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.
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.
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?