect.” Allow them the chance to fail, and learn, and move forward. Dads, your daughters and sons need to hear these words from your mouth too! It brings great blessing and confidence to them in an uncertain world.
4. Be there. Invest time with them. Hug them. Be present. Value them. Keep the connection strong. They are jewels in your life. Don’t take them for granted. They will move on before you realize they are grown. Take them on a date sometimes. Just with you. Dads, show your daughter how she should be treated by any young man – open her door, make her feel special, honor her. Teach your boys how highly they should value and respect a girl. Spend some time doing boy stuff. Sometimes the best conversations come up when you’re spending time fishing or camping with your son.
5. Keep your family strong. Model a good marriage. You don’t have to be perfect, but show them mutual love and respect within the framework of your marriage. Love your spouse. That in itself brings huge confidence to the life of your child in a crazy world. If you’re a single parent, find others that you trust as you help your kids learn what a good marriage looks like. Teach them what mutual submission means in a marriage - through a heart after God – that a woman is not responsible to submit to “any” man in the world - but only to her husband under God. And that a man should never “rule” over a woman as a dictator, but should show her tenderness and care, as Christ loves the church. Our culture has that mindset so messed up! Teach your teens that people are never meant to be “objects” for the pleasure of another. Help them learn to respect themselves and others around them. Talk to your kids about love and sex at age appropriate levels. It was never meant to be “one big conversation at one time.” Have a lot of conversations over a long period of time.
6. Protect them. Set boundaries. Let them make age appropriate choices as they grow older, but remember you have the final say! I remember hearing a quote once that said, “say yes, whenever you can, because there are so many times when you have to say no.” We’ve started trying to follow that advice. We say “yes” whenever it’s possible, but there are many times we must say “no.” There may be some days that our children may not “like” us now, but there will be many more days ahead that they will thank us for saying “no.” Children, tweens, teens - need boundaries. We all do – no matter what our age. Though sometimes the word “no” is hard to swallow by our kids, there is much security and confidence to be found in knowing we are protected by boundaries. Teach them that they, too, can say “no,” that they can set boundaries against temptations as well.
7. Encourage healthy friendships. Help them NOT to focus so much on the “girlfriend/boyfriend” craze that our culture might think is “cute.” As parents, I think we’re all well aware of the texting battle, sexting, calling, sending pictures, and the danger that technology may pose to one who’s not using wisdom. Have conversations, many, about what is appropriate behavior, and what is not! Limit time spent with just one person of the opposite sex. Encourage hanging out in groups, rather than one on one dating. Be aware of bullying. Be aware of aggressive behavior.
8. Inspire greatness. Believe in them. Remind them that God can do anything through their lives. Teach them how to dream – big. Show them that you’re not afraid to dream yourself. Challenge them to think outside the box. Encourage them to do hard things. Show them how to reach for the stars. Give them opportunity to do what they love most in life. Help them to find what they’re good at. Remind them that they never have to live under the expectations of others. Model what it is to truly serve others or give to others, who cannot repay you. Inspire gratitude that isn’t based on what you own, clothes, or materialistic things.
9. Teach them Truth. Make sure they have a Bible. Let them know how important it is to you. Buy a devotional that they can relate to, there are so many great ones out there. Let your children see you reading it. I remember some years ago, I’d try to get my quiet time done before our kids even woke up, nothing wrong with that, but God reminded me once that they need to SEE me reading it too. So, on many days, I’ll leave it open on our kitchen counter, read it through the day here or there, or speak out a story or word to them from time to time. Inspire a love for His Word. Be a model, be an example, of what you believe in. Lead them to know the One who will keep their steps firm in a shifting world. The saying is so often true, “faith is caught, not taught.”
10. Take them to church. Find a place you trust. Help your kids to connect in an atmosphere that is safe and teaches truth. They need friends who believe in God, who will encourage and challenge their Christian walk! They need to know they’re not alone. Churches are never perfect. People are never perfect. But that’s no reason to stay at home. Find connection with other believers. Just as you don’t allow your kids to decide whether or not they go to school, don’t allow them to make the choice of whether or not you go to church.
11. Bless them. Literally. Speak words of blessing over their lives. Speak encouragement. Speak out what you see in them. In the Old Testament, we read so often of the importance of “blessing” our children. Parents – give them your blessing at every stage of life. Put your hand on their head, speak out wisdom, pray over them. I know, may sound crazy, but believe me, it will mean the world to your kids.
12. Pray for them. If you aren’t praying for your kids, who is? They need us to pray. They depend on us to pray. They will be faced with daily temptations, battles, traps, just as we are. God has given us children to parent, to love, to raise, but He wants us to pray for them. Ultimately, our children belong to Him. We do not “own” them. They are not our “possessions.” God has graciously given them to us to care for during these years. Take seriously the spiritual legacy you have opportunity to leave in their lives. You may not always be here to parent them. But you are leaving deep impressions in their hearts by praying, by teaching them His Truth, by giving them guidance to know the God who loves them so much.
Parents, we have a voice – choose to raise your children differently than the world tells you to.