This is the second part in a series excerpted from my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.
During the teen years, affirmation and approval are crucial. Your young man wants to know, Do I have what it takes? Am I becoming a man in your eyes? Your young woman wants to know, Am I lovely? Am I precious? Am I worthy of pursuit? You must be your child’s best cheerleader. Think about it: if you’re not cheering on your teen, who is? He or she needs your “way to go” and “I’m so proud of you” more than you know. Too many parents major on critique and forget to cheer.
Words carry incredible power. In her book Living History, Hillary Rodham Clinton noted she’s never forgotten the time she brought home a straight-A report card from high school. She proudly showed it to her dad, hoping for a word of commendation. Instead, he said, “Well, you must be attending an easy school.” Decades later, that offhand remark still burns in Mrs. Clinton’s mind.
His thoughtless response might have represented nothing more than a casual quip, but it created a point of pain that has endured to this day.
Be sure to affirm your teen in both words and deeds. I heard Michael Reagan, adopted son of former president Ronald Reagan, talk about this in a radio interview.
We were all sent to boarding school. The Crosby kids, the Hope kids, and all of us went to boarding school. So at five and a half years old, I’d be dropped off at boarding school and come home every other weekend.
That was a terrible thing for me. I was saying to myself, “Why doesn’t my family want me? Why are the other kids being picked up every day and going home to eat dinner with their mothers and their dads and I’m not?”
I started to feel bad about myself. I thought there was something inherently wrong with me.
I began to keep secrets from my parents and not talk to them because I felt, “You didn’t want to talk to me, so I’m not going to talk back.”
Michael Reagan made this concluding observation: “Every child needs affirmation—male, female, it doesn’t matter—we all need to be affirmed. If the parents aren’t there to affirm the child, somebody else will pick up the reins and affirm that child.”
Remember, if you aren’t your teen’s cheerleader, he or she will look for affirmation elsewhere. For a young woman, it could be the warm embrace of some guy you probably don’t know. When he whispers sweet nothings in her ear, telling her that she’s the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen, that she’s so special, we shouldn’t be surprised when she becomes putty in his arms—even to the point of giving him her virginity. She wants romance and affirmation, while he wants sex. In her mind, being affirmed is worth even that.
A young man living without affirmation will seek it elsewhere too—usually from other guys. Teens looking for affirmation can find it, in its worst manifestation, in gangs that search for willing recruits in all shapes and sizes.
Gangs are equal opportunity employers, drawing in disenfranchised kids and reaching into middle-class neighborhoods. Boys from single-parent households are especially vulnerable because they’re seeking the male approval they’re not currently experiencing.
Young males craving affirmation can also find it from a group of guys—a “set” or a “posse”—who aren’t selling drugs, painting graffiti, or settling turf battles. This group of guys chooses to hang out together (usually at a friend’s house whose parents are never home) because they receive approval and affirmation from each other. These kids sometimes get into drugs or drinking, but they could also be drawn to each other by a mutual fascination for violent video games. If your teen boy is asking to hang out with his friends every free moment, that’s a good sign he’s finding love and affirmation more outside than inside your home.
It takes time, effort, and opportunity to be your teen’s cheerleader. You have to take the moments as they come. I witnessed such a moment not long ago when I walked through a large department store with Barb. She was shopping, and I was people watching—one of my favorite hobbies. I saw a tall, gangly African-American teen boy walking behind a woman I assumed was his mom.
“Adrian,” I overheard her say, “when you grow up you’ll make a fantastic husband for some very lucky young woman. I’m so proud of what you are becoming.”
She kept walking and talking. I have no idea what stimulated her to affirm her teen in this way, but I wish you could have seen her young man’s face. He literally glowed. She had given him an incredible gift of affirmation.
It’s amazing what just a sentence or a few words from us can mean in a teen’s life. Remember how Hillary Clinton never forgot a dismissive comment from her father. Here are some cheers every parent can use:
- Have I told you recently how glad I am that you’re my son [daughter]?
- Way to go!
- I can’t believe how well you did on that test!
- Thanks for being nice to that girl in your youth group.
- I’m really glad you’re trying out for the team.
- What a nice job you did cleaning up your room.
- Good job on your schoolwork. You’re working hard.
- You’re growing up to be so handsome!
- You’re growing up to be so beautiful!
- God surely has someone special waiting for you.
- Look at those muscles! You are one strong boy!
- I’m impressed with your character.
- I prayed for you this morning, and I thanked God for you.
- We’re so blessed God gave you to us to nurture.
- ❖ You’re the most honest kid, really.
- ❖ Keep on doing a great job!
The bottom line is that you need to look for occasions when you can be your teen’s best cheerleader. Become an expert at affirming and approving him or her. I can’t stress enough how important your support is in helping your teens become highly healthy young adults who are prepared to go out into the world and become everything their Creator designed them to be.
To learn more, you can read these other posts:
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 1
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 2
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 3
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 4
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 5
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 6
- The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 7
Here are three other posts that may be helpful in nurturing highly, healthy teens: