Raising Children of Peace

Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones

Chapter 2 Parents and Children

Raising Teenagers with Everlasting Love
Dietrich Seidel

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

What should the parents do? They should teach children to love each other as their parents love each other and to love the nation as their parents love the nation. Sun Myung Moon 1

In the midst of discouraging statistics about the increasing decline of contemporary family life, one segment of society deserves undivided attention: our teenagers. On the one hand, teenagers are particularly at risk to get involved in self-destructive behavior like drug abuse or sexual promiscuity. On the other hand, it is the young generation which is our only hope for building a world of peace and genuine happiness. Whether or not teenagers are aware of their crucial role in determining the future of society, both parents and educators should be.

How then shall we guide the young generation? This essay attempts to answer this question by focusing on a two-fold approach to the task of raising teenagers. First, we will discuss a number of protective measures for overcoming risk behavior, in which parental involvement and skills for building trusting relationships are important. Even the highest vision for wholesome family relationships and the strongest desire to protect our young remain ineffective if we do not develop basic skills for solving interpersonal problems between parents and children.

Second, we will explore issues that address the spiritual foundation for young people. The teenager needs guidance in terms of his or her self-understanding as a human being from which those lasting values are derived that determine one's motivation in everyday life. Only a clear awareness of our whole purpose before God, beyond our individual aspirations, will enable both parents and children to build trusting relationships that are indispensable for the task of child-rearing. We will see that protective measures and motivational forces establish a dynamic of mutual interaction that will allow the young person to exercise wisdom and self-control during the process of maturation.

Basic Skills for Building Trust between Parents and Children

The task of raising teenagers obviously rests on the relationship we as parents have built over the years with our children. In many ways, it is an extension of that caring parental investment which allowed the children to develop a loving relationship of trust and respect. However, there are some specific issues to be addressed once we attempt to guide our teenage children on their path of becoming young adults and to protect them from self-destructive behavior.

When asking my teenage son what his parents should improve in their efforts of leading him to adulthood, he replied without hesitation "You should trust me more that I am able to make the right decisions for my life and that I am ready to take on more responsibilities:" In other words, my son asked his parents for an increasing response of trust that would assist him in his growth toward independence.

Looking back at my own experience of raising my teenage children, I have to admit that knowing the right measure for granting independence remains one of the more difficult tasks. During the teenage years, there appears to be an important change in the parent-child relationship. That change is best described as a decrease of parental authority which is proportionate to the progressing maturation on the part of the children. 2 That is to say, as much as teenagers grow in their ability to balance new freedoms and responsibilities, so the parents experience growth in their ability to let go and to trust their children.

The emerging new parent-child relationship is supposed to be carried by an increasing voluntary obedience on the part of teenagers who now respond out of genuine respect for their parents. The old paradigm of an unquestioned authority and enforced obedience is presently in the process of being replaced by the new paradigm of authority based on mutual respect and voluntary cooperation. What has been an experience of parental hierarchy in early childhood becomes in the teenage years an increasing longing for parental friendship.

Here, the question arises how we as parents can in fact walk a path of an ever increasing trust with our teenage children, thus continuing to build with them a relationship of lasting love on new levels of maturity. Indeed, it is that bond of a loving trust which is most effective in providing the needed protective measures that allow our teenagers to overcome the deceptive influences of a declining culture. What follows are a few practical guidelines that should allow parents to build strong trusting relationships with their adolescent children. 3

[1] Share repeatedly your deepest convictions and beliefs with your teen. This can happen naturally in everyday situations when we as parents comment on ethical issues that may be raised by TV shows, movies, books, or experiences about which our teenagers talk. We need to make a conscious effort to fill the ethical and moral vacuum within which our culture in general and public education in particular seem to operate.

As it is indispensable for teenagers to acquire a wholesome world view and value system based on their personal investment, still there is the powerful example and life experience of their parents from which they can learn. The parents should trust the natural power of respect that is present in the hearts of their teenage children and speak out in defense of traditional family values. In particular, we need to encourage our teens to live a selfless life by practicing self-discipline and by discovering the joy of living for the sake of others.

[2] Do not play the perennial referee, but trust the children's ability to work out differences. It may be hard to listen to repeated arguments among siblings to decide who is doing the dishes or other household chores but once they arrive at a solution on their own it will be more beneficial for their sense of self-respect and respect for their parents.

