My grandpa used to say, "If you see well-behaved children, you can be sure that someone is using both hands in bringing them up—the right hand of love and the left hand of discipline." In the 25 years that I have been a teacher, that maxim has been a cornerstone of my daily interactions with my students.
Perhaps you've heard the analogy that likens youngsters to small plants. Plants need water and sunshine, but they also need attention in the form of fertilizing, pruning, fumigating, transplanting to larger pots, etc.—attention that requires work on the part of the gardener and can be a temporary shock for the plant. In the case of young people, that means giving them tender loving care first and foremost, while not neglecting the other things that are necessary parts of character building, like providing a healthy environment for their social development and emotional and spiritual growth, setting limits, teaching them to take responsibility for their actions, and allowing them to learn through suffering the consequences of their own poor decisions, if necessary. These more difficult aspects of parenting and mentoring are usually also the ones that are the most difficult for young people to accept, especially in the beginning, but we owe it to them and to God, to whom they and we will ultimately need to give account of our lives.
There is a lot of talk these days about troubled teenagers and the exponential impact they have on society as their influence spreads to their peers, younger children, and eventually their own children. And the same questions keep being asked: How did we get in this state? And how do we get out? Can we steer our ship back on a godlier course, or is it too late?
I believe there is always hope, with God's help, because all things are possible for Him (Matthew 19:26). But He can't and won't do it alone. He needs us parents, teachers, and other adults to be mentors and role models for our young people. Our part is to buck the trends of passiveness, permissiveness, and a general lack of definite moral standards that sadly have become norms in parenting and education today. But if we will each do what we can, God will do what we can't. He will bring about the inward changes that our children need and help them want to do their part, to do the right things with the right motivation. With time, they can become forces for positive change themselves, but it starts with us adults. We need to take the reins—with both hands.