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How to Raise Generous Teenagers

Christian parents can help root their children to live a life of thankfulness.

Teenagers are on the lookout for an identity. When you help establish one at home, you are offering them an option of who they can be.

Generosity is a weighty topic. It is so significant that Randy Alcorn, author of The Treasure Principle, says that 15 percent of everything Jesus said during His ministry was related to money and possessions; more than what Jesus said about heaven and hell combined.

Indeed, Jesus consistently exhorts His followers to leave all they have and seek Him. He issues strong warnings to those who lay up treasures for themselves, and takes special notice when a widow gives despite her poverty.

Concerns about possessions are not limited to the New Testament. Rather than trusting God to provide, ancient Israelites stored excessive manna that became full of "worms and smelled" (Ex. 16:20). Despite an abundance of wisdom and power, Solomon's heart turned after other gods (1 Kings 11:4). Proverbs 15:27 cautions believers, "The one who profits dishonestly troubles his household."

Christians Struggle with Generosity

Despite all that Christians have been taught about generosity, we continue to struggle with giving. According to a 2013 research report, the United States Church gave at Depression Era record lows during 2011. And financial benevolence is not the only thing lacking. As adults and teenagers become busier and overcommitted, less time is given to sharing life with others. In fact, the average American parent spends less than an hour engaged in meaningful conversation with his or her own child each week. To make matters more complicated, adolescence is a season marked by developmental narcissism.

Psychologists have even given this matter a name: the "personal fable" in which teenagers believe they are the focus of everyone's attention and are unlike anyone else. How can we ever cultivate a heart of generosity in our teens? Parents, you have a challenging task before you.

The temptation for some parents will be to guilt teens into sharing with others. It might also be to angrily remind them that they are selfish. This will leave you both frustrated and tired. My suggestion for raising generous teenagers is to root them in story, gratitude, and compassion. Then encourage them to long for more.

1. Root Them in Story

Consider developing a family narrative of God's faithfulness. Teenagers are on the lookout for an identity. When you help establish one at home, you are offering them an option of who they can be. Gather around the dinner table, require that phones and iPods be put away, and share stories where you have tasted provision from God. What are stories from your life in which what was meant for evil, God turned into good? What about as a family unit? What of God's presence have you seen in the lives of your children?

The more we can know about the Lord's scriptural narrative and how His redemption interweaves with our lives, the more we are able to move outside of ourselves and enter into the glory of Kingdom work. When this is a part of consistent discourse, identities and hopes are formed. Language changes. We have the opportunity to proclaim that even when we struggle with living generously, we are a family of Jesus lovers who want to give because of what Christ has done for us.

2. Root Them in Gratitude

Family stories will lead us in gratitude. When we know the goodness, trustworthiness, and kindness of God, we give. Think of the times in your life when you felt generous. Not guilty, trying to make up for something you did, not afraid of God punishing you if you didn't give, not manipulated with pity, but cheerfully, thankfully moved to give of yourself or your possessions to another.

Chances are those times were the ones in which you tasted grace, gentleness, or provision from the Lord. This is one of those better "caught than taught" moments parents can share with their teenagers. You don't even have to do this perfectly. When you openly model giving from gratitude over guilt and from trust rather than (or despite) anxiety, they are watching. They will respect consistency and honesty.

Modeling is crucial to this process. Children are often mirrors to their parents. Pray for the humility to be able to see what you've conveyed to your child because of how you live. Examine your own heart. What governs how you give? Are the reasons behind your generosity more related to obligation than thankfulness? Do your teenagers hear you offering prayers of thanks for God's gifts?

3. Root Them in Compassion

As you share stories of God's faithfulness and model grateful, mindful living, compassion will become an outward expression of generosity. Because you have acknowledged and honored family stories in which you know what it's like to experience God's love, you will be able to offer that to others. Make compassion a part of your family's daily rhythm. Volunteer as a family. Invite others into your home. Adopt a missionary to pray for and send care packages to. Send your kids on trips to see that the world is full of people other than who they encounter at their schools. Talk with them about what pain they may observe in their own friends.

Contrary as it may seem, my last suggestion is to pray that your teens want more. Something in our wonderful design as image bearers of God tugs on our hearts, whispering that we were meant for something else. How we try to fill our ache for God with things and accomplishments! Our teenagers see messages every day that dull their desires for glory with the lie that if I just had _____, then I will be happy and my life will be fulfilled, rather than communicating with them the ultimate joy for which we were created.

Your teenager may not take to this right away. Expecting all of your efforts to work instantly is futile. It is guaranteed that he or she will not do this perfectly. Neither will you. May you have the grace to see deep longing within them as you continue to gently point them to the One who is worthy of all of our possessions and gifts. And in a few years, may you see the bountiful fruit of your labor.

The article is courtesy of Parenting Teens.

Jessica Gemeinhart is the director of Children and Families at Red Mountain Church in Birmingham, Ala. She works as a licensed counselor with individuals and families in Florida and Idaho. Jessica loves redemption, her husband's beard, and saving room for dessert.