The teenage years often seem to be all about fitting in; being one of the gang. Rosalind Brown, UFM’s TCK Coordinator, considers some practical tips for helping children of mission workers navigate this time in their lives.

During their early years, you as parents were the primary influence on your children’s lives and could filter and monitor your children’s relationship with peers, but as they mature, there are more and more situations where they are building relationships on their own.  It is also the time when your teenager begins to establish a sense of identity and belonging that is separate from the family and they become more aware of how they are defined by others.

What does this have to do with TCKs?

Sometimes TCKs are missing key ingredients towards establishing an identity – their histories are distinctly different from and unrelated to their peers.  Their family values may seem to be a long way away from those around them.  TCKs are often different from their parents in more ways than most other adolescents.  They have probably grown up in a different culture than that of their parents and have roots in several places.

Added to this, you as a parent may have different expectations for your teenagers than local Christians do for theirs. It can feel as though you are navigating unknown territory with no one to follow.

Peer pressure can be positive or negative

The teenage years are a time when your children have big pressures to face and choices to make. Peer pressure is actually not just a teenage issue, although it is in these years that we become most acutely aware of it, probably for the first time. Neither is it always a negative issue, as wise teenagers can have a very positive impact on their peers. (Proverbs 13:20)

The negative side of peer pressure is the one we are most concerned about and is that pressure to do something that they know is wrong, or makes them feel uncomfortable.  Teens have different ways of responding to negative peer pressure, from trying their best to blend into the crowd, to trying to do and say things to gain acceptance with the group.

What are the symptoms of negative peer pressure?

• Anxiety before group gatherings
• Talking about how others are treating him or her, and relational concerns
• Willingness to make compromises to fit in
• Defensiveness when you try to speak about the issue
• Increased use/checking of social media
• Lack of enthusiasm for spiritual things

In the Bible it is called ‘the fear of man’ and happens when we give the people around us more power than they ought to have over us. Proverbs 29:25 says the fear of man will prove to be a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Other passages that deal with the fear of man are Psalm 146:3-4 and Isaiah 51:7-8. Putting one’s trust in the wrong place is not just a teenage failing, but is a heart issue common to all. If we search for our identity, meaning, purpose and security in people rather than in God, we become focussed on what people think of us and fearful of not fitting in or pleasing them.

The only lasting solution to the fear of man is the fear of God. Fearing God means that God is your ultimate treasure and the one you live for (Psalm 34:8-14)

We recognise that only God can change the heart, but we can help our teenagers navigate these turbulent years.

What can a parent do to help?

Allow for independence to grow within healthy boundaries

Try to give your teenager opportunities to develop independence and learn self-regulation. For example, making phone calls, managing money, travelling, allowing them to experience the results of their decision making.

Identify consistent boundaries for your family, things that are never OK, as distinct from locational boundaries, things that you can or can’t do in your particular area that might be purely cultural.

Help teens to find a strong sense of their own identity

Encourage them to think through what they believe and what is important to them, bearing in mind that for the Christian, their identity in Christ is central.

Discuss with your teenager what they are good at, what they are not good at, how they like to be treated, and what their particular personality traits are. What are their identity anchors that don’t change no matter where in the world they are? Encourage them to develop skills and hobbies that they can do anywhere. A clear sense of identity is key to resisting peer pressure.

Encourage healthy relationships

Use the identity anchors to help them build healthy friendships e.g. through church youth groups, sports, or clubs.

It is a good idea for a teenager to have at least two supportive adult relationships in their lives apart from parents; trusted individuals who are willing to spend some time investing in your teenager.  This is especially important if your wider family lives far away, and reminds them that they are valued and have adults in their lives they can trust, as well as parents.

At times of transition, try to facilitate an overlap between virtual friendships in the last place while making physical friendships in the new location, even though the virtual may fade as the physical ones increase.

TCKs can feel drawn to the fringes of society – to groups that will accept them just as they are.  If teenagers are clear on who they are, they are less likely to find unhealthy groups.

