What Should We Be on Our Guard for as Our Children Grow Older?
Sin is the true and obvious answer. That said, there are peculiar sins that teenagers, at least in our day, are somewhat prone to. Just as with adults, however, I’m afraid we mass our defenses in all the wrong places. The sins of our youth are just like the sins of our dotage, though they may present themselves in somewhat different ways. The key sin I am on the lookout for with my teenagers is the one I’m on the lookout for in me—pride.
How is pride manifest in our youth? It begins, I would suggest, in a lack of loyalty. That is our children are tempted as they grow older to look upon their family, the authority of their parents, as something they have grown past. They are tempted in turn to see their own peer group as the peak of wisdom, character, and love. All they need is their posse of friends. We combat this pride, however, less by elevating our own character in the eyes of our children or denigrating the character of their friends. Rather, we combat this manifestation of pride with humility. We are quick to confess our failures and weaknesses to our children, all the while professing our abiding loyalty toward them as well.
Second, it often shows itself in a sullen demeanor. Recently, the President’s daughters found themselves roped into a rather hokey photo-op with their father. As every president has done since 1989, President Obama announced an executive order few could argue with, the full pardon of turkeys Mac and Cheese. The faces of the daughters clearly communicated their contempt for the event. With that they have my sympathy. The phoniness of the political process is worthy of contempt. But they were called to honor their father. That sullen expression that is so common among our youth likewise clearly communicates contempt. For what? Usually not just for the parents but everything they stand for. We combat this pride, however, less my insisting on smiles, more by encouraging genuine gratitude. When we understand what we are as sinners, and all that we have been blessed with, it’s tough to remain sullen.
Finally, pride manifests itself among the young in dishonesty. At some level, ironically, dishonesty can be a sign of the remnants of respect. That is, some children lie, or hide the truth from their parents because they want to do x, and also do not want to upset or disappoint their parents, who don’t want them to do x. But the pride is still there, a pride that says either, “I know better than my parents. I will protect them by not letting them know about this” or “My reputation or image is more important than the reality, so I must hide my sin from others.” Or worse, “I would get in trouble for x if my parents knew about it. The world is out of kilter if I am in trouble. Therefore I will keep this from them.” The solution here, again, is not to angrily demand greater honesty, but to practice greater honesty. First, we should be the champion repent-ers in our own homes. Let them see you confess your sins, even the ones they had no reason to know about. Second, let them know how needful it is to you that they tell you the truth, that they can be trusted. If the truth is needful for their well being, they are more likely to share it.
In the end, it is likely that our own pride will be the tipping point one way or the other. Our children will struggle with our pride if it drives us to push them to appear to others as better than they are. That is, if your children are persuaded that our motive for their obedience is our pride rather than their well being, they won’t play along. Insofar, however, as we are able to persuade them that we want it to go well for them in the land, insofar as we walk with them as children who struggle with the will of our heavenly Father, they will likely hear us, and with us, fight pride. If so, they will better remember that we are all on the same side.