Sometimes, when our kids reach their teen years, we realize all that we haven’t taught them, and it can be a scramble to catch up. Other times, what a child has or hasn’t internalized from the lessons we have imparted over the years becomes more apparent in the teen. This week’s question comes from a mom whose 18-year-old son has become more focused on brands and image than doing the right thing.

Q: How do I address a difference in values with my high school senior? He is materialistic and sometimes makes remarks with racial undertones. I am the youth leader at our church and occasionally make challenging remarks to the teens. For example, recently I was speaking about material excess and how so many around us don’t have much. I suggested that when we donate to charities, such as Goodwill, we could donate things we actually like so that another may benefit. My son responded, “Why would anyone ever do that?”

I don’t have other problems with him other than sometimes forgetting to do chores. Grades are okay, and he’s always home when he says he will be. I am not sure if he is trying to get attention in front of his peers or if really believes/thinks this way. He has not been taught this attitude by me or his stepfather. He has been involved in a little local mission work, so I feel he understands what I am talking about. I am wondering how to respond. Ignore him? Explain to him? It seems he is at the age where explaining should not be necessary.

A: Save your breath! He’s a teenager who’s flexing his own thoughts/opinions muscle. This is what kids do. Since by all other accounts, he’s being mostly responsible (remember—he’s a teenager!), then I wouldn’t over-react or react much at all to his contrariness when it comes to espouses attitudes or ideas that aren’t what he had been taught.

I’m also not sure why his comment, “Why would anyone ever do that?,” bothered you so much. Why didn’t you take him seriously and have a discussion with the youth group? Questions like that shouldn’t automatically make us as parents think our kids are chucking our values out the window. I’d be more concerned if my teenagers didn’t ask questions, didn’t try to figure out for themselves what they believe, rather than blindly following Mom and Dad. I want my teenagers to ask the hard and soft and crazy questions. I want to have honest talks with them, rather than expect them to toe the line. I want to continue a dialogue with them, rather them think I only want to hear them parrot the party line.

I want my teenagers to ask the hard and soft and crazy questions. I want to have honest talks with them, rather than expect them to toe the line. I want to continue a dialogue with them, rather them think I only want to hear them parrot the party line.

So stop lecturing and start discussing! Enjoy seeing him figure out who he is at the core. Kids who ask these questions in a safe environment with parents who aren’t afraid to have their beliefs questioned will be more able to handle life away at college.