The power of love

What do you do about a teenager who has no ambition, skips school, doesn’t want to earn money, has few friends and plays video games all day? What hope is there for a kid like that?

Life, however, contains a wonderful secret, that people, including teenagers, make amazing changes when they know someone cares.

It was my history teacher who cared for me when my behaviour deteriorated rapidly after my parents split up. He pushed me to excel in athletics, took me to task if I slacked off, and he praised me far more than I deserved when I did well. For the rest of that year I held steady because of him. Without his care in later years, however, my behaviour took another downturn, and at age 16 I was expelled.

For years I floundered around until, one day, I discovered that Jesus died on the Cross knowing full well what I was like. He loved me “while I was yet a sinner,” the Bible said. I was loved, not based on my behaviour, but simply because I existed.

I wish a teenager I met recently knew that too. We met by chance when he stepped off the curb in front of my car and walked across the road so slowly I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting him. He didn’t change his pace, however. He was teenage at its worst: sullen, insolent and uncaring. I wanted to yell at him.

But I’d just read a book about High School kids whose lives took a huge turn for the better when teachers and parents stopped yelling at them and started caring for them instead. The evidence in the book was overwhelming that simply taking an interest in a teenager can start an amazing ball rolling.

Perhaps that’s why teenagers act up so much; it’s to see if their parents and teachers only value them if they’re behaving and doing well, or are they loved as teenagers even at their worst? But that’s when the shock value of not treating a child as he deserves has its greatest effect. It’s when the child knows full well his behaviour is lacking but he’s still loved anyway.

There’s a powerful force at work here. Looking back, then, I wish I’d asked the boy I nearly ran over, “Are you OK?” – because, poor kid, he isn’t OK, he’s a mess. A small expression of concern may have had a huge impact on him, or at least got the ball rolling in the right direction. Who knows? But I do know that even hopeless cases can change when they know someone cares – because I was one.


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