A few weeks ago, I wrote the first part of my post, “10 Things for Parents of Teens to Avoid.” Since then, I started this website, trained my cat to rotate my tires, and circumnavigated the globe on the back of a kangaroo. Ok, I’m exaggerating. It was a horse. Anyway, now that I’ve mastered all things related to parenting teens, it’s time to bring you the other 5 things I couldn’t fit into the first blog.
5) AVOID BEING THE LAST PARENT TO PICK UP YOUR KID, ESPECIALLY AFTER A RETREAT.
I know; somebody has to be the last one. And I know that things come up at the last minute. I’m not talking about emergencies. And I’m not talking about the fact that the youth pastor wants to go home after a long weekend and still has to return the rental van (although this is probably true). What I’m talking about is when we as parents display a pattern of being the parent who doesn’t come through—the one who is always running late, making excuses, botching the communication, or just showing little concern for the small things that matter a lot to our kids. What is the subliminal message our child hears? Did you even miss me? Do I matter as much as your agenda or your own interests? Do you love me as much as other parents love their kids? It may sound silly, but I’ve sat on enough tear-stained curbs with the last kid to know that I’m onto something. Most teens are a little embarrassed when their parents show up and insist on hugging them and kissing them in front of their friends. That’s nothing (see next point). If you want a simple way to build love and trust with your kid, be there on time to pick them up.
4) AVOID WITHHOLDING AFFECTION FROM YOUR KID.
Most parents have little trouble showing affection for their young children, but most of us struggle to show the same affection to our adolescent children. Maybe it’s the facial hair, the burgeoning female physique, or the unmatched aroma of teen armpit that could kill a horse and light its tail on fire. It’s harder to hug and kiss a teenager than it is a four-year-old, and it often goes unrequited. My wife’s recent attempt to kiss my youngest son was greeted with a loving, “Get the heck off me!” Don’t be dissuaded. Don’t take it personally. Don’t be fooled by their too-cool-for-school demeanor. Despite what we’ve been told, no one has ever actually “died of embarrassment.” But why not give it a shot? Let’s go to great lengths to show our children affection, even if it means some of the most awkward moments in recorded history. Hug them today. Kiss them tomorrow. Never stop hugging and kissing them, even if the smell of their feet as you approach drops you to your knees in a prayer of surrender. They will hate it, but they will love you.
3) AVOID TRYING TO GO IT ALONE.
Nearly everyone reading this is a 21st-century American. This means we are more individualistic, nuclear-family-centered, and stubbornly self-sufficient than any other culture in human history. This is why we cling so tightly to our own wisdom to figure out how to parent our teenagers. We don’t want anyone to know about the big blowup we had last night, or the misstep our teen made, or the fact that our smiling façade is covering up deep frustration and pain. Can I assure you of something? You aren’t alone. Others feel the same way. They are sitting next to you in church, acting happy and well-adjusted. Wait, that's me.
For 99% of human history, children were raised in larger, more interconnected communites. People knew each other better. Families included grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and community elders. They helped to raise one another's children. We have to try harder nowadays, but we can do the same thing. Use the help available to you. Other parents might have insight to share. The older couple down the street will pray for you. Youth leaders might have a voice with your child. And these kids need lots of voices--a chorus to serenade them. In our youth ministry, we like to say that we have a stadium of adult volunteers who are here to cheer them on and help however we can. For that to happen, we need to know the real scoop, not the sugar-coated version. There is power in community and authenticity. Use it. Don’t try to go it alone.
2) AVOID TREATING THE YOUTH MINISTRY AS AN ELECTIVE.
This one deserves a blog of its own. Someone has already written one.
I’m going to write my own version of that someday. But for now, let me just state my opinion in in subtle fashion. Your kid needs the youth ministry. Stop making excuses--for you and for them.
I understand that youth ministry is my passion and my life’s work. I am biased. However, let me ask you a few questions. When your child is an adult, which will matter more, their high school soccer career, or their spiritual development? Which will matter more, their AP chemistry score, or their spiritual priorities? Which will matter more, their second-semester junior year boyfriend who dumped them at prom, or their spiritual commitment? Which will matter more, the 1995 Honda Civic that they bought with the money they made working at Roy Rogers, or their spiritual passion?
