“What’s up?” I whispered to my teenager as I gently lowered myself onto her bed. My teen had been quietly reflective as she scribbled in her journal.
“I’m trying to work out how I can save enough money to go back to Cambodia for a few months.” She replied.
I was gob smacked. Recently returning from a mission trip to Cambodia, the strenuous and uncomfortable could easily have outweighed the excitement and purpose. My heart overflowed.
Another occasion had seen us spend an afternoon with another family ‘doing’ random acts of kindness in the community. Recounting the shock on stranger’s faces, my son glowed with pride.
Do you want to combat entitlement and complaining? Get your teenagers serving.
With younger kids, it is easy. They willingly, and with no complaints, would serve other people. At age 8, my daughter initiated a weekly service with her and me driving 45 minutes each way to help at a meal serving people with mental illness. At age 9, my son initiated and collected over 30,000 pairs of brand-new pairs of socks, which he gave out to homeless people (see 2pairseach.com.au
But with teenagers, it can require a fresh approach. They want to spend time with friends. They can appear to be self-absorbed.
How do we change this so we all enjoy the teenage years?
The way we view parenting our children through their teenage years depends on several factors – our attitude, our behaviour, and how we have parented them in the years prior.
In this series of ‘Enjoying the teenage years‘, I have raised the points that:
- Parenting teenagers is a lot about sacrificing.
- Parenting teenagers is a lot about perspective.
- Parenting teenagers is a lot about dealing with your stuff first.
Tip 1 was to be proactive and ‘on the front foot’ in your parenting. Most of the enjoyment of parenting teenagers depends on you as the parent.
Tip 2 was to model well. We are discipling our teenagers with how we live our life. The words we say, our behaviour, mindset and emotions, and our relationships are all micro-examined by our teenagers and absorbed.
If your children are not yet teenagers, most of these tips can still apply to parenting your children.
Tip 3 – Get them Serving
Serve at home
Serving begins at home. Your teenagers are part of the family. Thus, they need to help around the house. Every family member needs to put in to help keep the family home in order.
Do you pay yourself for cleaning or chores? If not, then don’t pay your kids/teenagers. Chores are expected. You can pay for anything over and beyond typical household jobs, but please do not pay for chores. If you want to teach them the value of money, find another system for paying them and helping them to save.
Both of our teenagers cook the family meal several times each week. They can both cook many dishes, although their favourites are what we usually consume each week. Our 15-year-old son is quite an experimental chef, and we delight in tasting his delicacies.
Our aim as parents is to help them become mature and responsible adults, including serving around the home.
Read the book “Do Hard Things” by Alex and Brett Harris with your teen.
The teenage years are a time of incredible freedom with little responsibility. This book raises the idea that our culture is facilitating a lie about the purpose and potential of the teen years and the low expectations that society has of teenagers.
Teenagers can serve and do hard things.
Teenagers can do great things.
Teenagers can leave a lasting impact on others.
Brainstorm with your teen ways that they can do something hard, worthwhile, and have a lasting impact.
Around the 1900s, they changed laws in the US and western countries to protect children from harsh labour and to help raise the age for finishing education. By doing this, it unknowingly introduced ‘adolescence’ to the western world, a time for freedom without responsibility. This book encourages teenagers to consider five kinds of hard things:
- Things outside your comfort zone.
- Things that go beyond what is expected or required.
- Things that are too big to accomplish alone.
- Things that don’t earn an immediate payoff.
- Things that challenge the cultural norm.
Serve at church
To be effective, they need to see their parents serving at church; whether it is in the same ministry area is irrelevant. They may well prefer the freedom of being in a completely different ministry area.
Several years ago, I was lamenting that one of my teenagers seemed to not like helping other people. A friend challenged me to realize that my teenager served others, just not in my way. My teenager spent eight hours each month involved in the Children’s Ministry at Church teaching and helping. That was a significant sacrifice, especially as their friends were usually on opposite weeks to them.
Serve those who can’t repay
Get them serving people who cannot repay them, e.g. the homeless. When teenagers are helping people, their wants diminish, and they gain a new appreciation for their life.
I found it easier to gain my children’s co-operation the younger they were. Once they hit the teenage years, there seemed to be a reluctance. One solution is to team up with another family or invite other teens to participate with your family. Another crucial element is to have food somehow involved, e.g. share at the end over food.
Part of serving is to help your teenager brainstorm appropriate activities. We joined with a family (at the beginning of this blog post) and split into guys and girls. We gave money to both groups to use to bless other people. The reporting back session over afternoon tea was loud and exciting as each group recounted the surprise and gratitude other people expressed when they received a random act of kindness.
As your teenager helps others, their sense of entitlement diminishes and gratitude within themselves and for others raises significantly. The amount of sibling rivalry and loud, angry voices and ‘fighting’ also reduces significantly.
For serving to be a ‘winner’:
- Invite their friends.
- Include food.
- Make it fun.
Our role as the parent:
Our role as the parent is to champion our kids. It is to be available to support them and be a backstop. It is not to drag them along to what we are doing, but for us to put our desires on the back burner and champion our kids’ desire to help others.
I am excited as my 18-year-old daughter will spend her third summer running outreach programs for children and families. When the kids were younger, we were involved as a family, but when our daughter was 16 years old, she was old enough to be a team participant without the family. Last year they invited me to join the team as a mentor, but I only agreed on the condition that my daughter was agreeable with it as it was ‘her’ team. This summer, I will be involved again, back in the background to champion the younger ones.
Fellow parents, how are you enabling your teenager to look beyond themselves and serve others? The benefits are enormous, both in your teenager’s emotional state and the joy it will bring.
I would love to hear your feedback about how your teenagers serve and the impact it has on your family? Feel free to comment below.