Looking back over my adolescence, I am so thankful that I never went astray and "sewed my wild oats," so to speak. I don't mean to sound arrogant or boastful. I know it is only by the grace of God that this is true. But I think back over my teen years, specifically, and don't even recall a temptation to partake in the activities that typically mar the high school years. So I have to ask myself, what did my parents do right? No, they weren't perfect. But there must have been some things they did that helped keep me on the straight and narrow when so many others diverge onto other paths. I ask myself these questions because this is what I want for my kids. My hope and prayer is that they too will stay true to themselves, their faith, and their family when all their friends may do otherwise.
After some reflection, I came up with three things my parents did that I believe helped me become a (though imperfect) devoted, non-rebellious teen and adult.
1. Time together as a family. When I think about my childhood and teen years, I see myself with my parents and my sister. We spent a lot of time together. Granted, my dad was self-employed and got to be home a lot. But even when he was at work, us girls were often there with him. As a family, we spent a lot of time at home together, watching TV, playing board games, eating meals, and doing nothing. We didn't stretch ourselves thin with 100,000 extracurricular activities, but when we did have ballgames or events to attend, we went together. We also took a lot of vacations together, which are some of my fondest memories. I know not everyone has this ability, but it shaped our family culture by creating shared experiences and adding glue to our family bond. Yes, I went to public school. But though I was there eight hours a day, it didn't "scar" me the way some people think it will. Because what I had at home was so much stronger. At home is where my security was, where my values were molded, and where my people were.
2. One-on-one time with dad. I have to say, my dad excelled in this area. Having daughters didn't stop him from taking us out for quality, one-on-one time. From the time we were potty-trained, he alternated taking me and my sister to Razorback basketball games, which were four hours away. We made these trips until we were... well we still occasionally go. A teenage friend of my sister once commented, "You spend that many hours in a car with your dad?! What do you talk about?" My sister was baffled. What would we not talk about? It was never awkward for us to spend alone time with Dad because we had just always done it. Research tells us that involved fatherhood makes a world of difference for kids. Those with involved dads do better academically, have fewer discipline problems, and become more responsible adults. This is true for both genders but I believe it is especially important for girls. Girls need their dads to show interest in them, to make them feel special, to show them affection. Research shows a strong relationship with Dad improves females' mental health, work performance, and relationships with men. Divorce and other family dynamics can sometimes make this a challenge, but it should not be an excuse. If you are a single mom, I encourage you to encourage quality time with your kids and their dad if at all possible. The two of you may have your differences, but him being present in their lives is unequivocal.
3. Faithful church attendance/involvement. My parents say they never remember me or my sister once saying "We don't want to go to church today." And the reason we never said it was because it never crossed our minds. Not going to church because we were tired, didn't feel like it, or because something good was on TV was simply out of the realm of possibility. If the doors were open, we were there. It's just what we did. I believe this was beneficial for us in so many ways. First of all, it taught us faithfulness and commitment. We didn't half-heartedly do things. And when we were committed to something we didn't flake out. Honestly, this is a lost virtue in today's society. People don't want to commit to anything that doesn't meet their needs at the time (church, marriage, friendships, diet plans). But if we can teach our kids that sometimes we do things we don't want to do because it's best for us... that is a priceless gift. Being actively involved in church also holds your family accountable. Old fashioned as it may seem, it may be more difficult for a teen (or anyone) to get involved in questionable behaviors if she knows her youth pastor, pastor, church family, etc. is keeping tabs on her and holding the standards high. Perhaps the best way, though, church keeps young people on the right path is through the fellowship and support of like-minded believers. It's comforting, especially as a young person, to know "you're not the only one" who's not gone off the deep end. Being a part of a church family that is making good choices, seeking the Lord, and moving in the same direction as yours may be just the moral support your child needs.
None of these "keys" are THE "key," of course. There is no magic formula. The only real key is the grace of God, and of course, fervent prayer. These are just easy, practical ideas you can implement into your family life that I do believe will make a difference. Do what you can do, and leave the rest to Him.