In fact, the interaction among siblings and peers draws out a fair amount of self-discipline for the teenager who wants to live up to the expectations of his or her friends. The quality of these expectations then decides an atmosphere of good or bad peer pressure. Here emerges the parental task to ensure that adolescent children live in good company. Only then will the teen's efforts of self-discipline harmonize with the guiding discipline they receive from their parents. Both self-discipline and parental discipline are in effect activities that result in a harnessing of the will, thus leading the young person to a higher degree of self-possession. In short, discipline is the indispensable means for achieving unity between mind and body, thus advancing the process of maturation.

[3] Encourage those children who are repeatedly victimized by their peers to stand up for themselves. Of course, that problem can be eliminated by finding the right kind of peers who would not boss others around. However, even best friends can be at times domineering and insensitive when living with someone who has a more reserved personality. In those situations, the parents will be able to give encouragement to their introverted teens if they make it a priority to provide an emotionally stable home. That domestic stability can only emerge from a strong, loving marriage through which the parents are empowered to compete with undue peer pressure.

[4] Be sensitive about the needs of your children in terms of spending quality time with them. Some teenagers may need more attention than others but are hesitant to share their feelings with their parents even to the point of hoping to be left alone.

Here, parents should keep asking their adolescent children to do things together with them. Activities can include sports, household chores, going shopping, or sharing a meal at a restaurant. The point is that as parents we need to assure our children that we are accessible.

[5] One effective way of spending quality time with our teenagers are regular family meetings in which an atmosphere of open sharing is the major objective. Besides speaking about our joys and grievances, we find here an opportunity to work out clear rules and policies for daily family life that are rooted in our deepest convictions. Special attention should be given to the areas of curfew (punctuality), household chores, sleep-overs, and good conduct (respectful manners, use of language).

Again, it is essential that all decisions about reasonable limits and subsequent regulations are made together with our adolescent children. Only then will they be able to perceive their obedience to home rules as a voluntary response that leads them forward on their path of maturation.

[6] Develop the art of listening to your teen. Put distractions aside and really listen. In my experience, those intimate times of sharing can be at the end of the day when our children are more in the mood of expressing their feelings. Often we discover that it is not so easy to speak about our feelings and that it needs persistent effort of developing skills to communicate what lies in the depth of our hearts. Teenagers, like adults, center their feelings on the need for self-worth, the need to belong, the need for autonomy, and the need to love and be loved.

Here, feelings can be described as a spontaneous inner reaction to experiences related to these needs. To become a good listener for our teen, we should make the first step in honestly communicating our feelings. One way of doing that is to share our own experiences when we were teenagers and to speak about the lessons we learn in our everyday life when attempting to live up to our ideals.

[7] Learn to tolerate differences between you and your adolescent child and acknowledge the emerging new personality in your teenager. Allow disagreements in matters of taste (music, clothing) and lifestyle (schoolwork, recreation) and put up with mistakes (forgetfulness, messiness) within previously agreed upon limits. However, as parents we have to be careful not to confuse toleration with permissiveness. That is to say, we should always feel free to disagree with our child on certain issues, especially when we feel an important principle is being compromised.

When we decide to step in, we should first make sure that we choose an important issue, for example, a flagrant violation of the agreed rules, or a behavior that is self-destructive. In short, we should see the conduct of our children in the long run and not be carried away by an angry reaction about minor disagreements. We have to keep in mind that one long term goal in relating to our teens is the development of trust and friendship.

[8] Help your teenage children to make sensible decisions, thus leading them on to higher levels of independence. Obviously, we are facing here a situation of risk-taking by allowing our children to make up their own mind in the fulfillment of greater responsibilities.

One strategy for helping our teens is to set realistic goals together with them and to break down larger tasks into smaller units so that they feel confident in following through with their decisions. Your teen daughter wants to make a trip to Europe? Help her to come up with a realistic itinerary and financial plan. Then let her work out the details that include finding a job and possible financial help from other sources.

Parental involvement in risk-taking when leading our teens to greater freedoms indicates an important and often difficult change in the parents' attitude toward their children.

To say it bluntly, most parents are over-protective in dealing with their children, making sure that all inconveniences are removed from them and that they live with the greatest possible comfort.

