Do you remember the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out”? It was a popular churchy phrase I heard a lot as a teenager. It was a catchy way of saying that what we allow into our hearts will overflow into our life in good or bad ways. We are all susceptible to this problem. We don’t outgrow it. It just looks different when we are children, teenagers, young adults, and then adults.
Teenagers are bombarded junk and lies. They buy into the lies that they need to have a “thigh gap” to be hot or that the “right” clothes = confidence. As adults we too struggle with Satan’s lies. But oftentimes, we must protect our hearts against the sneaky sins of greed, lust, envy, insecurity, and bitterness.
I had to fight off many of these temptations when we moved to Phoenix. Being a simple Midwest girl, the young professional drive to find the perfect career caught me off guard. It made me question the origin of my value. My self-identity and self-worth plummeted because I felt like I failed to live up to this expectation and lifestyle. Both Mitch and I made mistakes adjusting to this new environment. We allowed ourselves to temporarily give into the “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality of needing a new car, updating to smart phones, eating out more, and generally living above our means. Thankfully, God gave us a wake up call that helped us rid our lives of this greed and get back on track. Enter Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. It was the kick in the butt we needed. No more paying what he calls “Stupid Tax”.
I wish I could say that we are perfect now, but we are not. We still struggle to fight off envy and bitterness. They are dangerous sins to let take root, and they require us being proactive. It is easier in the long run to proactively protect your yard from weeds before they spring up. Trust me. We have weeds that our weed killer failed to kill, and now we must pull them . . .
The decisions teenager’s developing brains impulsively make can change the course of their lives in positive or negative ways. As we learn to monitor what we allow into our hearts, we can help empower the teenagers in our life to do the same.
Four Ways to Empower Teens to Protect Their Hearts:
1. Affirm truth in their life.
Teenagers need to hear affirmation of truth to counteract all the lies they hear from magazine covers, TV, the internet, and peers. As a parent or adult in their life, tell them you are proud of them and WHY. Affirm that they are beautiful or handsome, just the way God made them. Praise them when you see them display a good character quality. Even if they don’t show it, your affirmation means a lot to them. Many adults are still seeking the approval and affirmation of their parents. Don’t make your teens search for it. If verbal affirmation is not natural to you, Buck Up and Deal (BUAD). Just for the record, I am mostly talking to myself. My verbal skills are often lacking, yet I have a husband with a love language of affirmation, teenagers in our youth group who need their worth affirmed, and a daughter on the way. So, the BUAD was mostly directed at me . . .
2. Teach them to filter.
You cannot protect your teen from all the filth around them. (Hello half-naked woman on the billboard on the freeway.) But you can talk to them about the importance of filtering what music they listen to, what websites they spend time exploring, what TV shows they watch, and the friends that they allow to influence them. These are not easy conversations. Expect a lot of pushback. Also, don’t go into these conversations with your guns blazing. Make sure you listen and allow it to be a two-way discussion. That being said, don’t be afraid to set physical boundaries: internet filters, no phones at night, and removed or limited access to channels like HBO and MTV.
3. Meditate on scripture as a family.
If you are doing family Bible studies, great! You are surrounding your children with God’s word and His truth. If you are not, consider starting. If nothing else, read a small section of scripture each week, talk about it as a family, and write it somewhere so it can serve as a visible reminder. We use our whiteboard for this purpose. Proverbs 4:23 was a verse we read together this morning. It jumped out at both of us. We discussed it, wrote it on our white board, and I took time throughout my day to reflect on it.
4. Model how to protect your heart.
1-3 are for naught if you don’t protect your own heart. What does it do to a teenager’s world when they discover that their dad secretly looks at porn or their mom is reading Fifty Shades of Grey? What about the TV shows you watch? What messages are they allowing into your home and your heart? Imagine what a teenager would gain from a mother or father who spends time in God’s word, displays love and consideration for their spouse, and prioritizes their family above trashy TV shows. Don’t allow hypocrisy to gain a foothold in your heart. If you do, it will communicate conflicting messages that can damage your teens’ spiritual walk with God.
For more information, here are some resources Mitch and I have either read already, or just bought so we can read and use with the youth group:
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How do you protect your heart? How do you help the teenagers in your life to guard their hearts?