Set Your Teen Up for a Life Of Virtue

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In the style of Dorothy Sayers, I write this post to help parents raise their teenagers to be virtuous adults. While my kids are younger, I was once a teen myself. Furthermore, I teach eighth and ninth grades, which means I am around teenagers a lot.

Still, I find myself lower in degree of experience of those who are tasked with educating the teens who are their own children. However, I share this post with the hopes of helping them raise their children by adding a few thoughts that have come to me. I hope the teens themselves can even read this to inspire and lead them to grow into the happy young men and women they are meant to be.

We can see that the teenage years are a good time to work on building good habits of virtue. It is easier at this time because teens are not yet “stuck in their ways” and the sooner you start living a life of virtue, the more heartaches, stress, and other problems that come from vice can be avoided. It is also obvious to see that a man or woman of virtue will always be happier and who does not want to be happy?

I wrote this with the hope that a parent could read it, or give it to their teen to read. There is a lot to be said about virtue and how we can practice them. These are simply a few areas in which a teenager today can work in order to set himself or herself up for success in the virtuous life.

Ideas to Help Teens be Successful

1. Discipline

A harsh connotation indeed, this is not the same as being sent to the principal’s office after one has found trouble. This is the strengthening of the will to help one to avoid the bad and do the good. Essentially, this is like always living as if it is Lent. By saying no to a few good things for certain periods of time, you make it easier to say no to the bad things. One could put this into practice by, say, choosing one item a week to give up (to say no to). It can be longer or shorter of course. If you want to break a habit, 40 days is a good length to give something up in order to push it out of your life. This will build the virtue of temperance.

2. Do acts of charity

This could be anything from helping with a canned food drive to going on a full blown summer mission trip. Giving yourself opportunities to give of yourself will have a profound impact on your growth and development into solid young adults. The Vatican II document, Guadium et Spes, said it first, “The human being, who is the only creature that God willed for itself, cannot attain its full identity except through a disinterested gift of self.” By giving of yourself for a good cause, you will be able to find your identity. I even recommend that you be able to take greater ownership and play some role in the leadership of these opportunities or help in the planning of it in some way. Personally, I have always found that in works of charity, especially with a Mission Trip, you always receive much more than you give.

3. Practice gratitude

Sometimes, it is hard to see the good in some moments. Especially for a teenager who is at a big moment of growth and awakening in life, emotions can be hard to deal with. This can be helped if one is always looking for reasons to be thankful. In a way, this is like always looking on the bright side, however, we really do not have to go to that great of an extent to be grateful. Our very life is a gift! The simple fact that we exist with our unique, unrepeatable, never before seen combinations of characteristics, qualities, talents, thoughts, and abilities is amazing! No one has ever spoken with your voice or loved with your love. Those are yours to give to the world that the world could never know without you. Be grateful for everything each day. You will be happier for it.

4. Obey your parents

Ha! If only it were that easy. But seriously, in any group or team it is best to have certain people in charge of the majority, like a coach or a boss. This is the same for your family. While you might know more about the technology in your house, your parents are much better experienced and suited to take care of you and to call the shots. What’s more, God wants the human family to be united together. This can only happen with the kids choosing to do what their parents want them to do. The parents are then called to do what God wants them to do. In this way, God will be able to unite all families to Himself. At first it might seem hard, but wait, the peace and joy that comes from listening to your parents will come. They know what they are talking about.  And if you’re worried about other kids not following their parents, maybe they need a friend like you to show them the good things that come when a kid listens to his or her mom and dad.

5. Stay busy

Keeping yourself busy will help you build good habits and will also help you to avoid bad habits. This in turn will also keep you out of trouble. The nineteenth century Italian teacher, St. John Bosco, gives this advice when he says, “…[d]o you want to outwit the devil? Never let him catch you idle. Work, study, pray, and you will be surely overcome your spiritual enemy.” While schoolwork is important, this can include non-academic activities as well. Do not think that building virtue means you can never do what you love. God gives us certain skills and desires for a reason. There is a lot of good that a young man and woman can do out there. Do it! “…but avoid sin like the plague.” (St. John Bosco)

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