Even though a sense of belonging starts within the family and then essentially transfers over to same aged friends, the parent/teen relationship continues to be very significant. Research by George Barna indicated that today's youth actually say they value their parents' and family members' opinions more than their peers. In fact, 78 percent of teens polled said their parents had a lot of influence over their thinking, behaving, and spiritual development - more than friends, church, or school leaders. In this uncertain time of transition, every expression of concern you show for your teenager reinforces the security of his place within the family.
Ultimately, God desires that our teens learn to transfer their desires for belonging and approval onto Him. Romans 12:2 instructs us to not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Until such a transformation occurs, parents are to be God's image to their teens. You can do this by actively taking interest in their interests, interacting with them consistently, accepting and trusting them, and affirming their worth and abilities.
In his book Adolescence Isn't Terminal: It Just Feels Like It! (2002), Kevin Lehman discusses how a teen who doesn't sense her parents' interest becomes overly dependent on her peers' approval. If she felt accepted and connected to her family, she wouldn't have a psychological reason to engage in deviant behavior. If your teens feel like they fit into your family, they won't be as apt to want to fit in with what's popular.
Positive Peer Pressure
Not all peer pressure is negative. The difference between negative and positive peer pressure is all in the outcome. Second Chronicles 24 tells the story of Joash, who remained obedient to God as long as he had positive influences around him. Your teen's behavior is up to his own free will, but whom he spends time with will affect what he's willing to do. And his family relationships will affect whom he chooses as friends.
Positive peer pressure goes both ways, too. A confident, self-assured teenager is going to have an influence on those around her. This is one reason self-esteem and belonging within the family are so important. It not only helps your teenager resist negative influences, but it also causes her to become a positive influence too. When a teen knows what she believes, she'll act on it and talk about it. This is a tremendous opportunity to introduce your teenager to sharing her faith with her friends.
Encourage a Strong Christian Influencer
It's never too late to start building a relationship with your teen that's positive and nurturing. Even if your teen doesn't act like he wants one with you, it's the cry of his heart for acceptance by you, approval from you, and intimacy with you. Through your relationship you can help him feel deeply loved. That love makes him strong and confident in who he is. Here are some important ways to ensure that your influence is greater than your teen's peers.
1. Be a cheerleader for your teen.
Even when your teen's behavior doesn't meet your approval, affirm her as a person. Tell her you love her and believe in her. Remind her of her character and personality traits that you believe in.
2. Pay attention, really!
Make quality time to spend together. Make his interests your interests. Find out the difference between an onside kick and a penalty shot. Listen to him. Draw him out by saying, "Tell me more about that," and asking, "What did you like most about that?"
3. Encourage self-awareness.
Teens sometimes experiment because they don't know what they believe or they haven't been exposed to the idea before. Educate your teens about relevant topics: sex, the reality of drugs, alcohol, and addiction. Help your teens form their own opinions by explaining how and why you formed yours. Problem solving and opinion forming will build self-confidence. Help your teen develop an escape plan in the face of pressures.
4. Invest in their strengths.
Help your teen investigate his strengths and encourage him. Provide him opportunities to try new experiences with you. Finding success will bring a sense of competency.
5. Nurture spirituality.
A lot of teens are suspicious of traditional religion. Help them see God is about relationships. Memorize Scriptures together such as 1 Corinthians 15:11, 33. Set an outward example by living a spiritually-disciplined life. The story in Daniel 1 can be a powerful example for your teen. Daniel and his teen friends were kidnapped and told to deny their God and nation. Show your teens how they can stand together for their beliefs and influence a nation for God.
6. Create an environment of trust.
Show trust by letting your teen have new experiences, but also hold him accountable to endure the consequences of any unwise decisions.
Encourage your teens to be influential in their friends' lives and not to be influenced.