Today, one could talk to 100 parents about things to talk to teens about and probably receive 100 topics, all well-meaning and appropriate. But there are five that seem to stand out that parents need to spend a bit more time on as their children grow up and especially when their children reach the teen ages: relationships, respect of self and others, learning, financial habits and values.
Perhaps one of the most challenging topics to discuss with anyone, particularly teens, is relationships. Relationships come in several sizes - personal, friendships, professional, sexual, spiritual and emotional. How teens handle these relationships can boost or damage oneself, sometimes over time or instantaneously.
While some people believe they are free to do whatever they want in relationships, a simple decision to lower personal standards or do things you wouldn't normally do can dictate a destructive path you never would have chosen. Relationships can help create happiness in your life or snuff out any happiness that might exist. While parents have had many experiences with relationships, their experiences sometimes don't matter to their teens. On the other hand, if teens would listen to their parents and others, their lives might be much easier. Often, though, teens must learn the hard way. But we know that teaching teens to develop healthy and uplifting relationships will create and establish more wholesome and solid relationships.
2. Respect of self and others
This is a topic that parents should begin teaching their children from a very young age. Granted, teaching respect of self and others is layered differently when your youngster is six rather than 13 or 14 or even older. In his book, "Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes," Gordon B. Hinckley, a highly respected religious leader, wrote, "Respect for self is the beginning of cultivating virtue in men and women."
Part of respecting oneself and others also hinges on understanding that you are the puppeteer of your own life. Letting people take advantage of you will not help you grow and progress. Part of any parental conversation has to hinge on helping teens understand who they are and why and that differences in others are mere differences. Seeing people for who they are and not being judgmental about them can enhance respect for self and for others.
Very few things are more important than helping your teens understand that learning, not just education, is important. As young people enter their teens, the questions emerge from all sides: What are you going to do when you grow up? Where are you going to college? What will you be studying? And a host of others. During the teen years is the time to explore options. Many junior and high schools are connecting with local community colleges and universities to develop "pathways," a year-by-year plan to help young people become better prepared for when they enter college.
Parents should encourage their teens to take advantage of field trips to colleges and businesses, volunteering assignments, internships, mentoring, and other opportunities to test the field. People who obtained postsecondary education make more money, live fuller and even longer lives and possess a sense of growth and personal awareness. Learning does not stop at high school graduation. Rather, it is a lifetime pursuit.
4. Financial habits
The world is in need of definite financial literacy. Parents can truly help their teens by instilling in them good financial literacy skills and habits. Talking to teens early about good financial habits will save them a ton of headaches later in their lives. In fact, it's never too early to begin talking financial management with your children. Start with a savings account when they are young and suggest that they save at least 50 percent or more of any earnings or money gifts they receive. Part of financial literacy is teaching teens the value of money. When they hit the teen years (maybe even before) take them to the bank and have your banker talk about accounts - savings, checking, etc. Putting young people on budgets is a good thing. Many youth begin early, earning or receiving some type of money, and they need direction. By teaching teens about the challenges with credit and the value of paying for things with cash and making payment on time will only strengthen their financial management.
Parents need to teach values to their teens. And there is a boatload: generosity, honesty, integrity, gratitude, respect, tolerance, faith, service, hard work, perseverance, consistency and the list goes on. These values and others should be taught from the beginning, but teens can more fully understand the importance of these in today's society. All around us and in the media, we hear of the deterioration of values. Parents can teach their teens that those who espouse a strong value system have better self-worth, develop respect for others, have a clearer vision of what they need to do, communicate more effectively, and develop stronger and healthy relationships. In essence, values are the bedrock upon which society thrives and progresses and grows.
Interestingly, in 1959 Northland College Principal John Tapene wrote the words of a judge who regularly saw youth in his courtroom: "The world does not owe you a living; you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent. . develop a backbone, not a wishbone... You are important, and you are needed."
While the judge's counsel is 55 years old, it is still judicious and wise counsel for parents to teach their teens. Often, it is necessary to be firm and bold but not overbearing. Both parents' and children's lives would be so much easier if they decide early in a child's life the most appropriate teachings and standards for their children and then stick with them. Granted, they can seek help from family, friends, teachers, clergy, etc. But, in the end, parents have the ultimate responsibility of teaching their children.