“Doing unto others as you've seen done unto you!”
Changing the “Golden Rule” ever so slightly, illustrates a powerful aspect of learning. As a matter of fact, the word “seen” can have a major impact upon the development of your teenager's values concerning love, sex and marriage. A young teen learned this lesson one day while at school.
A ninth-grade teacher was giving her pupils a lesson in logic. “Here is the situation,” she said. “A man is standing up in a boat in the middle of a river, fishing. He loses his balance, falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. His wife hears the commotion, knows he can't swim, and runs down to the bank. Why do you think she ran to the bank?”
A female student raised her hand and said, “To draw out all of his savings?”
The girl's comment might have been humorous if it wasn't for the fact that her parents were in the middle of a heated divorce. Imagine the kinds of messages she has been learning by watching her parents battle each other. What values about love, commitment and marriage are being formulated in her young, impressionable mind? As her careful eyes are watching, will she “do unto her husband as seen done unto her father?” No wonder she came up with that answer.
HOW YOUR MARRIAGE CAN IMPACT YOUR TEENAGER'S RELATIONAL VALUES
A teenager's values of love and marriage is impacted by his parent's relationship through modeling. Learning by watching other people's behaviors is an important part of our lives. Attitudes, habits and standards are borrowed from others with whom we identify, such as our parents. This includes many of the things we do within our marital relationship. Have you ever thought, “I can't believe I just did that–my father did that to my mother and it drove me crazy!”
Scripture makes very clear this generational influence, “Visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exod. 34:7). Furthermore, research studies confirm this generational pattern. According to Dr. Conway Hunter, in the book, The Courage to Change, nine out of ten times the daughter of an alcoholic father will marry an alcoholic. Finally, Edward Teyber, in the book, Helping Children Cope with Divorce, found that children from broken homes reported that in their marital relationships they experience greater difficulty with trust, loyalties, security, and conflict than did children from intact families. The most staggering statistic was from researcher Larry Bumpass, who found that divorce rates were as much as 50% higher for children who grew up in divorced families than for children raised in intact families.
Based on the Scriptures and on the research, it's obvious that parents have an important role in teaching children about love, commitment and marriage. So what can we do as parents to pass on the positive characteristics of love to our teenagers?
THE SECRETS OF AN EFFECTIVE MODEL
The first aspect of an effective model is to decide what qualities you want your teenagers to learn. Do you want your teen to place God at the head of their future relationship? Perhaps you feel honor or learning to become a servant is important. Whatever the quality, imagine what you son or daughter would look like if they possessed that trait. Imagining this provides an accurate picture so you'll know when they possess the trait. This also allows you to determine the specific ways your marriage reflects the same characteristics and values. Ask yourself: “What does my teenager observe when he looks at my life and relationship?
The second way to become an effective model is best illustrated by something that happened in Texas, when a city slicker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. “How can you now claim to have all these injuries?” asked the insurance company's lawyer. “According to the police report, at the time you said were not hurt.”
“Look,” replied the city slicker. “I was lying on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The next thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me and asks, ‘Are you okay?'”
The lesson the city slicker learned is the second aspect of becoming an effective model: Your children need to see the consequences of your behavior–positive or negative. This is important because it indicates what your teenager may receive for imitating you. For example, I remember watching my parents affirm their love and commitment to each other on a regular basis. My father even hung a plaque in the hallway of our home which read, “In assurance of my lifelong commitment. To Norma, Kari, Greg and Mike. Christmas 1976.” The consequences my father received for making this commitment were extremely positive. As a child, I felt very safe and secure that my parents were going to stay together because I could see their commitment hanging on the wall. As a result of my parent's behavior, not a day goes by that I don't remind my wife and daughter of my love for them.
As you strive to be an effective model for your children, I encourage you to get involved in a small group with other parents who share your desire. Small groups are a powerful source of support because they not only provide accountability, but also encouragement and the perspectives of others. In Ecclesiastes 4:10-12, King Solomon recognized the importance of friends when he wrote, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpower, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Berman, C. (1991). Adult children of divorce speak out. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kalmuss, D. (1984). The intergenerational transmission of marital aggression, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 46, 11-19.