Counterbalance a teen’s weaknesses by building on their strengths

Sending a teenager into the hurricane of adolescence with no skills, no unique knowledge, no proven abilities, is to invite disaster.

We simply must equip our teens with the skills to overcome the effects of their weaknesses. I grew up with certain awkward adolescents who navigated this phase of their lives on the strength of their fascination with tortoises, Napoleon, and First Day Covers. I understand such fascinations today are unlikely. They are more likely to be in the direction of tech, music, and adrenaline sports. These boys were authorities on their respective interests and earned our begrudged admiration with the extent of their knowledge. On those topics they were kings. My own journey through awkwardness was aided by athletics, bottle and stamp collecting and an encyclopaedic knowledge of athletic records.

We must identify and exploit their strengths and natural interests

Sending a teenager into the hurricane of adolescence with no skills, no unique knowledge, no proven abilities, is to invite disaster. Do this and their only source of self-esteem comes from the acceptance of their peers. The young teenager’s entire value and ethical system can become dictated to by peer approval; scary, very scary.

Build self-esteem internally from the youngest age possible. Much self-esteem comes through proven competencies.  

This need is most pertinent for “high-risk” boys.

Many of them need the adrenalin and high action of physical activity. Inactivity spells disaster and invites mischief making and aggression. The wise parent makes informed guesses as to their child’s natural abilities and interests, signs them up and makes them stick to “their” commitment come hell or high water, until convinced otherwise.

Granted, it is infuriating when they do drop an activity into which you have invested both time and money. Perhaps dad and mom, that may require you to get back on the skateboard or surfboard and do the Argus cycle tour with them. This is a tough call because most children are remarkably undisciplined and learning a new skill is difficult. Many youngsters don’t know what they are good at and will never find out unless cajoled (read assertive encouragement) to try.

Have the courage to be insistent, you will be thanked one day!

We are responsible for our teen’s development

We are given very little insight into Christ’s childhood; Luke 2:52 a notable exception! “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with both God and man.” He grew physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. We are responsible for our teen’s development; stretch them today in all facets of their being.

I always told Grade 7 parents that they must be able to answer 4 questions when deciding on a high school. Will my child be safe? Happy? Stretched? Have opportunities? I believe it to be a similar requirement for the home. I would add upfront, spiritual nurturing into the mix.

Our sense of value is that we are created in the image of God, that “we are called to do good works, that He set out in advance for us to do.” It does not lie in how many waves you can catch or your score on the trending computer game.

Don’t rush to expect that understanding, especially not in the years when the self-esteem is forming and fragile. It is not that we don’t teach that we are enough in God’s eyes but that we encourage them to explore their natural passions and skills in addition.

It helps to create an environment that allows these discussions.

Creating your own family rituals

Rituals and traditions sound just so old fashioned. They really shouldn’t, a ritual or tradition is simply an activity that embodies what we believe to be important as a family. Bottom line, they’re excuses for quality time together; for doing something unique to us as a family. I met a father who maintained the tradition of taking each of his children away camping with him when they turned ten; quality time, three days of it.

I “dated” my children once a month (well, that was the intention, in truth it was less frequent.) They chose the activity; I paid. I remember taking my son to see Mr Bean (hideous) and then sitting on Kalk Bay harbour wall in the dark eating slap chips and drinking Tab. It was some of the finest time I’ve ever spent with him. My daughter and I went over to the restaurant next door, ordered a cola tonic and lemonade, and did Zentangles together for an hour or so. I was better armoured for the next unacceptable outburst, the next testing of the boundaries, the next incident of sibling rivalry. I believe they were too!

Our children are a gift

Despite my best intentions and fervent prayers, I was not always the parent I wanted to be. Not close. I think my failings were that much more poignant to me as children are a gift from God, to be nurtured and protected, educated, to be “trained up in the way they should go.” I enjoy a real and close relationship with both of my adult children today. Rituals helped! They gave an opportunity to break the day-to-day pattern of the way we relate (or don’t relate) to each other. Monday night was our family supper night; TV off, the telephone rings unanswered, we catch up with each other, each one has a turn; yes, it’s also pudding night.

Establish your routines and traditions well before the teenage years. Most teenagers are on the march to independence and are not exactly looking to spend extra time with the family.

Life’s lessons are more easily caught than taught. Explore creative ways to spend time together, there will be fewer dropped “catches.”

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Author: Gavin Fish
Blessed with a long-suffering wife, two adult children, a daughter-in-law, a bicycle (wannabee road cyclist) and uncountable bonsai, Gavin was in education for 34 years, the last 12 of which as Principal of Fish Hoek High School. He is steeped in the traditions of Scripture Union and a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ and now works in his community as a Life Coach with a heart for teens, young adults and their parents.
Published: 31 March 2023
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