Institute in Basic Life Principles

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What are my teenager's basic needs?

Basic Needs of Today’s Youth
equipping parents to love their teenagers

Many parents and their children, especially their teenagers, are angry, frustrated, confused, and hopeless. Youth often ask, “Why don’t you trust me?” Actually, the issue is not so much a lack of trust, but rather a lack of understanding. The more that parents understand their son or daughter, the more their son or daughter will trust them; the reverse is also true. Parents and teenagers must work together to communicate and understand one another.

Today’s youth have several basic needs. As a parent, your understanding of these needs will help you realize what is taking place in your teenager’s heart and mind. Your awareness of these thoughts and emotions will equip you to love your child with wisdom, compassion, discernment, sensitivity, and faith.

The Need for Acceptance, Praise, and Approval

Most young people do not accept all of their unchangeables—the things about themselves over which they have absolutely no control. They assume that others do not accept them either, and their fears are confirmed when classmates, neighbors, or siblings make fun of them or mock their unchangeable features. To protect themselves from further pain and rejection, teenagers often withdraw or react in self-defense.

Accept Your Child

As a parent, it is critical for you to accept your child’s unchangeable features. God is responsible for our unchangeables, such as gender, birth order, and mental capacity. It’s important for your teenager to know how much God loves him and values him, and it’s important for your teenager to realize that God uses unchangeables (including “defects”) to develop Godly character and equip us to minister to others. Understanding these concepts brings value to our unchangeables, because we begin to understand God’s purpose for our design. Do your best to communicate acceptance to your child.

Speak Words of Praise

Teenagers long for praise, and usually they follow the ones who praise them. If you do not praise your teenager, he will conclude that he cannot please you, and eventually he will give up trying to do so. A young person who is not praised at home will be drawn to others who do praise him, and he will become loyal to them.

To effectively praise your child, look for specific situations in which he demonstrates Godly character. This requires daily attentiveness and alertness on your part.

Praise is not based on achievement but rather on the character that produced the achievement. For example, when praising your child for getting a good grade on his history report, praise him for the diligence and responsibility he demonstrated as he worked hard on the assignment and willingly invested the time and energy required to do an excellent job.

Praise is not based on unchangeables, because your son or daughter is not responsible for them. Thus, it would be unwise to say, “I am so proud of you because of your beautiful blue eyes; you are the loveliest girl in our church.” Instead, commend your child for his or her obedience or gentleness or determination. For example, “I am so proud of you because of the gentle way that you helped Tommy at church this morning. You were sensitive to his frustration and quickly and discreetly offered to help him. I was blessed by your initiative.”

Express Approval of Your Child

Approval involves the recognition of, and delight in, your child, especially when he makes wise choices. Just as it is important to accept your child’s unchangeables and praise your child’s character, it is important to express approval of your child’s words, actions, and attitudes.

When your child makes an unwise request, if you simply say “no,” your child will most likely quickly respond with “why?” It is also likely that whatever reason you offer will be challenged. So, instead of saying no, explain that you want him to make wise decisions. Invite him to think of two or three reasons why his request may not be a wise one. This approach can help you avoid debate and argument about the merits of a choice and instead put you and your child on the same side of a discussion.

The Need for Instruction and Protection

Provide Instruction

Scripture uses the word simple to describe a child who is not given proper instruction. (See Proverbs 7:7, 27:12, and 8:5.) He is vulnerable to harmful influences. Teach your child to fear the Lord and instruct him about life and Godliness. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

In the Book of Proverbs, five types of fools are described: a simple fool, silly fool, sensual fool, scorning fool, and steadfast fool. Learn the attributes of these types of fools and teach your child to reject foolishness and seek wisdom.

Beware of Needs for Protection

Obviously, your child physically needs protection from harmful substances and dangerous situations. A need that is not so obvious is the need to guard your child from damaging influence by his peers. Instruct your child to discern situations when he may need to stand alone and decline to participate in harmful activities. Ask the Lord to make you alert to situations in which your child is being exposed to destructive influences, and remove your child from those situations.

The Need to Have a Clear Conscience

When a person becomes a Christian, he gains a pure conscience through the blood of Christ. However, a good, or clear, conscience toward God and man is necessary as well. (See Acts 24:16.) A clear conscience is one that is not troubled or distressed by guilt.

Be Alert to Signs of Alienation

Many teenagers are guilty of hidden failures, but they are too ashamed or too fearful to tell their parents about them. Consequently, they “put up a wall” between themselves and their parents, in an effort to keep the failures hidden. When you sense your child pulling away from you, it is easy to dismiss it as “a stage he’s going through.”

In the meantime, the teenager does share his secret failures with his close friends, as long as they agree to keep the secret hidden too, thus creating a bond between them. Unfortunately, the bond between these friends can become stronger than your child’s bond with you, his parent. As long as secrecy is maintained, the parent-child relationship will suffer. The buildup of tension can lead to feelings of alienation.

Keep well informed about all of your child’s friendships, including his association with others through church-, work-, or school-related situations. You also should learn about any secret failures that your child has experienced.

Properly sharing your own struggles with issues such as pride, greed, and lust can create an opportunity to ask appropriate questions about your child’s struggles. Be considerate of your child, and do not ask him personal questions in front of a group or without asking his permission first. Make sure he knows that he can share his struggles with you and that you will respectfully offer support, encouragement, and accountability to him.

Appeal to Your Child’s Conscience

To learn about his secret failures, it is best to appeal to his conscience rather than his mind, will, or emotions. You can appeal to his conscience with precise questions that your son or daughter gives you permission to ask.

