I used this “bag of tricks” for developing maturity in my classrooms and with my daughter; these strategies were my heaviest artillery when she reached adolescence.
The bottom line of this strategy is that you remove yourself (or the child’s siblings) out of the formula and pit an adolescent against himself or herself, describing what happens to them as a result of their unproductive behavior. It is their life. This removes any wall against which they might find it delicious to rebel. It simply isn’t there to fight against.
Point 1: Help adolescents switch from having role models which they have admired to becoming role models themselves.
At some point you say to your adolescent, “You have had several people who were like Mary Poppins in your life [or Mother Teresa, Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler, or anyone they know whom they regard as special or extraordinary], and now is the moment in your life, that if you are ever going to become like Mary Poppins to others you must work at fashioning yourself so. This doesn’t just happen; there is work involved, habits to be formed, gathering yourself into a personhood that you want to live with for the rest of your life, one that you want to present to the public.
“You had a caring mother and/or dad, a can-do positive teacher, a cheerful aunt/uncle; you have read about Clara Barton/Albert Schweitzer’s total life of nursing/doctoring sacrifice. Now you must become a person who could be the best mom/dad in the entire neighborhood, a caring godmother [or male role model] to a neighbor’s child or a relative’s child, a delightful tutor or instructor, an upbeat entrepreneur who can motivate others, etc. If you want to become the First Lady at the White House [for example], start preparing and overseeing elaborate dinners for international students now, while still in your parents’ home. You will not someday simply morph into someone of greatness…you move there step by step.
“Now is the time to practice being this sort of person…yes, right here in ho-hum, cantankerous life. You don’t just wake up a different person some morning. If you don’t deliberately practice becoming a person of greatness in the daily normal interchanges of life that present themselves to you now, you will slump back into a default position much like your present grouchy moment, and stay there through the rest of your life.”
Point 2: Develop in them a heightened awareness of social consequences.
Next, you constantly draw attention to acquaintances or store clerks who were wonderful to be around…and you ask your adolescent afterwards, “Now, what made that person so wonderful; what were the character qualities? Wouldn’t it be fun to become like that to others?!!! “
Ask your adolescent, “Whom, specifically, do you really admire?” and then ask why. After you’ve been around a particularly obnoxious person, ask your son or daughter to observe what happened socially—how everyone slithered away and didn’t want to have a thing to do with that one. Or talk about what happens to a highly talkative person who uses up all the oxygen in a conversation. Once you’ve pointed out the character flaw, teach your child to return to loving that difficult person…because that person needs to experience love, too, and something in their background made them that way. But be sure your child takes note of the social consequences of poor behavior. It is always easier to see cause and effect in someone else’s life.
Point 3: Dwindling time to change.
Take your adolescent to an old people’s home and observe behaviors. You may see a crotchety old man and a so-sweet-and-seasoned elderly man, both at age 90. Point out that these men didn’t just suddenly turn this way. The grumpy old man is simply the result of all his previous attitudes, social choices and personal habits. His facial expressions, tone of voice and sulking began as a teenager. Conversely, the sweet old man didn’t just suddenly wake up refined. He had to aspire to it with all of his vital energy, each day making choices to put on the better, more uplifting behavior.
Discuss the fact that someday very soon the growing mounting evidence one way or the other begins to shape his own reputation, the net effect of which he cannot undo. (Read Ezekiel 18:20; the whole chapter applies.) Reputations become like concrete: they are very, very difficult to change once they have built a little momentum. Time runs out to make these first impressions, everywhere. You gradually move into making second and third impressions.
Now is the time to strongly establish some mental pictures of outstanding individuals in your adolescents’ frontal lobes. These are the people they have aspired to emulate – role models they often think about. The absolute best role model to refer them to, of course, is their infinitely patient and ultimately sacrificial, meek and lowly Savior. Helping an adolescent establish a habit of daily devotions will do wonders for character development, especially daily reading of Proverbs (read the Proverbs chapter of the day; i.e., Proverbs chapter 12 on the 12th day of the month). It is a fact that the more one lingers in front of the LORD, the more one becomes like Him.
Point 4: You hurt only your own reputation.
Pit your adolescent against himself. Forget the use of phrases like “You are driving ME crazy.” Say instead, “You are spreading a large reputation one way or the other about yourself, that will eventually only help or hurt you. Even siblings tell outsiders, `Oh, yes, she’s my sister and she’s the absolute best.’”
In many cases an adolescent (who is, typically, focused inwardly while trying to figure out and establish just who or she is) isn’t even aware of exactly what image he or she is presenting to the big wide world. Mention that it is not when we are on dress parade that people watch; it is, instead, the off-handed expressions that are marked. People observe you, even from afar, or even just from hearing about you from others. A dorm mother, a visiting professor, the cafeteria clerk, a member of a civic group who observes your behavior from the side… all manner of people you casually interface with are forming impressions of you in your off moments, that could have huge consequences either negatively or positively for you in areas you cannot see now.
Mention that “You never know when someone else is evaluating your present behavior, either to put in a good word for you about a highly competitive job offer or someone’s dynamite marriageable son/daughter. It is important that you be aware of the growth of your own reputation, for your own sake. Your parents cannot do this for you. It is your life that you are shaping. We already shaped our own. Now it is your story.”
Point 5: Judiciously monitor their recreational reading choices throughout all of their development. This will help shape their adolescence greatly, when the time arrives.
Rebellion issues diminish greatly if you stuff children’s heads continuously with character-trait-developing reading materials for their recreational reading at all times. All the McGuffey readers from second grade on up can be read every day until all six volumes are completed. This is what established such great character in Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, shaping an American culture of hard work, self denial, etc. Perhaps you could borrow them free through interlibrary loan. An older child could read them aloud to the younger children and get double whammies out of it. Other good material includes the Uncle Arthur [Maxwell]’s Bible Story series and his character trait bedtime stories (sometimes we see these books at a thrift store) and all of YWAM’S missionary biographies. If children’s heads are continually filled with only the best (with a solid foundation of daily time in the Word)...and no movies…the excursions into rebellion dry up. The gains and glorious outcomes of all these stories cement the fact that rebellion or acting up isn’t worth it and has no gains.
Perhaps you already have used some strategies from this bag of tricks, but a timely re-use of them at a rare golden moment of a “heart to heart” talk with an adolescent could be life-changing.