When I was growing up there were a number of influential voices in my life: my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, a few neighbors, Happy Days, The Love Boat, you get the idea. If I had to, I could probably count the voices of influence on a few hands. And yet, for the most part, they were all coming from the same value base (with possibly the exception of The Love Boat). There wasn’t a whole lot of conflicting information in the voices influencing my life.
Things have changed. Today there is a barrage of voices from media to the internet, advertising to music, video games to pop culture. An overwhelming number of opinions and values are trying to influence us on many levels. As adults we can usually sift through the information, balance it with our own value system, wants, and needs, take what is relevant and toss out the rest. For adolescents, however, this process is much more complicated.
Adolescents are in their most formative stage and they are desperate to understand the mysteries of life. It is normal and expected behavior for kids to be looking for answers to things that still elude them. Life’s mysteries about relationships, spirituality, sexuality, chemical use, and so on, are at the forefront of their minds 24/7/365. As they look for information to solve life’s mysteries, the voices can be misguiding and troubling.
More than ever it is critical that we as parents and caregivers of youth are the loudest and most prevalent voice our kids hear. Communicate frequently and with boosted volume your value system and beliefs. Look for every opportunity to communicate your values. Watch for opportunities in news stories, in life events, and advertising, to communicate clearly what you believe to them. Lead them into the Scriptures through family devotion and prayer. Surround them, as often as possible, with people who live and communicate the values to which you adhere. Whenever possible let them see and hear what you think is important.
In addition to that, try minimize the number of external voices in the lives of your children and teens. The best way to do this is to put boundaries on screen time: video games, television, texting, and all internet access regardless of device (computer, phone, IPod, etc). The U.S.D.A. recommends just 45 minutes per day. Also, minimize the amount of unsupervised time your kids have this summer, and make sacred family time where those outside voices are muted. Maximize family activity time, faith building time, walks in the woods, car rides, and meals and so forth.
In this culture of many voices, we need to be aware and proactive in order for our values to come out on top.
I’d like to hear from you! What are some creative ways you are learning to communicate your values to your teens?
Kari Lyn is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works primarily with Adolescents and their families around the issues they are struggling with.