For example, in a private setting, begin by asking your child, “May I ask you some personal questions?” If he says you may, then say, “You don’t need to answer them, but if you do, will you be honest?” If you are free to continue your questioning, at this point it is appropriate to ask specific questions, such as “Have you ever been involved with . . . ?”

Teach Your Child to Ask for Forgiveness

If your teenager confesses any actions that have damaged others, lead him through steps of asking for forgiveness and making restitution, if necessary. The purpose of exposing wrongdoing is not to embarrass your child but to help him establish a close relationship with God so that he can become free from the bondage of guilt.

The Need for Moral Purity

It is vital to teach your child the need for personal purity and self-control. One aspect of this training is to teach him how to recognize and avoid evil influences. As he learns to identify and reject evil, he can avoid the natural progression of moral impurity.

Be Attentive to Your Child’s Moral Needs

If you discern that your teenager is experiencing guilt and the resulting frustrations, seek God about addressing the situation and leading your child to confess failures and seek forgiveness and restoration. Again, be sensitive about asking personal questions, and make time to have a private conversation about moral issues.

Confess and forsake any sins in your own life, allowing God to free you of any hindrances to helping your child discover freedom. Ask God to bind Satan over the situation and to free your child from bondage to sin. Follow the direction of the Holy Spirit as you meet with your child.

Can the Bondage of Immorality Be Broken?

Yes, through the power of God, this bondage can be broken. God’s power is available to all who humble themselves before Him, acknowledge their sin, repent of it, and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Spirit of God can teach and guide the believer. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

The Word of God is both an offensive and defensive weapon against sin. Teach your child to love God’s Word—to read it faithfully, to memorize it, to meditate on it, and to apply it in his life. (See Psalm 119:9-11 and Ephesians 6:10-18.)

The Need to Understand Pain and Forgiveness

If you sense that something is bothering your teenager, take whatever time is needed to communicate with him. Your child wants to know that you have a listening heart as well as a listening ear—that you will not belittle him but instead will offer comfort and wise counsel. Speak with your child privately, and ask questions such as these:

  • Is there anything about your appearance that you wish could be changed?
  • Are there promises that we have made to you that have not been fulfilled?
  • Have you ever been falsely accused or wrongly disciplined?
  • How do your siblings irritate or offend you?
  • Have you been offended or hurt by friends or classmates?
  • What things about yourself, our family, or the future do you fear most?
  • What has been the most painful experience you have had so far?
Teach Your Child to Respond Wisely to Rejection

Rejection does not need to be a disabling experience. In fact, rejection can be a basis for building character. A wise, understanding response to rejection is one of the key factors to building successful relationships with others.

Explain that a person who has been rejected should first evaluate his own motives, thoughts, and actions. The following questions can serve as excellent tools in that evaluation:

  • Are there things in my life that are offensive to others?
    (The best way to answer this question is to ask friends this question directly.)
  • Have I said or done things that have damaged or offended others?
    (If so, confess and forsake those sins, and seek forgiveness.)
  • Have I rejected others in the same way that I am being rejected?
    (Ask the Lord to give you a discerning spirit to identify others who have felt rejected. Ask Him to show you ways to love them in His name.)
  • What specific character qualities can be developed through rejection?
    (Examples: Compassion, kindness, self-control, patience, wisdom, etc.)
  • Have I rejected God as others have rejected me?
    (This is the most important question to ask.)
Lead Your Child to Forgive Others

As hurts and offenses are revealed, help your child choose to forgive. If guilt and blame are not resolved quickly, the guilt will turn into anger, wrath, and bitterness. These sinful responses will lead to damaging ideas and conclusions that will become strongholds from which Satan can take your child captive through tormentors such as despair and lust.

If destructive emotions continue, they will affect your child’s physical health as well, causing problems such as hormonal imbalance, headaches, and high blood pressure. Dealing merely with these outward manifestations will not bring lasting solutions. The initial cause of your child’s anger must be identified and resolved; then he can experience freedom and peace. Help your child see the offense from a Biblical perspective, and exhort him to forgive his offenders. (See Mark 11:25-26, Luke 17:3-4, and Matthew 18:1-35.)

The Need to Be a Giver

By virtue of their needs, children begin life as “takers,” because they are totally dependent on their parents. As part of the process of maturity, a child should learn to experience the joy and fulfillment of being a giver.

A true spirit of unselfish giving begins when a child receives the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God gives him the ability to deny selfish motives and learn to give with the motive of genuine love, expecting nothing in return. Teach your child the joy of giving to others, and give him opportunities to give generously of his time, talents, and resources. (See Matthew 6:1-4.)

The Need for Purpose in Life

Your child needs to establish life goals and make wise decisions. A Godly foundation can be established in his life as he answers these three questions satisfactorily: Where did I come from? (origin), Why am I here? (purpose), and Where am I going? (destiny).

As your child identifies his purpose in life, he should be motivated to choose right priorities and make wise decisions. As he identifies, develops, and uses the gifts and talents God has given him, he can fulfill God’s purpose for his life, which will bring great fulfillment and joy.

Seek the Guidance and Blessing of God

Proverbs 22:6 says, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” As you understand the needs of a teenager and accept your God-given responsibility to train your child in Godliness, you will be blessed and your child will be blessed. Ask the Lord to guide you and be merciful to you as you parent your child, “being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you [and your children] will perform [fulfill completely] it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

For Further Study

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