Note from Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family: This week’s guest post is from Michele Cushatt, a well-known author, speaker, and coach — who is also a wife and mom of six.
A storyteller at heart, Michele inspires audiences with the warmth of her transparency and presence. Her unique style makes you feel like you just spent an afternoon with a good friend, sparking tears one moment and laughter the next. (Check out her awesome books, Undone and I Am.)
In this week’s post, she tackles the big question of how we, as parents, teach our kids to find their truest identity in the middle of the challenges of everyday life.
He came home from seventh grade on the verge of tears. Of course, he tried to cover it up, but I knew better, a superpower I like to call mom-vision. Thus I peppered him with questions until he finally caved:
Bullies. Two of them. It had been going on for a few weeks, he said. Taunting, public ridicule, blocking his way to the bus. Basically, middle school meanness.
In seconds, I morphed from concerned mama to raging bear. No one hurts my child! I grabbed my phone, ready to attack. My boy’s voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Don’t, Mom. I’ll take care of it. Please.”
Now, I know there are times when bullying needs to be confronted and stopped. But in this case my boy needed to deal with it himself. Because the biggest threat wasn’t two mean-spirited boys. The biggest threat was how my son saw himself. In the middle of all the taunting and teasing, he’d lost a sense of who he was. He needed a chance to stand up to them, to handle it without running away. And I needed to help him rediscover his identity.
It’s been years since that incident. My boy is now a confident, thriving adult. And I now have a new set of teens to raise. But I’ve learned something about bullies in all these years of parenting:
A teen’s identity is under attack by “bullies” every day. The details differ, but the pain is the same. A girlfriend breaks up. A best friend betrays the relationship. A failed test obliterates any chance for scholarship. A bad case of acne leaves a senior without a date to prom. A dumb mistake in a weak moment leaves a permanent record.
Regardless of the specifics, these challenges can shatter a teen’s identity into a million pieces. In those moments, our kids need more than conciliatory words or consequences.
They need to know who they are.
The Truth of what God says.
So how do you help your teen get grounded in who they are? How do you teach them to find their truest identity in the middle of the challenges of everyday life? Here are a few tips to get you started. But be warned: You’ll need to practice these skills, too.
CULTIVATE CURIOSITY. Much as a curator takes in the nuances of art, help your teen develop a sense of curiosity, appreciation and wonder about themselves. He is a creation of the Creator, a work of art. This involves slowing down and paying attention to like and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and characteristics. Remind him that living as God’s creation isn’t about proving and earning, but being. And then teach your teen to ENJOY being an uncommon expression of God’s creativity. After all, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:30)
EMBRACE YOUR STORY. Like a narrator to a movie, encourage your teen to take stock of their story. She can write it down in a journal or diagram it on a timeline. Better yet, make it a family activity. Catalogue the experiences, circumstances and people that have crafted each member’s story to date. Then share them together, with respect and kindness. This blending of honest self-awareness and deep compassion helps us see God’s hand through the timeline of our lives. “I have made you and I will carry you,” He reassures. We are not alone. (Isaiah 46:4)
OWN YOUR HUMANITY. I hate to break it to you, but your teen is flawed. So are you. In spite of our best efforts, we make mistakes. Big ones. Rather than allowing those mistakes to ignite conflict and separation, engage in an ongoing conversation about our core problem: Sin. We’re neck-deep in it, every one of us. The good news? Jesus came “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). Own your lostness, and then teach your teen to own it. Take responsibility, mete out consequences when necessary, apologize as needed, and then move on. Don’t let today’s failures become a lifetime of shame. It’s that hard. And that simple.
INVEST IN YOUR SOUL. The inner life isn’t optional; it’s essential. 1 Samuel 16:7 says “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Teach your teen that emotions and spirituality are as much a part of the self as height and hair color. A life is built from the inside out, not the other way around. That means, although it’s important to do homework and take care of your appearance, it’s also important to pray. To read the Bible. To enlist the expertise of a counselor when needed. Don’t just correct your teen’s behavior; engage with their heart. Create space for feelings and talk about their struggles. If you don’t care for their soul, they won’t either.
CULTIVATE SAFE RELATIONSHIPS. No, Snapchat and Facebook don’t count. Fun, yes. But not enough. Teach your teen how to develop trusted relationships, the kind of friends who understand authenticity and integrity, who know how to keep confidences and encourage growth. Healthy relationships are mutual, reciprocal and trustworthy. They are comfortable with both setting and respecting boundaries. The best place to practice this? In your home. Model it. Then, after learning skills within the safety of your family, your teen will be better able to practice this in their world.
Remember: Identity isn’t built; it’s received. As Jeremiah 31:3 says, God has “loved you with an everlasting love.” It’s a gift given by the Creator to His beloved creation. You. And your teen.
What wisdom and advice would you add to what Michele has shared today? Please comment below with your thoughts! We’d love to hear from you!