Adolescents and Teens: Raising Righteous Children in a Wicked World

Some of you parents out there may have dealt with teens in the past, and yet there are many that will soon face the monstrosity that is called adolescence.
For those of you who have survived teenagers and did it well, you deserve a medal of honor for bravery and perseverance. And for those who are anxiously awaiting social suicide here are some highlights from a very well-written article that may help put your worries at ease.

This article was first published in BYU Magazine by two very experienced professors, and then again in the Ensign. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it helped me realize that teenagers are not children and they are not yet adults. Because teenagers are in a unique stage in their lives the disciplinary methods and parent-child relationships are going  to be different than in childhood. Here are some highlights from the article that are very helpful:

  • Brent L. Top and Bruce A. Chadwick conducted a study of 4,000 LDS youth around the U.S. to see if "ecology" (environment) really does affect teen's religiosity. They found no significant difference in delinquency between East coast, West coast, and Utah Valley teens.
  • What does affect teen delinquency are peers, religiosity, and family
  • Peers
    • What parents do to help children manage peer influences
      • Encourage teens to participate in a good groups, organizations and activities.
      • Make the home available as a place to hang out.
      • Make teenagers' friends feel welcome in the home.
      • Choose a neighborhood with reputable schools and low rates of delinquency
      • Develop friendships with families whose children would be good friends for your own.
      • Teach friendship skills
      • Set family rules and boundaries.
  • Religiosity
    • Religious values, beliefs, and experiences are directly related to the avoidance of delinquency.
    • Private religiosity was the strongest predictor of delinquency among LDS teens: those youth who have internalized the gospel avoid delinquency to a greater extent than those youth who have not.
    • Other contributors are social integration (being accepted by members of ward) and public practices (church attendance). But the key to deterring delinquency is private religiosity. 
    • In the study it was discovered that private religious practices and spiritual experiences were more influential in deterring delinquency than public practices. 
    • Thus, parents should be an example (personal prayers, personal scripture study, etc)
    • Hold family prayer, scripture study, and FHE regularly
      • As a side note, my parents would hold scripture study and prayer every night despite who was there. Even if one sibling was missing we still read and prayed without them. Eventually it was such a habit that even when our parents were on a date we kids would have SS and prayer because it was a habit.
    • Parents should not try to solve all problems or attempt to answer all questions. Rather, encourage teens to pray to Heavenly Father about their concerns or needs. It will mean more to them to find answer to gospel questions through their own searching than from parental teaching (encourage personal revelation).
  • Family Influence
    • Surprisingly, the effects are indirect. Meaning that family influence underlies both peer influence and religiosity. 
    • To make it easier to understand: Family affects spirituality, spirituality affects peer choice, and peer choice affects delinquency.
    • Although it is indirect, when it comes to giving LDS teens the strength to resist temptations, the family matters.
    • What parents can do to foster family connectedness
      • Spend one-one-one time with teenagers.
      • Express love to teenage children.
      • Spend time together as a family.
      • Be liberal with praise.
      • Be generous with forgiveness.
    • What parents can do to foster family regulation
      • Establish family rules.
      • Assign all family members household chores.
      • Enforce rules.
      • Show increased love following reprimand.
      • Monitor teenagers' behavior 
    • What parents can do to foster intellectual autonomy
      • Encourage teenagers to share their feelings, opinions, hopes, and desires.
      • Express acceptance of teenagers' attitudes, opinions, or feelings even if you disagree with them.
      • Help teenagers to explore the source of attitudes or feelings and their long- and short-term consequences. 
      • Allow teenagers the opportunity to be their ow person of worth.
      • Do not use withdrawal of love or induction of guilt to change teen's opinions, feelings or ideas. 
    • Many teens in the study suggested that parents be more liberal with genuine praise and forgiveness.
    • Teens also asked that as parents set rules and regulate them. A suggestion from other professionals is to teach the principles before and then include the teenager in setting rules. They will be more likely to accept the consequences and less likely to complain when they make a mistake.
  • Psychological Autonomy
    • In my child development class I learned that teenagers go through a stage of autonomy, almost like toddlers. They want to make their own choices, and if they feel forced into making a choice that they know is right, they may even make the opposite choice just to exercise their agency and feel independent. 
    • Patience, long-suffering, and helping the youth explore the idea and its consequences are much more effective than shooting down their idea or telling them they they are making a wrong choice. Subtle guidance ad gentle persuasion will generally help a young person develop opinions, ideas and attitudes consistent with gospel principles. 
Well, that's the summary of the article. I hope that you have learned something new and that you will feel more confident in parenting teenagers. I know I may not be a parent yet, but it wasn't too long ago that I was a teenager myself. I have to say that my parents practiced most of the principles listed above and I truly believe it kept me from being a rebellious teenager. I am grateful for their consistency in teaching my correct principles and their faith in letting me make my own choices.

    Raising Righteous Children in a Wicked World-BYU Magazine

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