It's a tough world out there for teenagers.
The pressures of adolescence have always been a difficult crucible for young people but today it seems easier to be victimized and a perpetrator of verbal violence. Parents have an increasingly difficult job in protecting their children from bullying and raising kids who respect the unique human dignity of all people. It's a difficult job.
But it's possible.
Raising your teen to respect other people begins with Scripture. Here are six foundational truths every parent must instill in their children when it comes to valuing others.
1. Every single human being is worthy of respect and dignity.
People don't have worth because they agree with us, they have worth because they are humans created in the image of God.
Christians don't always practice this well. Too often we think the rightness of our argument gives us license to denigrate the person with whom we disagree. We make our arguments cutting and personal. But when we do this, we are not just sinning against the other person; we are sinning against the Creator God who fashioned that person in His likeness (Jas. 3:9).
2. There is a way to exhibit both courage and civility.
Respecting someone is not the same as affirming everything he or she may believe. In the Book of 1 Peter, it says that followers of Christ should be "ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you ... with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
Our highly opinionated culture often confuses courage with incivility, but high volume does not equal bravery. Because our confidence is in the gospel, we don't have to resort to the personal or the petty.
3. The gospel not only shapes what we say, but how we say it.
There should be a distinct flavor in the way that Christians speak. Every argument, every conversation, every social media post should include grace.
In Colossians 4:6 it says "Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person."
4. Our judgements of others reflect our own fallenness.
One reason we sometimes disparage others and reduce them to less-than-human is because we've forgotten our own fallen state.
Romans 3 reminds us that everyone is a sinner fallen short of God's glory. That person with whom we disagree or the person who hurts us is no less a worthy recipient of God's saving mercy. This is why Romans 12:3 warns against thinking "of himself more highly than he should think." Pride is a gateway to verbal sin.
5. We demonstrate our love for God by loving others.
When Jesus called Peter back to ministry in John 21, how did He say that Peter could best express his love for Christ? By taking care of God's people.
There is no separation between love of God and love of neighbor. This has always been the way of the Master, from the Old Testament connection between the horizontal and the vertical (Ex. 20) to Jesus' call to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are naturally a narcissistic people, but the gospel calls us back again and again to care for our fellow man at least as much as we care about ourselves.
6. God cares about the way we treat our leaders.
1 Peter 2:17 says something interesting: "Honor the Emperor."
This was not a call to simply respect the public figure. The recipients of the letter—first-century Christians living in the Roman Empire—were commanded to honor their Roman overlords, particularly the rulers who would likely have them rounded up and killed.
So is it possible to honor ungodly rulers?
Only if you believe that the powers are "instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1), or if you believe in the sovereignty of God so strongly that your worldview is not shaken by the temporary power structures of man. So imagine how this command from Peter might shape the way we discuss our political leaders (especially those who frequently disappoint).
How might this impact the things we post online about the President or members of Congress? Or the way we speak about politics? No matter what the subject, we should embody the counter-cultural claims of our risen King.
Final Thoughts: Be Intentional at Home
How do we embed these foundational leadership truths in the hearts of our children? Sometimes we do this through intentional times of family worship where we connect the Word of God to the nitty-gritty of life.
The most important lessons will likely come as our kids watch the way we live out the gospel and the way we treat other human beings. Children will model in their own lives the lessons we are teaching them by our own behavior.
If we marginalize people groups, strip others of their human dignity with our words and tear down those with whom we disagree, we can't expect our children to do anything differently. However, if we faithfully display Christ-like love and respect, this kind of behavior will become instilled in the multiple generations after us.