I heard a tale the other day that is especially applicable to today’s teenagers. Indulge me a moment, for it’s worth hearing:
There once lived a bird and a fox. Naturally, the bird stayed up in her tree to avoid the fox’s fangs. One day, the fox made an offer to the bird. “Just give me one feather and when you wake up in the morning, a worm will be waiting for you.” The bird didn’t see the harm, so she went along with the deal. Sure enough, the next morning, a juicy worm was laid out for her dining pleasure. The fox said, “I’ll continue to provide you a delicious worm for a feather,” and the bird didn’t see the harm, so each day she exchanged a feather for a worm. Until one day when she descended the tree, enjoyed her meal, and faced the fox’s fangs. To her dismay, she found that she was unable to fly away, as she had given away all her feathers, and the fox proceeded to enjoy his own delicious meal.
Our teenagers face similar offers and temptations on a daily basis. I’ll just give in on this one little thing – no harm done – and I’ll be able to get this one big thing in return. I see it all the time, whether in academics or in their social world – they sacrifice a bit of themselves, their integrity, their honesty, their belief systems, their parental guidance – to get something that seems to come so easily, something they’d be insane to pass up.
They cheat, because studying and plodding through a multi-step process is difficult and tedious. They lie, because telling the truth would be difficult or even painful. They do drugs, because being accepted in that moment is way easier than standing individually apart from the crowd. They have indiscriminate sex, because that momentary indulgence is more satisfying – and socially acceptable – than holding out until it’s right. And yes, they hurt themselves in big and small ways because they’re thinking only of the short-term, not the long-term implications.
As parents, one of your primary responsibilities is to teach your kids not to give up their feathers for worms. Your kids should always know their bottom line. They should know where their family stands on the various issues and life circumstances they will encounter. It should be a regular topic of discussion in your home, and they should feel comfortable coming to you with questions and struggles they are facing. Their Christian beliefs will certainly strengthen their resolve but won’t stop them from facing temptations and having to make difficult decisions they’re not quite equipped to make at this age.
Your teens need to know that they have the power of their parents behind their morals, ethics, and beliefs. When they can’t summon the strength to stand up for what is right, they should be able to go to you for a recharge. You are not their cool friend who tells them to do whatever they think is best and you’ll support them one way or the other. You are their parents, their role models, their touchstones. You’re supposed to teach them right from wrong, even if they balk… especially if they balk because that’s when they need you the most.
Yes, it’s exhausting to parent well, and you will make countless mistakes before your kids ever reach the age of adulthood. But if you remain true to your convictions, it’s much more likely your kids will too. If you refuse to sacrifice yourself to societal pressures, your kids will be inclined to follow your lead. If you teach work ethic and the value of perseverance, your kids will also experience the thrill of truly earning something worthwhile. Your role model status cannot be overstated here – parents are the two biggest influencers in their kids’ lives, and you must not only tell them but show them that doing what’s right in the long term is so much more satisfying than taking the easy way out.
Teach your kids that despite what society says, working hard to make your own way and letting go of the desire for instant gratification will give them the feathers to fly.
Dr. Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). She is a mom of two who has a doctorate in education and 20 years’ experience as a teacher of thousands of teens. Rebecca lives in Sugar Land, TX, and works at Fort Bend Christian Academy. She has her own freelance writing business, and her blog, A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers, can be found at rebeccadeurlein.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. For public speaking events or more information, go to rebeccadeurlein.com.