Basketball was like a god to a girl whom we’ll call Karen.

Since grade school she had lived only for her sport, and she had been rewarded. In the early 1990s, Karen was rated the top player in her state in her junior and senior years in high school, and she played in two state championship games—one time a winner. Some thought she was the best women’s player to ever come from her state.

Then she was off to a major university with a full-ride scholarship. Karen became a four-year starter who helped win conference championships. Karen’s last game as a collegian was in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

A professional team drafted her and offered a superb salary for a rookie. How many young Americans today (and their parents) would give almost anything to live out this dream?

Over the years, basketball had become Karen’s god. But after all she sacrificed, with her goals achieved, suddenly she felt empty and purposeless. At a time when she should have felt on top of the world, Karen fell into a deep funk she could not shake.

Months passed without a workout. Karen gorged herself on junk food, and her weight ballooned. The date to report to her pro team passed. After months of lethargy, one afternoon she summoned enough strength to pick up a basketball and take a few shots in the driveway. Only minutes later, discouraged with her performance, she put the ball away for good.

What Karen’s story illustrates so well is the result of focusing your entire life on something that, in the end, does not satisfy. Chasing after any false god never satisfies our soul. On the surface the substitution looks good and offers some of the experiences associated with worship of the true God. But in the end, these frail idols never satisfy us. The truth of God’s word cannot be denied: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

What are some of the false gods our children struggle with? We’ve identified the top seven. No doubt that list could be much longer.

  1. Self. This has to be number one. Everyone struggles with selfishness, but teens often act like the world revolves around them. Our culture feeds the natural urge toward the big ME, and the hybrid youth culture encourages it even more through music, movies, television, magazines, and the internet.In fact, this god of selfishness contributes the most to the undesirable behavior we see in teenagers. Don’t get us wrong; we love teens, but occasionally their selfish attitudes can irritate even the most patient person. Selfishness had to be at the core of what Mark Twain meant when he quipped about teenagers: “When a child turns 13, put him in a barrel and nail the lid on the top. Feed him through the knothole in the barrel. When he turns 16, plug up the knothole!”
  2. Popularity. Everyone wants to be liked and to be part of a cool group. The desire to belong is what makes peer pressure such a potent force. There is phenomenal pressure to be a people pleaser. Popularity can be a god for our teens if they are troubled or lonely or feel unloved at home. The emotional deficit can fuel a tremendous drive to seek to be popular at all costs.
  3. Success/achievement. In the preadolescent and teen years, success is often measured by achievement in sports or other activities, as well as in grades. Youngsters are looking for approval, acceptance, adoration, and acclaim from their friends and parents, and they can get sucked into making success a god.
  4. Approval from the opposite sex. This is a powerful one. During adolescence young men and women long to be affirmed as desirable by the opposite sex. The hunger to be loved can quickly become a false god, especially if they aren’t being loved and affirmed at home.
  5. Appearance. Young girls, especially, may succumb to this one, although boys certainly want to look good, too. Of course, this is linked to wanting attention from the opposite sex, and it can be viewed as more important than it is.
  6. Entertainment. We live in an entertainment culture that offers us countless ways to stimulate our minds. Our teens are growing up with more options for entertainment than any other generation in history, and it’s easy for them to be numbed by it.
  7. Consumption. Propelled by incessant advertising, our culture worships eagerly at the altar of materialism in great cathedrals we call malls. Whether it is the latest hot CD, Air Jordan shoes, Gap jeans, or a cool car, our children can be snared by their own greed.

We believe that the number-one thing you can do to help your child through the teenage years and into adulthood is to help him establish and develop a relationship with the one true God.

We’ve surveyed hundreds of parents at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways on numerous issues, and the number-one need of parents is learning how to effectively train a child to walk with God. Eventually your child will live on his own, and more than anything he needs a vital relationship with Christ.

In order for your child to embrace his God-given identity, he needs to understand who God is and how God gives us an identity. Here are some key concepts to share:

  • God alone is Lord—there is no other.
  • God is eternal.
  • God is sovereign and has absolute authority.
  • God has personality—mind, emotions, and will.
  • God is love—He is always relating to man and made man to relate to Him and others.
  • God created us in His image—we are made to reflect God’s love to others.
  • God loves us—each of us is a person of value.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.