Even when facing negative cultural pressure, we can teach our children to know and follow the voice of God.
While society sends the message that a person’s value lies in his or her usefulness and ability to produce and consume goods, Christ gives us a radically different truth: The human person is made in the image and likeness of God, and has inherent dignity as a child of the Father. Teaching our children to know and be confident in their dignity is so important to their happiness and mental health.
But how can we help those we love to truly know their worth, when it feels like so many other voices are pressuring them otherwise? These three things can be a priority to get Christ’s message across.
1Teach them who they are and where they come from.
In our rootless and disconnected world, it’s easy for young people to feel adrift. The collective memory and wisdom of their heritage and local community do so much to help them feel connected and secure as they come of age.
There are three parts of their identity that help a child know that they are part of a community and have role models to look to: stories about their heritage and family history; strong local connections, such as church, school, and neighborhood friends; and their role as a cherished child of God.
This last one is the most important. I had the chance to chat with Catholic speaker and writer Leah Darrow about how parents can help their children know their worth, and she emphasized rooting our children’s identity in God’s loving fatherhood.
“It always will go back to three words: Father, Child, Love,” she said. “When we’re talking about how we can help young people know their worth or identity, you can’t just say, ‘You’re worthy! God loves you!’ You have to go back to the beginning of who you are and who God is, and the fact that God made us very good. It goes back to God’s fatherhood. I teach my children that God loves them and made them for a purpose.”
2Teach them to listen to the still, small voice inside.
There’s a passage from Scripture that captures so perfectly how to listen to God and know His will for us. The prophet Elijah has gone up the mountain to talk to God, but every time he thinks God is speaking, he turns out to be mistaken:
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. (1 Kings 19:11-12)
At last, when Elijah has ceased seeking a loud and showy sign, he finds what he is looking for: “a still, small voice” that speaks directly to his heart.
This story is an invaluable way to teach our children (and ourselves!) how to seek God’s will. We need to make space for silence. We need to clear away the noise and distractions. We need to push away the loud things of this world, so there is room in our souls for God to speak. And when He speaks, we need to have the courage to listen.
Darrow said, “Take a step back and ask, ‘What does God want from me?’ We need to be brave, and listen to God.”
Regularly making time and space to listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in our souls, and teaching our children to do the same, is the most important step to helping them realize their dignity.
3Learn to ignore voices that contradict God's call.
As parents, we hope that our children will not only listen to God’s voice in their souls but run toward and follow it. But if there’s one thing we know from reading about Christ and the saints, it’s that those who follow God’s call can expect to face obstacles.
In many cases, a great obstacle may be negative voices from those around us. Darrow described how easy it is to get sidetracked from our vocations because of cultural pressure:
We have been listening to the wrong track about who we are for a very long time with disastrous effects. We’ve been listening to people who don’t love us. We’ve let other people dream for us, decide our dignity for us, tell us what to believe. We have to stop. We have to start questioning why do we believe those things and accept those standards for ourselves? Look at what the people who love us want for us. Have I been living someone else’s plan for my life, outside of God? Have I taken what the culture tells me and pretended that’s what I want?
Part of this process is teaching our children critical thinking. Encourage them to notice and question the messages they’re receiving: Who benefits from us believing this advertisement or accepting this cultural script? Is this message designed to make us feel discontented? How much of what we’re hearing is an effort to sell us something?
Another part of the process is supporting them in choices that may be counter-cultural. Sometimes that may even include not pressuring them ourselves. We may think we know the right course of action for them, but what seems best to one may not be best for another. It may be hard to understand at times, but we have to trust their genuine, well-formed discernment in following God’s call.
To help our children stand with confidence in their unique dignity and immeasurable worth, we can encourage them to remember who they are, where they come from, and that the voice they should listen to most is that of God in their souls. They say “the shortest solution to any problem is the distance between your knees and the floor,” that is, dropping to our knees in prayer is the surest guide through life’s dilemmas. That’s the message we want them to carry always.
When they abundantly live as beloved children of an Almighty Father, there’s nothing they can’t do, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
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