5 Essentials Your Teen Needs for Navigating the Future

“The only thing constant in life is change.” The Greek philosopher Heraclitus made this statement over 2500 years ago. However, it’s remarkable how timely it feels today. Just think about the last 30 years. The internet became available to the public in 1993. Facebook was developed in 2004. The first iPhone came out in 2007. Instagram was introduced in 2010. Snapchat in 2011. TikTok became available in the U.S. in 2018. ChatGPT was released to the public in 2022. What’s next?

While it’s hard for most of us to envision the future, we need to do all we can to help our teens prepare for it. Though it’s impossible to know what skills our teens will need, we can know the type of character they must have to navigate it well. Here are 5 essentials your teen needs for navigating the future.

1. Wisdom

If knowledge is a delicious grape, wisdom is fine wine. You acquire it over time and after being put through the press a time or two. But how are our teens to get wisdom when change happens so quickly (who has wisdom around AI right now?)?

I believe the key is tradition. Heraclitus lived thousands of years ago. The Christian faith, of which I am a part, goes back even further (drawing from our heritage in Judaism). There is deep wisdom available for our teens that we need to connect them to. Most character traits for teens today aren’t new; they’re as old as human history. We need to tap into those traditions to access it.

2. Courage

We don’t know what lies over the horizon, but whatever it is, we’re going to need to face it with courage. As Maya Angelou said, “Courage is the most important virtue because without it, you are unable to practice any other virtue consistently.”

Most teens right now are not optimistic about their future, for good reason. They’re constantly bombarded with existential threats of climate change, pandemics, and politicians telling them the other side wants to destroy them and everything they hold dear. They will need courage. But like all these character traits for teens, courage isn’t given; it’s modeled and cultivated. We need to practice being courageous with our teens on a regular basis.

3. Faith

The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Faith gets a bad rap recently. It’s often seen as coercive, anti-scientific, and antiquated. But it’s actually necessary.

According to the Pew Research Center, the actively religious (in the U.S.) are about 11% more likely to describe themselves as “very happy.” While that number isn’t overwhelming, it is striking. I believe it shows that our wellbeing is tied to our sense that we aren’t in this alone. And even more that the fate of the world isn’t up to us. This doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for our actions. It simply means you aren’t in control. And that takes the pressure off, which is a good thing.

4. Friendship

The future is uncertain. But one thing that is certain is you’re going to need some help. One of the tragic consequences of technology is that it has promised infinite connection and has left us increasingly isolated.

Our teens need to learn how to build meaningful friendships. Again, there are structures that can help this, whether it’s team sports, youth group, scouts. But there are also opportunities for us to model it for our teens. It’s hard to preach the value of friendship when you yourself don’t value it. If we want our teens to develop good friendships, we need to go first. When was the last time you spent time with a friend?

5. Love

The Apostle Paul said “Love never fails.” While there is much we don’t know about the future, I feel quite confident that whatever comes, our teens need to love and be loved well.

We need to teach and model an active love for our neighbors and our enemies. Love of our neighbor and enemy is the only chance we have at forging a future. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “(loving one’s enemies) is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization.” We don’t know what the future holds, but we know there is not a future without love. We need to teach and model love of neighbor and enemy for our teens.

Sound off: What other character traits for teens are needed to navigate the future?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think is the most important character trait you’ll need for the future?”