When I was a teenager, I had a very tumultuous relationship with God at times. Hear me out, if you would, even if you aren't religious/are atheist. I promise there is more to this blog post. Trust me on this, and please keep reading.
It's normal to question everything when you're a teen because you can no longer simply be told how to think. Many teens, like me, need to develop their own sense of the world in order to feel they have a stake in it, instead of merely being told what to think.
If you've read my blog before, you know I was raised as a Catholic in an Irish-American family. My parents were devout Catholics and they created a good foundation of faith for me. After my mother passed away when I was a preteen and teen life became challenging with all of its ups and downs, I found it difficult to keep a sort of "fairy tale" belief in a religion that up to that point had been pretty easy for me to accept.
While I kept a sense of faith in God deep inside me, I also began to resent what I was perceiving as "forced" ideas that I would have to abide by or "not measure up."
In Catholicism, there are many such rules.
The basis for all guidance in Christianity, however, is the 10 Commandments. This holds true for not only Christians but Jews.
But do they have meaning for anyone, regardless of their faith, or even lack of it?
At first blush, I would say no. Clearly, the 10 Commandments refer to beliefs mostly about God or how one should please God.
Upon closer examination, however, I believe they tackle what every teen needs to keep in mind to be a healthy-minded person. There is a specific Judeo-Christian context for each of course; however, there is a life perspective that applies to every person in these words of wisdom for every person. Let's take a look:
The 10 Commandments ~
- "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me." If a teen worships "false gods," they will be miserable. When they are driven by what everyone else thinks of them (clothes, money, makeup, car, and even grades and achievements) and are driven to try to meet these demands only, they can lose themselves. From a faith perspective, keeping God #1 means maintaining a healthy perspective on these wants while seeking to meet the needs of others and keeping a sense of humility (but maintaining confidence). From the life perspective point of view, the wisdom here is meaningful life balance - and what could be better than that for any person?
- "Thou Shalt Not Make Unto Thee Any Graven Image." Define, this means "a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of worship." It means you shouldn't worship a physical item over the meaningful love of God - in a Judeo-Christian sense. Applied as a life-perspective for everyone, it means a teen's SmartPhone, car, brand-name clothes, shoes, etc., are not to be worshipped. These may be nice items to own, but they are not going to provide fulfillment, and worshipping such items will only leave teens feeling empty and anxious, waiting to get the next item they hope will fulfill them. From a life perspective, owning an object will never satisfy the soul's need for acceptance and love.
- "Thou Shalt Not Take The Name Of The Lord Thy God In Vain." Truth: A well-spoken swear word can actually give a person a sense of release and relief. But how comfortable are you listening to someone run at the mouth and speak endless vulgarities throughout their sentences? Even if you're not a religious person, a lot of people don't like to hear ongoing profanity. From a life perspective, it makes the speaker look immature and without class. It's obnoxious. Who wants to be obnoxious?
- "Remember The Sabbath Day To Keep It Holy." Teens are forever looking for ways to get away from their parents and siblings. Sunday is a day to worship God for Christians, but it was also brought about a way to bring a family together. Does blowing off family really make teens happy? I don't think it does. Teens are children at heart who remember the things they did with their families when they were young. Making a day to meaningfully connect with the people you love really love is necessary. If it hasn't happened in a long time it may feel "forced" to teens, but in the long run it's worth it. Teens want love and affection, even when they try to push it away.
- "Honor Thy Father And Mother." Parents need to be good role models for their children. They don't have to be perfect, nor will they ever truly be perfect, but they need to be figures their teens respect. They need to be fair, reasonable and set limits that teens don't know how to set for themselves. It's not an easy job and there are so many ways in which parents have to work to find how to actually communicate with their kids - to earn, maintain and keep respect. The life perspective is that teens need parents who are there for them and show the teens they are worth parenting - and the teens will respect their parents for that.
- "Thou Shalt Not Kill." This seems obvious. But do we parents value and respect human life? Do we help others without judging? Do we take care of our family, but show our teens how to push past when we "feel" like taking care of others, even if we feel a little imposed upon? Are we empathetic, even if we don't agree with other people? The life perspective is to show our teens the value of human life by valuing it ourselves.
- "The Shalt Not Commit Adultery." Cheating on a spouse (or a teen cheating in their relationship) is not honorable behavior. The life perspective is that people deserve to be treated well, and cheating on someone shows selfishness, a betrayal of the dignity of another person and a lack of respect for the self as well. All to be avoided.
- "Thou Shalt Not Steal." Another obvious one, I'd say. So easy to do in this day in age though - to disregard that someone else's property is truly theirs. The life perspective is that it's never alright to take someone else's things - be it at a store, from a friend's closet, songs that weren't paid for, movies that weren't paid for, etc. When I was young, I knew people who thought "Dine and Dash" was very funny. But the restaurant owner didn't think so, and neither did the waiter or waitress who worked hard to serve the table and didn't get paid because a bunch of teens skipped out on the bill and on tipping the server.
- "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against They Neighbor." In a word, this is gossip. Teens seem almost incapable of not gossiping at times, with social media, false and even true but damaging stories spread like wildfire. From a life perspective, what good comes of this? It's usually done out of spite, and how can an act based on bitter feelings - jealousy, anger, arrogance, revenge, etc. - ever be something that provides goodness anywhere? It damages the one who spreads the gossip and the one who is gossiped about. It causes humiliation at the least, suicide at the worst. Nobody wins.
- "Thou Shalt Not Covet." Wanting what someone else has - their house, their clothes, their vacations, their friends, their boyfriend or girlfriend, etc. is a horrible little sin called envy. From a life perspective, envy is a horrific force that spawns the problems that come from Commandments 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Envy is destructive on so many levels. Once again, nobody wins.
We know the teen brain is still forming and is subject to the intense emotions that the 10 Commandments seek to provide loving guidance against.
As a teen, I might have viewed The Commandments as more rules forced on me, and I may not have understood the ultimate value of the self that these Commandments were written to strengthen.
It's therefore not a "restrictive" set of rules that are given, but a wise set of guidelines seeks to strengthen the self of each person so that we can all serve other.
The Commandments build empathy - and unfortunately, teens think empathy means devaluing their own needs to value someone else's.
Yes and no.
The mature mind can realize that other people's thoughts and feelings are valuable, and therefore, deserve respect.
The main value in empathy is also that when you can understand someone ELSE'S perspective, one doesn't have to think everything is about the SELF - and the self can feel less "attacked" since the discussion now becomes a compromising a balance of other perspectives instead of what perspective should "win" over the other.
When a teen's sense of self is built up enough so that they can feel valued - through discipline of thought and clear reasoning - they operate better in the world.
Who wouldn't say "Amen" to that?
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