How to Motivate Teenagers to Live Upright Consistently

I spend a good bit of my time around teenagers. At times it is to deliver a message on good choices at youth groups, and middle or high schools. At other times it has been in my capacity as a youth athletic coach. Sometimes, as it was a few weeks ago, it is just to "hang out" or "chill." From my youthful days I believe the word has now evolved to chillax, chillmatic, chillin, chillaxing, and more from the original "relax".

Have you figured out how to motivate your pre-teen or teenager to live upright consistently? A variety of studies point to the profitable involvement of parents and other ancestral family relations. Those relationships provide great stability in life. Framing the life of your teenager to desire leaving a powerful legacy empowers them to take personal ownership for their actions. It also elevates their level of maturity and personal responsibility. Legacy transfers family values and systems which allow parents and children to live moral and productive lives.

I watched a college basketball game with a few 15-year old boys a couple of weeks ago. We decided to grab a bite after. As our conversation flowed I was struck by their frequent use of the phrase "our generation." It appeared to be a clue of an expression frequently used about them in dialog by authority figures in their lives. To be exact, one such reference was "Adults believe our generation is more about recreational drug use than concrete choices."

As such, I thought it curious to ask this question to the teenagers. What do you want your legacy to be ten to twenty years from now? I received answers like professional sports, fireman and paramedic, optometrist, navy or navy seal, pastor, social work, etc. If you will notice keenly, I received answers for career choices and possibilities. While great, that is not the question I asked. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by their answers. The typical adult would have simply defined legacy as wealth, material property, or an inheritance. It is a word seldom used in our homes and conversations anymore.

I paused the conversation, however, to remind these teenage boys that legacy denotes a transferable quality and not their career choices. Although cynical the conversation became a bit more interesting. The young man with an inclination for social work and philanthropy expressed his appreciation for serving others, and the arts, specifically singing. As young boys should and do, a couple of peers began to jovially roast him for being a people pleaser. Soon the whole gathering was also chuckling about some of his escapades as a singer. They are friends who it appeared frequently irritate each other and know what buttons to push.

I thought it critical to remind them our culture is robbing their generation. We (culture) refuse to validate natural jostling (positional & hierarchy) moments such as these by their boyish natures. I reminded them the key is proper mutual respect rather than vindictive exploitation of each other. It has been over a quarter of a century since my high school graduation. Thank God for Facebook. My classmates and I from all around the world carry on conversations for months about similar memorable jostling moments we had.

Memorable and borderline aggressive youthful masculine moments like these are flippantly now called bullying. The word (bullying) has been usurped as with many others. Some people seek to protect perverted behaviors which are predatory to youth development by disguising destructive realities. Nevertheless, by the wise counsel of my wonderful wife let me be clear that bullies exist. Bullying is truly no laughing (simple) matter. Many have been egregiously impacted by the actions of bullies. However, we must be discerning in this day and age. Let us not allow the trendy use of the word bullying to rob our youth (boys especially) of development into adults capable of handling severe adversities healthily. Authentic manhood regularly demands competition, warfare, leadership, and other characteristics psychologically shaped by these jostling moments.

God orchestrated an even greater teachable moment for these young men that I couldn't have cooked up myself. As they laughed and teased about their peer's desire and love for singing I told them a true life fact. God took me out of a civil war torn African country and brought me to an affluent culture in America. My collegiate opportunity in America came in the form of a basketball scholarship. That opportunity also gave me the greatest chance for restoring my family from the destruction of war. Most importantly, the only evidence my would-be coach had was a tape recording of me singing. It was simply miraculous.

Yes, my coach was told about my strong academics, basketball ability, gentlemanly qualities and more by my sponsors. However, he didn't have a single photograph or video of me playing basketball. By the way, he was a hall of fame coach with no desperate need for players, especially and undersized post. He gave an international collegiate scholarship (extremely costly) simply by hearing me sing on a cassette recording. The lesson learned by these teenage young men is this. Being multi-faceted as young men, much like the arts and singing, is extremely valuable. Never underestimate what God can use to open up our greatest doors of opportunity. We must be ready to walk through the door.

The boys and I returned to our initial conversation about legacy. I presented a follow-up question to the boys. Who or what specific item in your current life will directly contribute to what your legacy is? After some thought they listed parental perspectives in failure and successes. This implies a willingness to listen to their parents' instructions and study their experiences. They also mentioned making themselves available for volunteer service and more. Their answers now reflected character shaping influences rather than personal gains.

Teenagers need not wait until they are famous, or 60 to 80 years old to define legacy. Legacy is defined as a transferable quality. Legacy depicts the content of their character. As such, a teenager's legacy is who they are right now. Legacy must begin with the end in mind. It is not something we can adjust later in life with the flick of a switch. A teenager must actively live his/her legacy now. If he searches himself and is unsure about the legacy he is leaving by his current actions (attitude, academics, drugs use, family relations, and more), he needs to change it!

Have you as an adult lived a stable life since your pre-teen and teenage years? I dare to bet that the general talents, qualities, and characteristics you possess then still reign supreme in your life today. For me music, faith, sports, serving others, multi-tasking are the activities which most owned my attention and commitment. Those items drove my construction of the legacy I desired to leave. In earnest, they are the same talents, qualities, and characteristics which drive my existence today. Serving and impacting the lives of others is what motivates me as a husband, father, coach, mentor, author, church leader, and much more. The same legacy drives me to write this article.

Here is my challenge to you as a parent. Have a similar dialog about legacy with your thoughtful pre-teen or teenager. Then please come back and share your response. If you are reading this article as a teenager please share your thoughts on the legacy you intend to leave. What drives you?

Ezechiel "Zeke" Bambolo, Jr. was born and raised in Liberia, West Africa as the firstborn son of African missionaries and teachers. He is an author and speaker who focuses on the strategic importance of family legacy. The foundational components of his messages and seminars rest on the strategic and sacrificial role of the firstborn son for the family, as well as the importance of successful family legacy as a strategic conduit for the stability of the individual, family, culture, and the nation.

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