How to help your teen think critically and build their faithWritten by Marc Fey
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"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).
The most important skill you can teach your teen is the renewing of his mind. The mistake many parents make is to try to renew their teen's mind for him. Renewing the mind is a day-to-day process of thinking Biblically.
The car commercial that promises significance through horsepower and luxury is presenting a "truth claim" that is counter to the truth claims of the Bible. The world is full of counterfeit truth claims, but you can teach your teen to live according to God's reality. When the mind is renewed, God's will and reality become clearer.
You may be thinking, But how do I teach my teen the skill of renewing the mind? To get started, you should first prepare your teen.
Begin by making sure your teen has the right set of expectations. Some people approach God's Word with the wrong set of expectations.
For example, does the Bible promise that if you follow all the commandments, you will have no struggles in life? Of course not. But it's not uncommon for a person to read the Bible with this kind of faulty expectation.
When your daughter opens the Bible, what should she expect? Teach her to look for who God is and what His world is really all about.
Next, help her understand that reading the Bible is having a conversation with God. As she reads, she can look for things that apply to her own circumstances and place in life.
The next step in helping your teen to renew their mind is to give them a Biblical perspective.
Put God's Word into the context of your teen's everyday life. Many parents make the mistake of assuming their teen's world is the same as their own world.
Start by looking closely at your teen's world. Walk in his shoes. Listen to the messages he gets when he walks into the classroom every day where a Biblical worldview is challenged.
Consider the effect of video games he plays or TV he watches. Your first challenge is to step back and evaluate the messages your son is getting throughout the day.
Next, help your son gain a Biblical perspective on these messages. Ask:
- "What did you hear today that would have sounded out of place at our dinner table?"
- "What are the promises that you heard on TV tonight? Are they true?"
- "What message does that video game convey?"
Speak about God's truth in contrast to the other messages. You might say: "The Bible says you and I are going to live forever, and we have a unique opportunity every day to do things that will last into eternity. What do you think we could do today that would last forever?" Or, "When God looks at you, what does He see?"
In addition to helping your teen gain a Biblical perspective, you should also teach them about spending personal time with God.
Personal time with God
Help your teen carve out regular, daily time with God to study the Bible and pray.
When I was a new Christian at the age of 17, a Young Life leader said to me, "If you read your Bible every day, God will tell you all kinds of things that will help you know how to live your life!" Boy, that got my attention.
Encourage (don't nag) your teen to commit to a specific time every day. Have him pick the time and spot.
In my own parenting, this challenge led my wife and me to talk with our 14-year-old son about cancelling all the video game time for the rest of the school year to make room in his life for prayer. Commitment takes sacrifice.
Here are other suggestions:
Start out small (perhaps 10 or 15 minutes to begin). Divide the time into three simple activities:
- Pray (ask God to speak through His Word and to give understanding)
- Reflect (ask "What did I just hear or learn about who God is and what His world is like?")
Learn the art of asking great questions. Jesus asked so many good questions. In fact, He often answered a question with a question!
Start by carving out time for you and your teen to talk. Engage your teen with life questions that apply directly to your teen's circumstances. For example, you might ask, "Have you ever read anything in the Bible that might apply to that?" or "Have you looked at Proverbs to see what God might have to say about that?"
What you can't do is ask a question that has an obvious answer or that implies you already know what the right answer is, kind of a "warmer, warmer" sort of hunt for the answer. Make the question a legitimate one so your son finds the answer on his own.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules. Recently, my son accompanied me on a business trip where we had a heart-to-heart talk. I was ready with life questions to get us talking. Before I started rattling off the questions, I asked God what He thought I should focus on. His answer surprised me: "Ask him what was his favourite part of the day."
Quality time with God's people
Learning from God's Word is a corporate activity. Your teen should learn from God's Word with other people, starting with you.
Listen to Dr. Dobson or another radio teacher on a regular basis, discuss Sunday's sermon at the dinner table on Tuesday or attend a family camp this summer.
Psychologists say your teen's peer group is important to his development as a person.
Find rich environments where your teen can learn from God's Word with his peer group. Often, that will be a Bible-focused youth group, but it also might be a Bible study you start in your home or a conference teens attend together. Continually evaluate the quality of the teaching and converse with your teen about what he is learning.
Quest for truth
Finally, in helping your teen to begin renewing their mind, emphasize the importance of the quest for truth.
Discovering what it means to live out our faith is a lifelong journey as we integrate what we believe with every area of life. God will be with us, which is the most important part of the quest.
Teach your teen that God desires to reveal His truth to us. God is personal. He talks to us all the time: through creation, through others and most clearly through His Word.
We can trust God's Word, expecting that He will do what He promises: speak to us, lead us, provide for us, give us everything we need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus.
Share your own quest with your teen so he knows the power of your story. Learning to think like a Christian requires renewing the mind. Teaching your teen how to do this and live according to God's will – and why that's important – might be the best gift you can give.
Marc Fey is director of Christian Worldview Outreach and The Truth Project.
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