Photo by Reggie Joiner

There is a Scripture passage that has been misused often by leaders. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” I had always heard it interpreted as “teach your child right from wrong, and they will keep doing what is right.” Actually, a closer reading of the passage by scholars suggests that the tense of the word “child” in the Hebrew is referring to late adolescence. And the phrase “in the way he should go” is describing a unique path or direction that makes sense for that specific individual. My own over-simplified translation for the verse is “When your middle-schoolers discover and develop their personal strengths and get on the path that is designed for them, they will keep doing what they love to do.”

Okay, I’m not a scholar, and I’m sure you can poke holes in it, but I really do believe this principle. Parenting is not just about helping your children get on the right path, it’s really about getting them to discover the right path for them. I have seen this principle demonstrated too many times in positive and negative ways. I am with adults all the time who hate what they do. They have been on a path for  a long time that doesn’t really work with who they are and how they were designed. Our goal should be to tap into the energy that we can find  when we focus on our strengths and play in our zone.

According to Jenifer Fox, there are three different kind of strengths we should be looking for in our children: activity strengths, learning strengths, and relational strengths. As an education reformer she has written a book every parent should read, “Your Child’s Strengths – Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them.” She is also responsible for starting something called the Strengths Movement for Youth. The following is an excerpt from her website

“What is the Strengths Movement for Youth?

The Strengths Movement for youth is an educational and parenting movement that seeks to provide a new paradigm for the ways we educate and raise children.

The core principles of the movement are the following:

1. Every child has a unique combination of strengths and when those strengths are nurtured, engaged and challenged, young people have the greatest opportunity to find success and happiness.

2. Happiness and personal fulfillment are the result of meaningful work and meaningful relationships. The quickest path to this is a focus on strengths rather than human deficits and weaknesses.

3. When teaching and learning is customized for the learner, higher quality work will result than when the environment is standardized.

4. When young people are encouraged to discover and work within their areas of strengths, they are most likely to develop talent.”

So…take a minute and write down one or two of you children’s strengths. Start looking for ways to help them develop their unique talents. Your job as a parent is not just to help your children get on the right path, but to encourage your children to discover the path that is right for the way they are uniquely designed.