The image of the angry, depressed, cynical, and lazy teenager is common today. Teens are often portrayed as feeling entitled, being unwilling to work, having many dreams but few plans for making them a reality. That portrayal is exaggerated. Many teens have a positive outlook on life and the future and are willing to pay the price to achieve their dreams.
But the image—though exaggerated—is partly true. Many teens are indeed cynical and hopeless. (Maybe one or more of them lives in your house.) As adults, we often wonder why they are so down. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Many teens are stressed. They deal with very adult issues like caring for younger siblings, trying to please parents who are at war with each other, keeping up with the demands of school, trying to maintain friendships, etc. When you throw things such as a part-time job, a romantic relationship, and extracurricular activities in school into the mix, the stress level climbs.
• Many teens are concerned about the future. They ask questions like: is nuclear war inevitable? Will there be any jobs for me when I finally get out of school? What price will my generation have to pay for the abuse and misuse of Earth’s natural resources? (Polluted water and air, birth defects, etc.)
• Some teenagers are disturbed with what they see on the news. Rising crime, dire economic predictions, racial strife, superbugs that threaten to sicken millions, and random shootings of innocent people make them fearful of what lies ahead.
Today’s teenagers are more prosperous than previous generations. They often have more opportunities and more reason for hope than their parents or grandparents. Yet, many teens have a profoundly negative viewpoint on life in general. So how do we raise positive, optimistic kids in our world today?
To begin with, we need to acknowledge this is a difficult task. As adults, most of us have learned to take the news and predictions of environmental disaster with a grain of salt. We recognize there are some dangers, but we don’t dwell on them. Teenagers, on the other hand, have not developed the skill. So what can we do? The following suggestions may help you find a place to begin.
Start by working on your own attitude. Sometimes the attitude we most dislike in our children is just a reflection of our own attitude. Help your teenager start the day right by greeting them with a hearty “Good Morning” each day. Not a morning person? Get up one hour before your teenager, have your coffee, and do your devotion so you’re ready to face the day. You’ll set a good example of how to start a day well.
Make it your goal to catch your teenager doing right and reinforce it. Parents are often quick to criticize and slow to praise. The temptation is to tell our kids what to do and when to do it, then move on to something else. The only time we bring it up again is when they fail to get it done. Many parents are eager to pounce at the first sign of noncompliance. Try looking for positive behaviors you can reinforce (“Thank you for making your bed, being nice to your little brother, taking out the trash, etc.”). Most people would rather have a coach than a critic.
Lovingly teach your kids to see the big picture. In the short term, some events can be devastating: a bad grade, a breakup, being cut from the team, being ostracized, etc. In the moment, it can seem like their world is crumbling around them. The result can be bitterness, anger, and a negative spirit. Without minimizing his or her pain, assure your teenager that there are better days ahead. Talk about the future, discuss life after high school, and encourage your teen to see that there is much more life ahead.
Remind your teenager about the biblical promises of God. I am with you…I will strengthen you and help you (Isaiah 41:10). The Lord will be with you; He will never leave you (Deuteronomy 31:8). God will meet all your needs (Philippians 4:19). All things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28). Make your requests to God…His peace will guard you (Philippians 4:6-7). Trust in the Lord…He will make your path straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). Don’t give platitudes but help them remember what God has promised.
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