Friendships are some of the most powerful influences in life, because friends greatly impact a person’s development and decisions. Scripture instructs us with these words: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).
As you challenge the teens in your life to form good friendships, remember the two keys to motivation: a desire for gain and a fear of loss. Help teens discern what they will gain through wise friends and what they will lose if they choose foolish friends. Challenge them to seek after God’s blessing and His best in friendships. But before you are able to effectively counsel your teen, you need to have the kind of relationship that will cause his or her heart to be more open to your heart. You first must gain a hearing with the teen you want to motivate.
Preparing the Heart to Hear
Be a friend.
Teens want to feel special, singled out, accepted, and individual. They need love, affirmation, and attention. By extending the gift of friendship to a teen, you’re expressing an interest in him, and your investment gains a hearing in his life. Talk to him about his interests and share about your own life. As you become a friend to your teens, you will not only gain their hearts, but you will gain their ear as well. They will be more likely to hear your counsel if they are assured you love and accept them unconditionally.
Demonstrate sincerity and genuine love.
Teens recognize and respond to sincerity, but they quickly see and react to insincerity and hypocrisy. In their search for authentic friends, they evaluate attitudes and actions by the honesty, transparency, and genuine love (personal sacrifice) involved in the situation. Be an example to them of the type of friend that you want them to seek. If they do not have this kind of sincere, loving relationship with you, they will search for these qualities in others and often be led to those who seem to be sincere and loving but do not have your teen’s best interest at heart.
Be true to your word.
People, especially children and youth, have an amazing ability to remember promises. They will expect you to keep your promises to them, and they can easily become disillusioned if you do not fulfill them. Be careful that you don’t make promises that you cannot keep. If you do speak hastily and are unable to fulfill a promise, talk to them about it and ask for their forgiveness for raising false hopes. Periodically, ask if you have not yet followed through on any promises you made. If bitterness is allowed to fester unchecked and unresolved, your teen will close his heart to your counsel, and he may begin to make his friendship choices independently of your desires and input.
Do not hastily react to a teen’s verbal abuse, anger, rejection, or foolishness. Do not lose your temper. Teens who reject authority usually justify themselves when their authorities become angry or irritated. Remember that you are not wrestling against “. . . flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Ask God to rebuke the principalities of the enemy in the name and through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; then show genuine love in the face of a teen’s negative reaction. As you learn to patiently resolve conflicts with your teen, he will recognize your unconditional love and grow to respect your wisdom when there are opportunities to influence him in the area of friendships.
Guiding the Heart Toward Wise Choices
Once you sense you have the relationship with the teen that he will hear your counsel, seek to motivate him in choosing wise friends by discussing with him the following topics.
Discuss the power of influence.
The people that we spend time with and share our hearts and lives with greatly impact us. Their interests, values, and priorities deeply influence us. Memorize these verses together and discuss their meaning: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go” (Proverbs 22:24), and “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).
Explain the levels of friendship.
Talk about the four levels of friendship—acquaintance, casual friendship, close friendship, and intimate friendship. Explain that at each level, relationships take on responsibilities and freedoms that are appropriate to the depth of the friendship. Discuss the qualities and characteristics that a teen should look for in close friends. Challenge him to evaluate his current friendships and discern if they are good companions and if his relationships are maintained at appropriate levels.
Warn about the dangers of immorality.
Read the accounts of Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba. Discuss how these stories confirm this warning: “. . . Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Then study the first seven chapters of Proverbs and list the warnings of the devastating consequences of immorality. Evidence of immorality should warn us of a dangerous friendship.
Do a study of fools in Proverbs and of the various Hebrew words behind the English word fool. Learn to identify five types of fools: the simple fool, the silly fool, the sensual fool, the scorning fool, and the steadfast fool. Talk about attitudes and actions that indicate foolishness. Ask the teen which foolish characteristics he sees in himself. Explain that the way to grow in wisdom is to fear the Lord. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
Learn from Godly Christians of the past.
One way to walk with the wise is to read the biographies of such heroes of the faith as Hudson Taylor, George Müller, Adoniram Judson, Fanny Crosby, David Brainerd, George Whitefield, and others. Share what you have learned from your favorite biographies and encourage the teen to learn from the testimonies of faithful Christians.
Challenge the teen to initiate and maintain wise friendships with those who will strengthen him in his faith, help him to grow in wisdom, and encourage him to live his life for the glory of God. The rewards of such friendships will last throughout a lifetime! “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1–3).