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How to Raise Children in a ‘Be Yourself’ World

An advertising poster for vitamins was recently put up near our house. It has the singer Nicole Scherzinger telling me: “How you look and feel comes from within having that inner light. Whatever you do, give it your all and be amazing.”

What you make of that statement may well depend on your age. The older you are, the more likely you’ll smile and think, Uh, no matter how many vitamin supplements I take, I’m unlikely to ever look like a model and pop star. A younger audience, though, will tend to be less cynical and to cheer the sentiment.

We live in a world that tells us endlessly to look within, discover who you are, and be true to yourself. For parents, it can be bewildering how this message has been absorbed by our children. Let me therefore suggest five—admittedly broad-brush—thoughts on helping your teenage kids navigate the modern maze of messages.

1. See that their world is different from yours.

Compared to their parents, teenagers today think conformity is horrible and variety is great. Positive outcomes of this view include a greater concern for protecting minorities and a keen sense that you shouldn’t make choices to please others, but do what you actually desire. Less helpfully, there is now such a focus on individual freedom that honoring commitments and serving others when it’s inconvenient is less instinctive.

The basics of parenting remain: love your children; do not exasperate them; bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Perhaps the biggest cultural shift has been in regard to sex. No longer is sex viewed as something you do; now the activity defines who you are. Hence, “I am a gay woman.” The upshot is that saying sex is a good gift to be enjoyed within marriage is now seen as a bigoted attack on who someone is. 

2. See that ‘the world’ doesn’t change much.

Understanding the world our kids live in is helpful. But human nature and “the world,” which is hostile to God’s truth, hasn’t changed significantly for millennia. Many will continue to live wickedly and approve those who do (Rom. 1:32). The Devil remains the father of lies; his tactics haven’t changed (John 8:44).

It’s no use throwing our hands in the air and saying, “Raising kids is harder than it used to be.” The basics of parenting remain: love your children; do not exasperate them; bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

3. Live in reality.

Sometimes parents don’t want to know if their kids are behaving in ways they don’t like. It’s a little odd to hear Christian parents say, “I’m confident my child will never take drugs,” or “My daughter would never send a sext,” or “My son is too sensible to take drugs.” We may want to think this, but let’s ensure we aren’t being naïve. 

In the end, the only way we’re true to ourselves is when we’re true to who God has made us and redeemed us to be.

If we fail to actually understand our kids, then we’re unlikely to help them connect the Bible with their lives. Ensuring space for honest conversations is essential. Aim for a long car ride, perhaps, or when they’re on break and less exhausted. These are great times to say, “Tell me what’s going on. Tell me what you think.”

4. Teach truth.

Our children are growing up in a culture far more sexually saturated—and encouraging of extramarital sexual exploration—than my generation did. But we don’t give up on teaching the truth!

Yes, we may need to work harder at persuading them with the truth, rather than simply declaring it. But it’s God’s truth, and it’s what our children need. The world tells a simple story: “Love is love. It’s evil to stop any form of it.” The Bible’s story is more nuanced, but no less emotive.

In writing on this subject, I’ve wanted to tell as many stories as possible of people who’ve discovered how damaging it can be to reject God’s truth, and how wonderful it has been to trust Jesus. Make sure your kids hear stories of costly faithfulness and joy

5. Model faithfulness.

If we want our children to understand the better path of self-denial, rather than radical self-expression, then we need to consistently demonstrate that example with our lives.

It’s the simple things. Don’t break a commitment to them or let them see you break off an engagement just because it’s inconvenient. Do let them see you serve other people. Let them see you give up your own comfort to help others. 

Model wise use of technology; lots of parents don’t allow phones at the dinner table or in bedrooms. If you want them to do this, you should as well.

Let them see you pray for what matters. Not just the requirements of the day, but the greater adventure of praying for God’s kingdom. Praying for missionaries. Praying that your friends, colleagues, and neighbors come to saving faith in Christ.

Better Way

As with so many other areas of life for our children, they need our help to navigate what our culture is preaching. We can’t just ignore the latest fad or roll our eyes. We have to help our kids see what the world is offering and how Jesus offers a better way. We have to model that following Christ is better than following our every whim.

In the end, the only way we’re true to ourselves is when we’re true to God. 

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