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Teaching Teenagers About Forgiveness

Teaching Teenagers About Forgiveness

Why is it that as we age we lose so much flexibility?  I don’t just mean physical flexibility; I mean emotional flexibility.  The older we get, the harder it becomes to bend and stretch and forgive.  As teens go through their transitions and time of adolescence, they need to hang on to their ability to forgive, and adults need to rediscover it.  Otherwise, both are left in the black-and-white world of one-strike-and-you’re-out.  

The grinding and scraping and grating of adolescence require the healing balm of forgiveness in order to regain relational realignment.  And you’re going to need to go first. It is imperative for you to model asking for, receiving, and giving forgiveness. I’m not sure, from a relational point of view, if there is anything more important for you to teach your teenager as an adult skill.  Because we live messy lives, and we want to live those lives together with other people, forgiveness is a must.  

How do you ask for forgiveness?  When you clearly mess up, do you admit it?  Do you try to pretend it didn’t happen by not saying anything?  Do you try to even the scales by bringing up other issues? Do you try to buy forgiveness as a way to avoid asking for it?  These are the sorts of lessons you’re teaching your children about forgiveness as you sit at home, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up.  They may not be the lessons you want to teach, but they’re the ones that are speaking out loud and clear to your teenager.  

As adults, it can be difficult to admit when you have failed at something.  It’s frustrating and we are very human. Do you sometimes just walk away after you’ve hurt someone, desperately deciding the other person will just have to let it slide and not bring it up?  Or possibly you try to minimize how bad it was by revising what you meant or said in your mind.  

If you haven’t been demonstrating to your teenager the positive power of forgiveness, you’ve been dropping the ball on one of the most fundamental spiritual concepts (with the first being love).  If your child didn’t figure it out before hitting puberty, he or she is probably very clued in now about your shortcomings as a person and as a parent. They are, after all, on constant display. By this behavior, you have demonstrated the need for forgiveness but not how to accomplish it.  That’s only part of the lesson.  

By asking for someone’s forgiveness, you transfer power.  That’s why I think it’s easier to say, “I’m sorry,” than it is to ask, “Can you forgive me?”  When you ask, “Can you forgive me?” you have to listen and wait for the answer, which could be “not now” or even “no.”  

When dealing with teens, it’s important for you to ask the question.  They need to understand the power they have over a hurtful situation. They need to learn that what they think about what’s happening to them matters.  They need to learn they have the last say. Having that last say gives the hurt person back the control he or she lost through the injury.  

It is tempting to try to make excuses, to mitigate the injury when you’ve hurt another person.  But it is so important that you avoid this temptation. Sometimes, your words or behaviors hurt someone else without conscious intent.  It’s still important to understand the other perspective and express remorse over the unintended pain.  

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.