To give autonomy to our children does not come naturally because it means relinquishing the ways of over-protectiveness. It is natural for parents to want to be needed, to control, influence, and direct their children. But it is not so natural to separate from our children, allowing them to go through their own struggles even when they are already young adults. 4

I overheard a conversation between two mothers of my children's friends when one reported about her frantic efforts to help with the morning routine To send her children off to school on time. Preparing breakfast, lunches, and the right things to wear within a limited time frame due to a latest possible wake up time brought her often to the point of exhaustion. She always found herself nagging at her children to hurry up so that they would not be late for school.

One day she put an end to that unhealthy situation by asking the children to take care of themselves and to find their own way of mastering the morning routine. She admitted that she felt surprisingly at ease when her children got off late to school that morning. In fact, she had the convincing insight that one strong reprimand by the teacher would do more good than her own daily nagging. 5

The simple lesson her children learned was that autonomy means being responsible for the consequences of one's actions. The lesson that she as a parent learned was that giving autonomy is actually a higher form of parental love than being over-protective and keeping an unchanged relationship of dependency with our teenagers.

However, we have to keep in mind that there are also overly permissive parents who have no clear understanding about what is detrimental or beneficial for their children. In those cases, the parents need to make a careful assessment about the true meaning of autonomy, thus being able to guide their adolescent children with true parental love to a wholesome independence without exposing them to the pitfalls of an unqualified freedom.

We have seen that all practical advice about how to create a relationship of trust between parents and their adolescent children leads to a more profound understanding of parental love and thus to a more effective application of protective measures for our young. In fact, that expanded vision of parental love includes a clearer perception of what we think the goal of maturity means for the teenager. In other words, we can be successful in our task of parenting only if both parents and teenagers have a comprehensive understanding of the God-given ideal for our lives. It is that spiritual foundation for the self-understanding of the teenager to which we now turn.

Understanding Everlasting Love

Our reflections about the practical dimension of the parental task have shown that the personality of the teenager is formed by human relationships. From our experience, we know that these relationships are various expressions of love. However, we also realize that love can be easily abused and must be based on true values that reflect the God-intended purpose for our lives. In other words, to arrive at the right value judgments underlying our daily child-rearing efforts, we need to have a clear vision not only of our true human potential as individuals but also of the loving family relationships that are written on our hearts as original endowments from God.

At this point, I will turn to the Unification Principles to discuss that needed vision for the self-understanding of the teenager. As a starting point of their journey to adulthood, our teenage children need to deepen their understanding about their purpose as created beings before God. According to Unification teachings, our original human potential is revealed through an intended loving partnership with God. That is to say, God's love is returned in the fullest way through loving relationships within the family. Thus, the family becomes the school of love. Here, we experience different kinds of love as expressions of God's heart such as children's love, brotherly and sisterly love, conjugal marital love, and parents' love.

The teenager passes through the child stage and brother or sister stage in order to be prepared for marriage and parenthood. In all these expressions of love, the young person develops the longing of experiencing love in its original God-given order as unchanging and everlasting. This resonates in the human heart as true love and as such it remains the perennial goal for all human endeavors.

Not only our parental task of raising our children, but also all efforts of the teenagers to grow to adulthood are indeed based on a thorough understanding of true love. That understanding will provide the standard with which we will be able to discern any misuse of love and it will be the foundation for their spiritual life from which good motivating forces emerge. What then are the main characteristics of true love?

[1] Above all, we need to realize that love originates from the heart of God as the means of his total self communication to us as human beings. This implies that our understanding of true love is essentially our understanding of God's heart and personality and it explains our belief that we resemble God as His image in our originally created potential.

To be created for a fulfilling partnership with God shows us that love exists always as a relationship of giving and receiving. God gives to us His total investment of love and we as human beings are able to respond to Him with animating beauty. Indeed, only the on-going interaction of active love and responsive beauty will result in the substantial fulfillment of true love. Here emerges the question of how we are able to return beauty to God.

[2] Beauty is generated once we fully resemble God's personality. To achieve divine resemblance, we are endowed with three blessings that are mentioned in Genesis 1:28 "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." In other words, we receive the calling to reach individual maturity, to build a God-loving family, and to exercise loving stewardship over creation. Again, these three blessings are essentially manifestations of true love. From the point of view of leading the teenager to a clear perception of his or her true potential and overall goal in life, we focus first on the issue of understanding personal maturation.

