At a Christian boarding school, we have no desire to substitute for the role of parents in our students’ lives: There is no replacement for the God-ordained institution of the family.
Our aim is to provide the guidance and space needed for spiritual healing and growth to help the family to be reunited in a positive way that leads to long-term spiritual stability. At the same time, we want to provide the kind of guidance that all authority should model. While some have termed this “positive parenting,” we see it as part of biblical servant-leadership, as well.
Step 1: Get to know your teen and the norms surrounding his or her age and stage.
This kind of guidance takes extra time and relationship-building, both of which are key to reaching the hearts of young people. Here at a Christian boarding school, we are students of adolescents, in general, and the particular struggles of teens in our society.
Some behaviors that we as adults see as disrespectful are not intended as such; understandably, when they’re accused of a particular motivation that teenagers know is not in their hearts, they often become defensive or standoffish. While we need to help them to understand others’ perceptions and to take personal responsibility for how they come across, those are separate issues, and we need to treat them as such.
Understanding age-specific and cultural norms is not enough: We spend time individually with each young person in order to build relationships with them. For beginning students, the necessary trust-building requires extra time and effort.
Step 2: Model the characteristics you desire to instill in others.
The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do has embittered many young people—and understandably so. Teens need to see real, living examples of self-control and taking responsibility for actions. When we respond to their uncontrolled behavior by screaming or otherwise expressing our anger, we’re sending mixed messages, at best. Even though they may not always have us as authority figures, they will always have others in their lives that do not meet their expectations or cooperate with their goals. When we demonstrate self-control when they hurt or even defy us, we show them how we desire for them to respond not only to us, but also to others in their world.
Step 3: Try to see their point of view.
Certainly, rebellious teens need to learn to respond properly to authority and to take responsibility for their actions. At the same time, though, they need love and empathy. We often have the opportunity to minister to teens whose coping mechanisms and personal maturity levels are below their age level. They communicate emotions such as frustration, anger, or hurt inappropriately and need to learn to channel those emotions productively. At the same time, though, sometimes extreme methods of communication come as a result of lacking the empathy and guidance that they need in order to respond to difficulties in a mature manner.