I’m not saying kids should never miss youth group, or that participation in youth ministry is some kind of guarantee that they will be the next Billy Graham, or that other activities and interests aren’t valuable. That’s not even close to true. My kids played travel sports and took AP courses and had family vacations. What I AM saying is the youth ministry--at least the one I am blessed to lead--holds incredible value. It boggles my mind and breaks my heart when students and parents do not take advantage of what we do. We provide a loving environment, excellent teaching, adults who truly care, friendships with other kids, opportunities to serve and lead, experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, a real-life crucible for learning the challenges of living in God’s messy community—and all this takes place in a super-cool room with junk food, rock music, and so many laughs it would make Chef Ramsey smile..
Despite the overwhelming benefits, there are some who have to be cajoled to participate. The excuses are more plenteous and ridiculous than the ones from Juan Epstein’s Mother. “She plays soccer every Sunday.” “One of the girls was mean to my daughter.” “He has so much homework.” “There aren’t enough kids from his school.” “She’s shy.” “He’s allergic to Hillsong music.” “Pastor Steve wears too much plaid.” Or my personal favorite, “She says she doesn’t have any friends there.” I want to scream, “BECAUSE SHE NEVER COMES!” Seriously, in what universe do we form friendships with people we rarely see at places we rarely go? To paraphrase Jesus, "You do not have because you do not come."
Parents, commit yourself to your child’s regular and faithful involvement. Move past the excuses and the misplaced priorities and make it happen. If your child resists, make a pact—if they agree to come, they can continue to live at your house and eat your breakfast cereal. Otherwise, they are on their own. In the Bible, being part of a community of faith is not optional, it’s commanded. It’s critical. And I believe it’s downright fabulous!
1) AVOID COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PARENTS.
I just dropped the hammer with the last one, so now it’s time to drop some grace. We need it, every one of us. So let's stop comparing ourselves to everyone else.
We have this family game we play sometimes at dinner. We imagine the conversations at other people’s dinner tables. I won’t name names, but we've known a few families that just seemed so perfect it made us cringe. So instead of feeling badly about ourselves, we covered our insecurities by making fun of them with these imaginary conversations.
Father: “Children, doesn’t your mother look nice today?”
Son: “Why yes, Father, she looks lovely in her floral dress and tasteful makeup.”
Mother: “Thank you, Dear. I hope you are enjoying the brussel sprouts. I picked them fresh from our organic family garden.”
Son: “Of course, mother. They are delicious. Please, may I have some more?”
Mother: “Daughter, would you like more before brother finishes them?”
Daughter: “No mother, but thank you for asking. I’m saving room for the fresh cobbler you made from the pesticide-free peaches we grew in our orchard.”
Father: “Children, why don’t you tell us about school today?”
Son: “I got a perfect score on my spelling test, even though it was three years above my grade level. And I helped the blind boy find his pencil when he dropped it.”
Daughter: “Mrs. Crabapple nominated me for the Best Student Ever award, and all my friends made me congratulation cards.”
Mother: “Oh children, that’s wonderful. Now, who wants cobbler?”
See, you don’t like them either. But guess what? They don't exist. They never have and they never will. I met a perfect family once, but then I realized I was in Stepford. The truth is, the family you think has it all together is struggling just like you. Dinner ended with their son swearing under his breath that his parents are idiots, and their daughter slamming her bedroom door because nobody understands her. Mom and Dad are staring at their plates with a look of shock. There’s no shame in it. It happens to all of us.
So let’s stop comparing ourselves to an ideal and instead give ourselves grace to get through the day. Let’s love our kids and love God, then see what happens. The goal is not to be a perfect parent, because only God can do that anyway. The goal is to rely on him.
Those are my 10 things to avoid. I can think of more. Parenting teens is the most difficult and most rewarding thing we will ever do--even harder than teaching your dog to rap in Spanish or forging exquisite gold jewelry in your fireplace. Avoiding these 10 things will help us be better parents, but in the end, we will fail. Our kids will make sure of that. Let's enjoy it while it lasts.