Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Parental Admonishment: 5 Things I Wish I Could Say To Parents


Sometimes there are things that need to be said, but no adequate context for saying them. 

In youth ministry, there are dozens of things I want to tell students, volunteers, and parents at various times, but sometimes it feels like the timing just isn't right. More often than not, it has to do with my motives in the moment--I don't want to exhort and encourage out of a sense of self-rooted anger or defensiveness.

So these are five things I'd like to say to parents in our churches and youth ministries. Maybe SCREAM them is more like it. This is about as much of a rant as you'll find on this blog. Enjoy.

1) Be present with your kids. Turn off your cell phone when you come home. Hang out with each of them individually every week, even if it's just for a few minutes of dropping them off at school or soccer practice. Listen to them. Really listen. Try to understand where they are coming from before you offer some fantastic parental advice that may or may not even relate to the real issue your teenager is sharing. When I see parents who clearly have zero understanding of how their kid is really doing, I have to wonder how present they are with them throughout the week. Be with them and for them.

2) Don't make church a to-do task or punishment. It shouldn't be the equivalent of texting privileges, nor should academics and sports commitments be more important in your schedule. When you take away gathering and worship with fellow Christians so that your teen can more fully commit to getting a better grade in biology class or have a better chance at getting a football scholarship for college, the message it sends is clear: Jesus comes second to everything else.

3) Stop hovering. You're annoying to everyone, and infantilizing your teen. Don't be the helicopter parent that tries to overly shelter your children, always making sure that they're safe. Yes, be understanding and engaged with your kids--be present with them!--but don't form a codependence where your identity is based on being a parent, instead of founded in your connection to Christ. You are not in control. Yeah, you have a sense of control, and clearly have a responsibility and authority as a parent of a child. But, really, God is in control of the outcome of your kids' lives. Trust Him. Quit hovering.

4) Yes, I'm an adult, and so are all my volunteers. I spend an exorbitant amount of time training them and discipling them so they can lead and disciple students. They are an incredibly wonderful group of people who love Jesus and love your teens. So, yeah, I'm offended when you ask whether or not any "adults" are going on the retreat as leaders. Sure, I get that you're trusting these "adults" with the well-being of your child, which is a difficult task for any parent. But make no mistake: they are adults, even though many of them (including myself) are under the age of 30.

5) Stay together. Get counseling, get accountability, work through the problems, and pray desperately for your marriage. Don't commit adultery. Don't emotionally disengage or give up with an apathetic shrug. Work on it. When you tank your marriage, it has drastic ripple effects, maybe even more than you realize.

Youth workers, parents, and teens: what do you think?

9 comments:

  1. How would you go about introducing a child to the Word?

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    1. The Word, as in Christ (John 1)? Or the Word, as in Scripture? In either case (and this answer is quite short for the depth involved), a caring Jesus-following adult coming alongside a younger person and both showing and telling them about the Word. In a sense, this is the sharing of the good news of Jesus.

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  2. I completely agree with you. The one that's hardest for me is #4 because I help wih the middle school group but I'm only 19. Many people don't seem to understand that I can be just as responsible as some of the older leaders.

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    1. While the indictment isn't completely without merit--yes, there ARE plenty of irresponsible 19-year-olds out there--it does feel a bit like ageism for me. Pull a Timothy: set the example as a young leader.

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  3. 6) Your kid is on drugs. Stop pretending like he's not.

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  4. Re #2 -- How in the world do you address this?
    I feel like I have nothing I can say when parents come to me and say that.

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    1. I feel that too (which is why this post exists!), and I'm with you in wanting parents to see what they're doing. If I've built the relational equity with them, I feel like I can have a conversation about it. If the relationship isn't there, I wonder if there's another leader or parent who might have a better bond and be able to speak into their lives. In any case, I listen for the Spirit's leading in the moment and try to be obedient and discerning. Sometimes that means I actually humbly say something and disagree with the parent's approach (though not in front of the student) and offer a new alternative.

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  5. Thanks, Joel. Such great advice! #3 is the tricky one for us. It's difficult, at times, to know when and how to intervene if at all in some of our kids' life situations. If it wasn't for my own relationship to the Lord and a pretty hefty prayer life, I'm sure I would be a much worse helicopter parent. But, at the same time, it's important to intervene when you see your kid floundering or making potentially bad decisions, wandering into dangerous territories. I so agree with you that presence is key. Be available to your kids an truly listen to them.

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  6. Great stuff! I'm the wife of a former youth pastor, and a former youth leader myself. These are all things we wanted to communicate to our parents, and it was very difficult to do so delicately. Often impossible. I cannot stress how important #5 is! They're all important, but we saw the bad side of #5 (rather, we're still seeing it, 2 years later.)

    Great blog!

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