As parents of teenagers so often we find ourselves frustrated by an unknown enemy that we cannot seem to conquer. Our kids do crazy things that make no sense to us, yet no matter how hard we try it is impossible to talk any sense into them. There is an unseen force that underlies their behavior, often resulting in substance abuse, sexual addiction, or even crimes against society. Helpless, we scratch our heads wondering, "What is wrong with my kid?"
I am currently in the throes of parenting teenagers and have experienced many of the same frustrations most parents of teenagers do. My kids are good kids with great love for their friends, but there is something about this generation of young people that is destroying them and robbing them of God's great plan and purpose for their lives. What is that unseen enemy?
This is something I have pondered a lot lately and I believe the unseen enemy is approval addiction. What is approval addiction? It is that desire to please people, particularly those in our peer group, at any cost. It is an addiction that causes us to lose sight of ourselves, who we are in Christ, and the plan and purpose He has for our lives. Often it leads to other addictive behavior as a way to cope with our feelings of insufficiency and inferiority.
As a teenager I really struggled with approval addiction. My parents had divorced before I was born, or shortly thereafter, so I never really knew my birth father. My mom remarried before I was two, but as I was made aware that Daddy was my stepfather, not my real dad, I struggled with feelings that I was somehow inferior because I was another man's child. It took me years of trying to prove myself to my Daddy to ever feel truly accepted by him.
In college and for several years after, that need for approval and validation carried itself into every dating relationship I had and was, I believe, the underlying reason I developed an addiction to alcohol. I drank to fit in and to give myself the courage to do whatever it took to be accepted and to please the people in my life. Although I had been raised in the church, knew that God loved me, and had given my life to Him, I struggled with acceptance and a low self-esteem, which took a huge toll on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In fact, it nearly cost me my life.
Even while working in full-time ministry many years later I suffered with approval addiction. I found myself passionate about my work and the people with whom I worked. I worked long hours and neglected the ones who needed me most -- my family -- simply because it felt so good to be commended over and over again for the good job I was doing "for the Lord." I possessed unique gifts that helped me accomplish great things and I loved the constant affirmation I received from those I served. I was addicted to the approval of men, never fully understanding that the only approval that mattered was God's. When He finally revealed to me that I loved the approval of others more than Him, and that I had sacrificed my ministry to my family on the altar of my ministry to the Church, I resigned the job I loved and became the stay-at-home mom I had wanted to be all along.
Looking back on those years and seeing the struggle my teens and their peers face today, I can see that so many of their issues as teens and our issues as parents are rooted in approval addiction. They will do anything to be accepted by their peers and we will neglect doing the hard job of godly parenting in order to be accepted by our kids.
Oh, that God would give us eyes to see the unseen enemy of approval addiction and the courage to walk in the freedom of God's unconditional love!
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