A dad and child psychologist shares his hopes for today's adolescents.
A couple of years ago, I published an article about what I really, really want for my kids. It came together one night sitting on the front porch with our little infant, Samuel. Fast forward to today, as our oldest two prepare to enter high school, I again find myself coming back to this topic. Although the article published before remains as relevant as ever, there are particular areas of development (e.g., hormonal, neurological, social-emotional) that I hope emerge during these coming teen years.
As we all know, no matter how the adolescent years go, they set the stage for adulthood to follow. And so, in no particular order, as a father and a child psychologist, here’s what I really, really want for not just my teens, but all teens.
1To not be driven by distractions, but rather natural joys and deep purpose.
I want them to have fun and be entertained, but I want them to remember that anything that repeatedly distracts them from who they are called to be, and what they are called to do, is something that needs to be removed from their day.
2To learn to communicate effectively -- with empathy, clarity, courage, and humility.
I want them to understand that what they say (and don’t say), and just how they say it, carries consequences of all sorts that extend way beyond their discernment. Whether they talk a lot or a little, I want them consider their communication as a conduit of themselves.
3To embrace their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual potential.
We will all struggle at times to realize the full potential of our minds and bodies, and certain aspects of health may be beyond our control. But this particular hope is grounded in the idea that they are a sacred temple, one that demands the utmost respect and care. When this doesn’t occur, life becomes more challenging and despairing, but when it does, there is no limit to the potential provided for us.
4To not be afraid and anxious beyond what is prudent and life-preserving.
I hope they have much greater courage than I did to stand up for the people and ideas that are most important, and not conform to what they don’t believe in, but rather be a voice among their peers when it is needed most.
5To be curious first, and knowledgeable second; to ask questions first and make statements second.
In essence, despite the inherent self-absorption that the adolescent years may bring, I hope that our teens seek first to understand what is truthful before they commit themselves to a cause grounded in falsehoods and trends.
6To be the kind of people that others recognize not because they are the smartest, most athletic, or most attractive, but rather because they exude authenticity and genuineness.
Rather than seeking popularity or notoriety, I hope our teens are driven by ideals and purposes that are first grounded in the uniqueness of who they are, in being sons and daughters of God.
7To be conscientious that others may not have been afforded the same experiences and privileges, and so not to judge others until they have really come to know them.
In a world of offensive tweets and rash judgments, I hope that our teens take the time to see the humanity in all the people they meet, and refrain from leading with outward assertions about another before understanding the context and culture that underlies the person’s existence.
8To not be dependent on worldly things for their happiness, and to be willing to shift how they seek joy.
In a world that suggests we must have a thousand possessions and prerequisites to create a life of comfort, my hope is that they understand that while all of these entities might provide reasonable sources of pleasure and relaxation, their heart will always remain restless until it rests in thee.
Don’t get me wrong. I hope our teens find great friends, academic success, fun times, athletic joys, and are propelled into a vocation that is rewarding and satisfying. And no doubt the teen years will have challenges and difficulties to overcome. But I hope that our teens come to realize that just like every era of life, the high school years will come and go, and when this occurs, they’ll be left to consider just what and who will carry on with them. Beyond the memories, what will persist is hidden within the synapses of their neurons and the sinewy fibers of their muscles and the sacred spaces of their hearts and the hearts of those they have come to know.
It is in these hidden places that will come to define just what the teen years have meant to them. And it is in these spaces, far beyond any accolades, accomplishments, or acquaintances that the teen years may have brought, that they will come to define just who they are and who they will be. Years and decades removed from our own teen experiences, it’s clear that what mattered most was not what could be quantified or popularized, but rather what could be characterized and epitomized as good and true and beautiful.
That is what I really, really want for our teens.