By: Dan Vandewarker, High School Ministry Director I have had the great privilege of working with combined Junior High through College age students for the past ten years now. As I raise my own 18-month son now I see that I have a lot to learn. I anticipate the future conversations when I get to call you and get tips from you! Until then, here are some of the most helpful pieces of information that I have been able to share and learn from families of my time thus far in ministry.
Practice Presence Over Perfection
Amazon has 58,460 books on teenagers, 87,913 on the topic of parenting, 486,151 on communication. I am sure that there are many blogs and articles to support each of those books that you could spend your kids teenage years reading and trying to implement them, or you could simply make it a point to be present with your teen and enjoy these final years before you send them off to college and beyond. Often times I’ve found that if we spend more time listening, being available, coming as we are, and admitting that we might not know all the answers, it is much more effective then developing a 3 step process to your perfect teen. As much as they would like you to have all the answers, and you’d like to have all the answers, the reality is that you don’t. Try and find some relief in that, and just be present with your teen.
Establish and Protect Family Time
Get a basket, put it by your kitchen table and at the beginning of each meal have everyone (even the adults) turn in ALL electronic devices. Turn off the TV. Have every family member present and enjoy a meal together. Figure out a goal that is achievable for your family to make this happen. Start with two meals a week as your priority and then increase as you can. If you have never done this then it will surely be awkward at first and met with some resistance, but in hindsight I have never had a family regret making this happen.
In the coming year(s) before you send your kids off to college, these will be the moments that they remember as they leave home. Create as many intentional blocks of time that you can have with your family, wake them up with breakfast, pick them up from school and take them to coffee, surprise them at school with lunch, be creative. One parent used to make tea (or coffee) and made it a point of having a cup with their kids before they left for school. Model to your family the importance of having protected undistracted time together as a way to better know and love each other.
Don’t Do it Alone
Often when I call a parent to check in on a specific family situation, I start a conversation by saying something along the lines of “I am just calling to see how your doing and what I can do to help.” The response is typically one of a silent pause, sniffles, and an apology saying “I’m sorry, I am not normally like this” or something similar to it. I think that in most occurrences these tears are not because of what the family is going through in as much as it is the realization that they are not alone in what they are going through.
In the early church, as described by the book of Acts, we see that the people shared everything that no one was left in need. In the letter that Paul wrote to the people of Galatia we see them charged to carry each other’s burdens. In Romans we are reminded to celebrate and mourn with those who are in those seasons of life.
Time after time we see it referenced that we are to be doing life together, yet many families approach the task of raising teenagers as a “solo” task. It is easy to let the feelings of shame, guilt, or fear keep us isolated from each other when in actuality we are all in it together. Build a network of people around you that can help you in the journey of raising teenagers. Within the Westminster family we have specific ministries for every life stage, and a great community of people who are ready to explore together what it means to be raising up teenagers in a Christ-centered way.