What kind of adult do you want your teen to be? It’s unreasonable to think that an eighteenth or twenty-first birthday will magically bring about maturity and good character, but sometimes it seems like that’s what parents expect.
Character was once an assumed aspect of training children and even formal education. Today, the moral foundations of homes and society are crumbling, and many adults that value character don’t feel like they have a solid enough foundation to pass along wisdom on such topics. One positive result of this dilemma is that an abundance of character education resources is available to homeschooling parents, teachers, or anyone who wants to impact young people. For the Christian, teaching biblical character principles is part of discipleship, as well. However you choose to broach the topics, the best timing is certainly not during conflicts. The setting can be just about anywhere, though (Deut. 6:7).
It’s not enough for kids to see one or two good examples; they need to develop meaningful relationships with those who exemplify the kind of character you want them to mimic. If your teen is spending 90% of his or her time with peers who are poor examples and the other 10% of waking hours around good examples, the effect will be quite limited. Putting your children in a positive atmosphere and ensuring that they have more than surface-level interactions with godly individuals beyond your own family will be key. Of course, if the example they see from Mom and Dad oppose the said goal, then the mixed message will not go unnoticed.
It’s one thing to show and tell your kids how to live sacrificially or take responsibilities seriously, and it’s quite another to put them in the drivers’ seats and give them opportunities to demonstrate and develop positive character traits. Do you help your teen find opportunities to serve in the home, church, school, or community? Is taking on responsibilities shunned, in favor of entertainment or extracurricular activities that are more spectator-friendly? Sometimes kids aren’t comfortable volunteering or taking leadership simply because they haven’t had many opportunities to engage in such activities.
A really practical idea for parents is to start out with a master list of character traits you want to intentionally help your children to develop. One organization lists these “six pillars” of character: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness. Another idea is to periodically discuss your children’s character progress and downfalls with your spouse or another adult mentor. Perhaps every six months, you could evaluate progress and review a game plan for encouraging progress in areas of struggle.
As you try to encourage the development of good and godly character in your teen, you’ll need both patience and genuineness as well as intentional provisions for this vital aspect of growth.