[3] The initial task for achieving a mature personality lies in building complete harmony between mind and body. We resemble God on the individual level by developing our potential to be co-creators alongside with God through the on-going effort of uniting our spiritual aspirations with our physical desires. That investment for our spiritual growth is based on the exercise of freedom and responsibility.

In other words, we need to learn the right use of freedom by orienting its application to the goal of maturation. Once we reach individual maturity, God is able to acknowledge our personality as our own creation, thus receiving joy through the increase of beauty which is the result of our accomplished co-creatorship. In fact, our increased beauty before God gives rise to an enhanced experience of true love.

As mature human beings, we are then able to overcome any selfish desire and live fully for the sake of others. True love seeks always the welfare of our neighbor and is ready to walk the path of self-sacrifice to reach its goal. It is important for the teenager to build strong convictions about his or her true potential to live the ideal of true love in oneness with God. Only then can the right motivation be generated for overcoming false, self-centered love that shows itself most forcefully through temptations for getting involved in illicit sexual expression. Ultimately, individual maturation strives to reach the level of an uncompromising dedication to sexual purity and chastity, in view of achieving the best possible preparation for marriage. How then do human beings further advance their response of a stimulating beauty before God?

[4] Through the unfolding of true love within the ideal of marriage and the resulting God-centered family, human beings return ultimate beauty to God. God has attributes of internal nature and external form with their ultimate manifestation of a harmonious interaction between mind and body in mature individuals (first blessing). Likewise God has attributes of masculinity and femininity that find their fulfilling expression in the marital union of husband and wife (second blessing). Here, true love marks the total integration of spiritual and physical maturity of the marriage partners, whereby the uniqueness of their individual personalities is now extended to the higher level of uniqueness of their marital bond.

In other words, on the individual level true love is expressed as children's love and brotherly or sisterly love according to the uniqueness of the involved personalities. However, within the marriage ideal the spousal sexual union marks the enactment of a unique, indissoluble relationship where God becomes the third partner. The horizontal two-in-oneness of the spouses in the temporal order then finds its fulfillment in a horizontal and vertical three-in-oneness among God and the spouses, thus establishing oneness between the temporal and the eternal order.

True love as expressed in a unique indissoluble conjugal bond then finds its final and most fulfilling manifestation in parental love. Husband and wife become parents, and through raising children they can experience the parental heart of God. Parental love is characterized by a disposition of total self-giving and concern for the whole purpose, thus allowing us to see God as our vertical parent whose caring heart embraces His children in the horizontal created order.

True love can be compared with the presence of light while the family functions as a lens casting the full spectrum of light waves into the world. That is to say, true love through its various expressions in the family reaches out to the larger society, thus bringing blessings to others and to all of creation. 8 In this way, human beings will be qualified to exercise loving stewardship toward the created order.

In my understanding, teenagers show often a strong yearning for true parental love. They may at times be quick to point out their parents' shortcomings, but in the long run they also appreciate their parents' experience.

When I asked my teenage daughter what she appreciated most during a recent visit to the home of one of her best friends, she answered, "It seems to me that the presence of my friend's parents makes all the difference. They are simply there and create a good atmosphere. They do not interfere but still they care for us" Parental presence is indeed the source for a much needed spiritual support for our teenage children and it reminds them of the goal for their own development, namely, to become true parents themselves.

In conclusion, once teenagers understand their identity in terms of the marriage and family ideal as intended by God, their whole internal disposition and spiritual life will serve them as an effective motivational source for successfully walking their path to maturation. Likewise, we as parents will find the needed guidance in our child-rearing efforts once we accept true love as the superior standard for our own life.


1. Sun Myung Moon, Blessing and (deal Family, New York: HSA-UWC, 1993, p. 599.

2. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Household: A Sermonic Treatise, Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1991, p. 87.

3. These practical guidelines are drawn from several sources such as Special Report Home Library (May/June 1992), Gelling Along With Your Teen (Covenant House) and Chuck Swindon, The Strong Family, Portland: Multnomah, 1991, pp. 115-134.

4. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Liberated Parents - Liberated Children, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1974, pp. 55-56.

5. (bid., p. 55.

6. True Family Values.- Seven Principles for the Growth of Love, New York: HSA-UWC, 1996. Henceforth cited as TFV.

7. The Unification Principle by Rev. Sun Myung Moon is presented in a variety of sources such as Exposition of the Divine Principle, New York: HSA-UWC, 1996.

8. TFV, p.31.

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