Youth leaders and parents of teens realize that pornography, sex and drugs are no longer reserved for the “bad crowd. These behaviors are now seen as normal in youth culture. Our youth are faced with compromising decisions on a daily basis and it’s important to identify risk factors and address dangerous trends as soon as possible.

Knowing whether or not your child is in trouble, or is in risk of getting in trouble, is often like trying to chart the depths of an iceberg. We get so caught up in trying to correct the surface issues, which often present themselves as behavioral challenges, that we lose sight of what is going on beneath. It is only when we can stop, dig deep and get to the heart of the problem that we will ever see true and lasting change occur.

Here are some ways to pay attention, be intentional and lovingly address dangerous behaviors.

Know the warning signs. Some indicators that a youth might be engaging in dangerous behaviors include: losing interest in activities that used to be important to them, new friends who are vastly different from previous ones, vague answers, repeatedly and conveniently losing his or her phone, change in eating habits and sleep patterns, unusual odors on clothes, extreme mood swings, consistent negative attitude, argumentative or highly defensive, and missing valuables from the home. Every child and situation is different, but do not use that as a reason to not follow your instincts or warning signs.

Keep an open dialogue. Start conversations by asking open-ended questions. These questions cannot be answered with a “yes or “no and allow children to give spontaneous and honest answers.

Affirm his or her worth, courage and the challenges they face. Affirming statements like “I know how hard this is for you, “You showed a lot of courage, “I am proud of you and “I love you show understanding and appreciation for positive efforts and who they are as a person. These demonstrate you are paying attention when they are making progress and that you don’t expect perfection. 

Foster a safe environment. Teens often look outside their parents for identity and acceptance. By creating a judgment-free environment, parents and youth leaders can navigate this development process without labeling teens as rebellious. Teens need parents and mentors to lovingly affirm their strengths. This helps encourage youth to pursue their talents and interests and develop a healthy self-image.

Steering teens in the right direction can be extremely difficult. It is never too late, however, to be the positive voice in your teens’ lives.

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