your teen needs you!

There are times in the parenting (or leading and teaching) journey when this feels far from true. Your teen may not LOOK like they need you, they might not ACT like they need you and they may even SAY they don’t need you! But they do.

The cry of the teenage/emerging-adult heart is for relationships and community where three things are present – Trust, Respect and Belief. Sociologists report this drive as the key factors behind gang or ‘bikie’ culture. Such is the need of the heart that it draws a person to connection and belonging ANYWHERE these things are present. It’s true of adults too – but (hopefully) there is a greater degree of discernment to determine whether the presence of trust, respect and belief outweighs any negatives about the people or culture who are offering them.

Let’s unpack these three factors further.

TRUST

What they want …Teens want to be trustworthy but they also want to believe they are capable of trustworthiness and so will crave actions and communication that demonstrate this trust and confidence.

What they fear… Questioning their decision-making skills, their ability to consider all outcomes and options, or their self management or control, translates as an absence of trust.

What to try…

  • Give ample time and opportunity for your teen to explain what they do know and what they have considered (rather than assuming they haven’t really thought things through).
  • Ask questions or use hypothetical scenarios to extend  their awareness of potential outcomes and concerns and grow their consideration.
  • Express your desire to ‘assume the risk’ for the unknown or potential consequences of a decision rather than burdening them with that when their experience or vision is limited. In other words, sometimes a parent needs to be the one who decides because the decision and its outcomes are too weighty for a young person to have to bear.

BELIEF

What they want… In the face of sometimes crippling self-doubt, insecurity, fear of the future and competition teens will gravitate to people and places where they are encouraged to dream big dreams and imagine an extraordinary future.

What they fear… Youth are constantly wondering if they really have what it takes to succeed in life (aren’t we all!). They don’t have the history or experience of seeing how things will play out and so their capacity to predict the future is limited. They are highly sensitive to any inference from adults in their world that what they hope for or are aiming for in their future is not possible.

What to try…

  • Check any language that overloads current decisions or actions with future impact (“if you don’t do well at school you’re not going to have opportunities in work later”). Of course all choices and actions have consequences but then all consequences have options, grace and capacity for recovery. Finite, exaggerated or fatalistic language will scream dis-belief.
  • Encourage aspects of character, attitude and heart that, if they continued to develop them, will open up a world of opportunities to live a productive and impact-ful future.

RESPECT

What they want… As teens transition into adulthood, they are super sensitive to insinuations of immaturity. While they fight for independence they want adults around them to start seeing them as emerging adults and treating them accordingly.

What they fear… Commonly the language and tone we use when talking to young people is quite different to how adults would talk to peers. We can present as quite condescending and they feel that we are unable to see them as anything other than a child.

What to try… 

  • Ask the question “How would I handle this situation if this were a co-worker or peer rather than a teen?” (For example, if a coworker knocked a drink over at a meal table we’d probably be quite quick to help them feel ok about the mishap rather than chastise them for their behaviour.)
  • What actions or statements can you change or add to your interactions that communicate respect of their property or privacy, of their opinions and perspectives, and of their insecurities and fears?
  • Consider how you could deescalate a situation by prioritising respect – both given and received.

How about you?
How have you seen this need for Trust, Belief and Respect manifest in your teens? What do you recall of your struggle with this in your own journey into adulthood? How might you leverage this knowledge to bring greater connection with your teen?

 

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against their will

Parents will sometimes talk to me about the struggle it can be to get their young people to church. It can be hard for a whole range of reasons – tiredness or sickness, insecurities or relational tensions, ‘boredom’ and the lure of other events (sports, birthday parties etc). But parents can also be faced with resistance to church attendance as a child starts to gain (and fight for) degrees of independence and particularly as they transition from a church’s children’s ministry into “adult church”.

I don’t believe the importance of church (a gathered community of believers) attendance can be overstated. Many would posit that they can ‘do faith’ without regular church participation or aside from meaningful engagement with a faith community but my understanding of the place of the church in God’s plans – as well as research and anecdotal observations over many years – tells me otherwise.

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Why we wait.

It’s a sentiment oft repeated – we live in a fast-paced world!

Emerging generations are born into a culture where everything is instant and waiting – for anything – is considered passé. Fast food, fast information, instant communication, a rapidly mobile people in a shrinking world … you’ve heard and seen it all and are probably fully immersed in it with the gadgets you own, the service you expect and the pace of life you live.

