Parents: Talk and listen to your children
I work with youths every day. Yes, the actual job of Youth Director has some expected hours, but in reality, if I do my job well, there are no restrictions. Youths delight me, inspire me, frustrate me and define my calling in life. I have the pleasure of not only spending Sunday evenings with them, but have daily interactions as they visit my office for a place to hang out, call or text me with questions and concerns. Some are the usual teen problems of love lost or unreciprocated, friends coming and going, school work looming. Others bring much bigger issues to the table.
In thinking about how to heal our community, to me our awesome youth are key to the healing. This healing can begin at home. Today, my challenge is going to be with the parents. My questions to you are these:
Do you really know what is going on in the life of your youth?
Are you aware of the issues of the day?
What causes you to be so blind or turn the other way on many of these tough issues?
How much quality time are you really spending just parenting?
I'm not talking about being friends with your child. They can be influenced by any number of friends - sometimes good and sometimes not so great. But, they cannot choose their parents.
From Fellowship of Christian Athletes to Sunday night Foundation Youth Group to retreats with youth from around the state, I'm learning what youth have on their mind.
I asked a group of about 40 youth, active in their church, (7th - 12th graders), anonymously, the following questions: 1. Have you ever seriously considered suicide? 2. Have you ever smoked weed/marijuana? 3. Do you have friends who smoke weed? 4. Have you seen weed at school?
The results: 25 percent have considered suicide; 25 percent have smoked marijuana and 66 percent have friends who smoke marijuana; and 33 percent have seen it at school.
So often, a parent will learn about statistics like these and immediately assume it couldn't possibly be their own child. Do we fear that we may be perceived as a bad parent in our community? Just because your child makes bad decisions doesn't mean you haven't done your job. Youth are naturally experimental and, in our society, youth become desensitized to marijuana, for example, because it is everywhere. Stats prove that over the course of a youth's high school career, they think progressively more favorably about marijuana. They don't see it as bad; and often we don't take time to reinforce that it is. Television, music, magazines and social media: all of these outlets glorify or make normal the use of drugs, prescriptions, underage drinking and sex.
Have you gotten to the point where your conversations are so intense and so real that you wonder if you are giving the right responses? That's when you are earning the best title ever: Parent. Now is the time to talk, to listen, and to create an environment where the true worries come out.
Youths need to hear why they matter. They need to see examples of how to choose friends and pastimes. In my experience as youth director, I've found that simple things continue to make the best memories. Swimming, hiking, watching a movie and then talking about it together, showing emotion, opening up, giving each other honest feedback. We explore Christian values and learn about resources, prayer and giving back. And, we provide to each other that sense of belonging, where no topics are off limits. Love is unconditional, but there are confines to it. We have expectations of one another and we mean it.
My challenge to anyone fortunate enough to be a parent: Can you honestly say you know what is worrying your young person?
2 July 2012