(CCEF book, ‘Peer Pressure’ listed below has some practical advice on building healthy relationships.)

Encourage healthy coping skills

Rhythmic activities such as exercise, listening to music or walking are all good for de-stressing, as are reading, art, adventure, laughter etc. Programme in times when your family will have fun together and cultivate skills and hobbies that they enjoy.

Unhealthy coping strategies are those that numb or distract or isolate in order to avoid dealing with hard situations. They often involve technology, where peer pressure can feel very strong, so moderation is important.

Keep the lines of communication open

Resist the temptation to lecture your teen and don’t overreact to his or her friendships – it is very easy to make sweeping generalizations that really hurt and damage relationships.

Encourage a culture in your home where anything can be talked about.  Be prepared to talk when your teenagers are open to it, even if that is late at night!  Some teenagers find it easier to open up when side by side rather than face to face, so create situations where that can happen, e.g. on a walk or drive or shared activity.

Help your teenager to know that they don’t have to choose between a good relationship with you, the parent, and their friends.  Try to make your home a great place for teenagers to bring their friends.

Practical advice for your teenager

Help them plan a good strategy for dealing with tricky situations with their peers. You could give them some principles like these:
• Identify whether the peer pressure is good or bad. If it might get them in trouble it is usually bad!
• Have an exit strategy to escape from a bad situation – for example a text message you have agreed together that will be code for ‘please phone me and tell me you have to pick me up early!’
• Remind them that, deep down, some peers may be very relieved someone said ‘no’ and be glad to follow along. They will respect someone who is courageous enough to go against the flow, even if they don’t show it in a group situation.
• Encourage them to choose friends with whom they can be themselves

Remind your teenagers that God knows and cares about every detail

• Help your teenager to understand that you too are often swayed by the opinions of others more than is right, and talk about how God has helped you with this struggle.
• Help your teen to see that God is acquainted with every detail of their life and every longing of their heart Psalm 139:1-3 and show them how you turn to God in your hard times.
• Trust God to change the heart by praying intentionally and leaving this burden with him.

We want our teenagers to understand that their life is not an appendix stapled to their parents’ ministry. God is intimately acquainted with every detail of their life and every longing of their heart. He sees them, loves them and has special plans just for them (Psalm 139:1-3).

They are not a carriage in the train of their parents’ life. Picture instead the parallel sides of a railroad track. Imagine that one side represents God’s plan for their parents and the other side represents His plan for them. God’s plans for each of them are unique, yet in His infinite sovereignty, He is able to weave these plans together so that they move in the same direction. There will come a day when those tracks diverge. But before that time, as they move in line with you as their parents, they are in the very centre of God’s plan for them.

Resources

Resources for teenagers

What do you think of me? Why do I care? Answers to the Big Questions of Life by Ed Welch
Hiding in the Hallway: Anchoring Yourself as an MK by Jeanne Harrison
When mistakes make you quake (CBT style book)

For teenage or pre-teen girls

How to be a Bible beauty by Catherine Mackenzie
Lies Girls believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Dannah Gresh & Nancy de Moss Wolgemuth

Podcasts

UncommonTEEN: The Podcast for Christian Teen Girls

Resources for parents of teenagers

Resources from CCEF
Peer Pressure (small book)
https://www.ccef.org/teens-and-body-image/
https://www.ccef.org/what-success-parenting-teens/

Parenting For Faith
https://parentingforfaith.org/topics/teenagers
https://parentingforfaith.org/post/three-cs-teen (Three C’s of spiritually preparing your teen)

• Books
When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch
A Mom’s Guide to Lies Girls Believe by Dannah Gresh
Teenagers: Biblical Wisdom for Parents by Ann Benton
Ten Mistakes Parents Make with Teenagers (and How to Avoid Them)
Live Love Now by Rachel Macy Stafford

 

Rosalind Brown is TCK Coordinator at UFM Worldwide