When it comes to our children and teenagers, more and more we are seeing the impact of a diminished capacity for waiting.

We cringe to hear the stories of pregnant 13 year olds and sexually active ‘tweens’; we are horrified by the teen who crashes a stolen car and is found to be under the influence of alcohol; drug dealing and addicted teenagers; the suicidal girls caught in cyber bullying or sexual coercion; the body image obsessed children ‘dieting’ at 5. These stories confront us for many reasons, but perhaps the thing we bemoan the most is the loss of childhood innocence – “they’re growing up too fast”.

It is a challenge of modern day parenting to make the strong stand necessary to keep our kids kids. Everything in our culture comes against that notion and we can be easily swept into believing that because it’s considered “normal” or because it is happening at all then it mustn’t be bad. No one wants to be that cranky old fuddy duddy who starts sentences with “in my day” (to the obligatory eye roll of all younger generations present) or to act in the role of “fun police” where your primary goal in life is to make your children miserable.

Here’s the reality though. Research indicates that the earlier children are exposed to more ‘at risk’ behaviours the greater their risk of addiction or abuse in that area as an adult. This is true for alcohol – the age of a youth’s first sip directly correlates with the likelihood they will handle it inappropriately (addiction/abuse) as an adult. (Yes, that does fly in the face of the old adage that giving alcohol to young people in a controlled environment may lessen their chance of bingeing on it once they’re of age.) Early exposure to sexualised imagery and language increases the likelihood of pornography addiction and sexual obsession or dysfunction as a child ages. (The average age for a first viewing of porn is 11.)

There’s a plethora of reasons we need to return to the virtue of patience and it behoves us as adults to actively seek ways and opportunities to help our children learn the art of waiting. Age restrictions on things such as movies, alcohol, riding on footpaths, video games and requiring adult supervision exist on purpose. There are realities about a developing brain that societal shifts and cultural advancement cannot change but that can be dramatically impacted by the things our children are exposed to.

The long term gain for waiting is unable to be measured, the consequences for not waiting in some cases cannot be overstated – with this in mind the short term cost of a complaining child or being the ‘only one’ rejecting the status quo might not seem such a high price to pay.

What about … Intimacy?

At iGnite 2 weeks ago I brought a message titled “What about … Intimacy?” – addressing issues of sexuality, relationship and intimacy from a Biblical perspective and with a heart to see a healthy culture in our church family at WBC around these issues. The link to that message is here.

I am regularly asked to speak to different churches, youth groups, parent nights and leadership teams on these issues as the Church continues to try and ‘reclaim’ a Biblical understanding of our sexuality and design for intimacy amidst the brokenness we experience in our search for love and in a world that values very little in respect to purity and honour.

Here is an excerpt from an article out of the Fuller Youth Institute in the States that gives some tips for parents looking to address these issues with their teens …

If you’re a leader or parent who finds it challenging to talk to young people about sex, try some of the following tips that have worked for me:

  1. Start by asking about friends’ behaviours and attitudes. If it feels too challenging to ask a young person about their own practices or attitudes, ask about “other kids at school” as a way to start the conversation.
  2. Use media, current events, or other resources as a springboard. Maybe even start the conversation by using the content of this blog as a door-opener.
  3. Choose the right time. Much of conversation with teenagers boils down to timing.
  4. Share about your own experiences. One of the themes in our Sticky Faith research is that wise parents share (not lecture!) about their own experiences in natural and organic ways. Without divulging every detail of your sexual past, perhaps your young person is ready to hear a bit about mistakes you made, or what you wish you’d done differently.
  5. Invite your young person to talk to another adult. If you’re a parent and it’s just too challenging to talk with your young person about sex, then figure out with your kid who they might be able to talk to.

Often there’s more happening sexually in young people’s lives and thoughts than we might realize. May this new study be a catalyst for better conversations about tough topics.

The full article can be accessed here.

We desire to be a support and resource to your families as you seek to navigate these tricky issues with your young people. Please do not hesitate to engage us in any way that is useful to you – pointing you in the direction of other resources, connecting your young person with a leader or mentor, chatting things out with you, connecting you with other parents who are a little ahead of you on the journey … however we can assist.