You’ve been in youth ministry for (gasp!) over 15 years now. You’ve been a parent for almost as long, and now have a teenager of your own (and two close on the heels). You’re about to enter a decades’ worth (at least) of dating and relationships in your own home. Since working with teenagers and having your own can be two different things and since in tense moments emotions tend to run high – here are some things I’ve learned from other wise guides that I hope you can hold on to in the short form of “Do and Don’t.” Call them “what the youthworker in me wants the parent in you to remember” as you and Robin forge ahead.
- Don’t bait your kids, mock their dating, or make fun of their desires or choices. Every word and look and joke from you teaches: and all that kind teaches them is to shut down and not trust you. You may not get that trust back for a long time.
- Don’t live vicariously through their dating relationships. Don’t go all “helicopter parent” over the relationship, its ups, downs, status, etc. I get that you’ll have the desire to want to know what’s going on, to know the other person, be part of it. That’s fine and good to a point. But don’t smother it, own it, and don’t let it feed or starve your own self-image. What puffs up one moment can devestate the next. It’s not about you. It’s not the verdict on you. That last word belongs only to Jesus: rest in that. (And do help them understand this as well).
- Don’t leave it all to them to figure out and deal with. Everyone but marketers abandons teenagers, and let your own home be the first line of defense here. Worried about what forms them? Practice wise counter-formation. God gave you a responsibility here and a community to help you – engage!
- Do lovingly respect them and listen to them. That means paying close attention to their thoughts/feelings/desires/experiences. You have something to learn here: their world is both like yours and unlike it, but more off your radar and closed to your access. Ask, seek, knock: let them be the guides for once.
- Do lead and “be awkward so they don’t have to” (HT: the awesome guide here by the Youth Cartel folks). Initiate, use real words, engage, provoke, point out. They will learn with or without you, so take the initiative and go first: lead with your thoughts on what’s true, right, pure, good, beautiful, excellent, praiseworthy. Then listen, learn, and adjust accordingly.
- Do be honest about your expectations, boundaries, and be firm. Life’s too short to be mealy-mouthed here: boundaries are there to keep us on the path, and guardrails keep mini-accidents from becoming major ones. There might be no “once-for-all rules” on this subject, but that shouldn’t keep you from laying down a wise track. 1 Thessalonians 4 should help you here. Think of yourself as one of the adults who are spotters on the balance beam: you’re giving (him or her) freedom to risk with the knowledge that you’re there for them. (And by all means, when you coolly allow consequences, stay with them).
And above all, remember the story you want to tell. Since we’re Christians, all our stories begin with goodness and end with grace, no matter how messy, screwed up, and sinful they get in the middle. Don’t ever take sin more seriously than grace. Remember that those kids are full human beings learning to take up the task of being a wise representative of God in his world. There are bound to be failures and victories along the way as they learn to reflect their King. Don’t forget that it’s your job to reflect his goodness and grace as well.
grace and peace