Does your teenager feel useful? Needed? Indispensable? In this awkward age of hormones and bad hair days, many parents see their teens as barely bearable, let alone vital to the success of the world. Kids need to feel needed, and it is a parent’s job to help them find their way to usefulness.
A newspaper article from a couple of years ago puts it this way:
“Always we hear the cry from teenagers, ‘What can we do, where can we go?’ My answer is, go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons, and after you’ve finished, read a book.
“Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun. The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in poverty or sick and lonely again. In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person.
“You are important, and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you.”
While most people would agree it is good for towns to have recreational opportunities and parents to plan fun activities, the message of this clip speaks to a generation of parents who find themselves raising children who spend much of their time in a media-created reality that does nothing for their sense of worth as a vital part of their family and their community. Parents can fight against this trend by capitalizing on teens’ growing ability to think abstractly and envision things that aren’t yet a reality. Their developing brains are alive with ideas of what should be and they start to see the world’s problems with new eyes. Harness that emerging idealism and help them identify ways they can make the world a better place. A kid who spends an hour helping at an animal shelter, visiting terminal patients in the hospital, or raking an elderly neighbor’s leaves comes away with a healthy dose of earned respect and a big helping of self-esteem that can survive the fragile world of teenage opinions.