Here’s a topic for raising teens that isn’t raised too often. And yet here’s a topic that really must be addressed, because of the alarming rate at which young people seek to deal with temporary problems with serious, long-term, bad solutions like drugs or harm to themselves. Parents worry about these issues, but sometimes do little more than tell their kids just to say no. There is something more that could and should be done. The root of the problem in many cases is despair — a problem encountered that seems intractable, painful, and never-ending. The solution: hope.
Hope is not necessarily obtained naturally. We sometimes are under the impression that you are either born optimistic or pessimistic, that you are either just hopeful and happy, or despairing and depressed; but not so fast, it’s not exactly that simple. There are, of course, people we all know who seem to have come forth from the womb smiling and optimistic — and others who seem to have been born Eeyore-like; so they are to some degree inborn attitudes. But hope and optimism are at least as much a learned attitude as an inborn point of view; and as a parent (especially of a teenager) you need to be sure to teach it. Why?
In children and teenagers there is often less a sense of future possibilities (despite all the grand dreams for the future that adults believe they have) and generally much more a sense of now; and when “now” stinks, it can be easy for them to conclude that it will never end, it will never get better, I will simply be miserable forever — and with it the temptation to harm themselves. And in the world of the teen (as you might remember), there’s plenty to be miserable about — peer relations, romantic relations (real or imagined — thin Romeo and Juliet), grades, hormones, general confusion, defeats that just come with life, the “unfairness” of authority figures, guilt, occasionally the exaggerated seriousness of “maturity”, and more. And then layer on top of that some more serious adult problems that sometimes come their way. They need to learn hope and optimism, even if they are by nature an “Eeyore”. So, how do you do that?
First, by what you teach. There is a lot for Christians to share with their children about having hopeful, optimistic attitudes. The whole notion of faith is not so much about coming to church as it is about seeing the unseen, seeing the God who is invisible to the physical eye, seeing a grand future and reward for faithful living, and seeing like Elisha in 2 Kings 6:16,17) the ready help that is available in prayer. They need to know that everyone — EVERYONE — has bad days, but that things do get better, if we’ll follow the Lord’s instructions — a key to improving situations.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
John 16:33 ““These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.””
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Romans 8:35-39 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And by the way, let me emphasize the obedience to the Lord’s will part again. There is no hope in sinful responses. They sometimes look good, but they lead to nothing but further trouble. Problems truly become intractable, when we try to solve them sinfully, dysfunctionally, and dishonorably. I wish I had a nickel for every counseling client I’ve had, who had problem they were trying to solve with sin and who were completely baffled as to why things weren’t getting better. Problems are best solved by following God’s will — teens, like adults, need to remember this and have it constantly reinforced in heart.
But second, you teach hope to your teens by how you live. It will do little good to teach without a good example. What we say is validated as true by our children and especially our teens by what we actually practice. Do you live optimistically? Full of faith? Hopefully? Or is your example fearful, pessimistic, “faith-challenged”, and full of “gloom and doom”? Do you need to teach yourself so that you can model hep for your own teen. You might be surprised at the results in your own life.
Hope isn’t the foolproof firewall against every teenage danger. It’s only a single tool in the parental toolbox to equip your teens against the things they’re likely to face in their adolescence and early adulthood — but it’s a powerful one. Don’t neglect it, don’t discount it as just fluff. Teach it and model it. Let in insulate your teen from despair and its frequent tragedy.