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Where Character Begins in Teens

There are few things in life that a Christian parent hopes for more than to pass on to their children the same principles and character values they live by.  But strong character isn’t automatic.  It takes a lot of intentional work by parents.  While physical traits are passed on from parents to children through their genes, character traits aren’t built into kids at birth.  And neither are they taught… they are most often “caught.”

Values don’t just appear when a teenager matures.  They come from the experiences each of us have in life and from observing those around us, especially our parents, who model them day in and day out in the way they live.

So, if we want our children to be compassionate, we need to model that by volunteering at the homeless shelter or giving money to the poor.  If we want them to be truthful, then we need to always tell the truth ourselves.  If we want them to be respectful to us, then we must show respect to them and to our own parents.

If you’re a parent, you’ve got to be the one out front leading the charge. If an important character value is lacking in your family, like that of respect, start with the only person you can readily change — yourself. Look for the cause and effect of your own example affecting your teenager’s lack of respect.  Jesus taught us to make sure we remove the log in our own eye before we attempt to remove a speck in someone else’s. So, begin by asking, “How am I showing disrespect to you or to others? Is there some way you feel I am disrespecting you?” Remember, kids watch what we do far more than they listen to what we say.

Here are some thoughts:

To Love God: Start at the beginning with God, who made you, knows you, and loves you. Without loving God with all your heart, no matter what else happens in life, nothing will be right.  If you have that part right, everything else in your life, even if it is wrong, will be alright.

To Put Family First: That means family comes before friends; family ideas hold more importance than the opinions of others; and your family values are the point of reference for how you will behave in all relationships.

To Work Hard: James says his mother set a good example for the entire family.   She raised a great family, ran a great home, and often encouraged her children to work hard for the things they wanted.  It taught the whole family the value of working hard.

To Always Tell the Truth: There is blessing, freedom, power, and health in relationships when everyone can trust each other. God said He is truth, and He loves truth.  Like any family, you can count on truth-telling to be tested, but it is the overriding value for how handling any situation.

To Be Kind: Showing kindness brings favor, it brings blessings. When there is a fork in the relational road, it is better to choose the road that is paved with kindness. And if you are always going to tell someone the truth –then be sure to be kind about it.

My good friend Dr. Tim Kimmel writes about teaching kids character in his book, Grace-Based Parenting. He lists six most character traits he deems most important: Faith, Integrity, Poise, Disciplines, Endurance, and Courage.

These are just some good examples of key character traits to prime the pump and get you started, but yours may be different.  So think this week about what traits you are trying to teach your family.  Limit your list to just a few, and be sure you are living them yourself before you try to teach them.  Then begin talking about them at every opportunity. Tell stories and do the kinds of activities with your family that will strengthen these traits.  That’s how real character is passed along.

Christ didn’t live and die just to offer us salvation.  He came to teach us character through demonstrating a lifestyle that pleases God. It is through His example that we can learn how to live, even if we’ve had really bad parents on this earth.  So, there’s no excuse for parents not to be a good example of strong character to their children.  It doesn’t mean we’ll always be perfect, for parents are human and we all make mistakes, but we need to be ready to ask forgiveness for our mistakes and set things straight when we’ve blown it. That’s an important character trait for children to learn as well.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.