by Joe White, Larry Weeden
Is your teen on the track to a meaningful future? Are you finding out what a joy it can be to help make the most of how God has wired him or her?
Many of us want to help our teens dream big, fulfilling, God-honouring dreams. But how do we do that?
The first step is to understand the great experiment known as your teen. In all of human history, there’s never been another person with your teen’s exact mix of God-given personality, talents, interests and spiritual gifts. As the two of you get to know that unique wiring, you’ll start to see which kinds of dreams might make a good fit.
Your Teen’s Basic ‘Wiring’
Here are some questions you can use anytime to find out how God has wired your young person:
- “What really drives you?”
- “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had helping someone else?”
- “What dreams do you think God has given you?”
- “What can you do that most people can’t?”
- “What ability would you most like to develop? Why?”
- “If God hired you for a summer job, what would you hope it would be? Why?”
And this one from Doug Fields, a youth pastor: “If you could design a specific way to serve God and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you do?”
Remember that your purpose is to listen and learn, to better understand and appreciate your teen’s uniqueness. This is not the time for lectures and advice. Figuratively speaking, you need to have big ears and a small mouth, tough skin and a tender heart.
Another way to learn by questioning is to talk with others in your teen’s life: teachers, youth group leaders, coaches, school counselors, Scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents of close friends. Ask what they’ve observed about your child’s likes and dislikes, interests and passions, abilities and aptitudes.
Often these people will confirm your own observations. Sometimes, though, they’ll describe a side of your teen that you hadn’t noticed — or offer an insight you’d overlooked.
Your Teen’s Interests and Passions
Here’s a way to help your teen pinpoint his or her interests and natural abilities. It’s based on
“The Vision Quest,” a tool developed by Tim Sanford, a counselor at Focus on the Family who works with a lot of young people.
Give your teen these instructions:
On a piece of paper, list the things you’ve done since the fourth grade. We’re talking about academics, sports, social events, the arts, student government, hobbies, interaction with family and friends, personal adventures, youth activities, socials, special events, camps, worship, leadership, volunteer work, mission trips, “helping out,” clubs, service projects, job duties, volunteer or assigned tasks, and chores.
You don’t have to compile your whole list at once. Allow two or three weeks, adding to it as new memories come to mind. If you don’t know whether to include something in the list, go ahead and put it down anyway.
Now give each activity a “positive” or a “negative” rating. How did it turn out? How did it affect you?
After several days, pull your worksheet out and think again about the events to which you gave a negative value. Look for patterns. For example, if events connected with mechanical things (fixing the car, building something, helping with props at the school play) consistently ended in disaster, you’re probably not the mechanical type.
Now move to the positive side of the worksheet. Ask yourself the questions below as you look over those events.
- “Is there a pattern or anything these events have in common?”
- “Are some of the activities things I’d like to pursue more?”
- “How can I begin doing more of these kinds of activities?”
- “What kinds of qualities, talents, character traits and skills do these activities require?”
- “Do I have some of those qualities and traits?”
- “Are any circumstances or events missing from my worksheet? If so, what are they, and why might they be missing?”
- “Are there any activities I’ve never done before, but I’d like to try?”
Adapted from Wired by God: Empowering Your Teen for a Life of Passion and Purpose by Joe White with Larry Weeden, Copyright © 2004, Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.