How do we keep our children from throwing their lives away and breaking our hearts in the process?
A few weeks ago I dropped my 5 year old twins off at Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our church. Both daughters cried and would not let go of me when they arrived with their group. They made quite the scene as I attempted to pull away. I was frustrated with them and scolded them and told them to go to their class. Looking back I know the day will soon come that I will be dejected because they will no longer want to hang on to me, instead they will want to let go of me. I have been told by a number of parents with grown children, “When they are little they step on your toes and when they get older they step on your heart.”
I have seen many broken-hearted parents with teenagers and young adults that have gone astray. I cannot help but believe that while young people will make their own decisions, there are some very practical things parents can do to keep their children from going down a path the leads to misery.
Recently, I witnessed some pretty disturbing things among teenagers and preteens. Here are a few:
Middle school age children, both boys and girls, addicted to pornography.
Teenagers cutting themselves with razor blades to ease the pain they feel.
Teenagers contemplating or even engaging in a same sex lifestyle in 8th grade.
Middle school and high school age children taking pictures of themselves naked and sending them to their boyfriend or girlfriend.
These are scary accounts you might expect to hear from hard on their luck, inner city kids, but that is not where these came from.
These stories came from upper middle class church kids at youth camp.
I recently was the evening speaker at my church’s youth camp. There were 323 sixth through twelfth graders along with over 100 adults. The students were awesome and God moved in a big way. There were students giving their lives to Jesus, surrendering to ministry calls and many tears of brokenness over sin.
The reality of what kids are dealing with today versus 5-10 years ago is amazing! Sin is still the same.
The internal struggle is still the same but availability, access, and the cultural moral compass have changed.
I would like to offer what may be some helpful thoughts for Christian parents and youth leaders.
Youth today are further down the sin path then they were ten years ago. Let me explain what I mean.
Ten years ago at youth camp there were usually a few boys struggling with pornography.
Today most of the guys are struggling and many of the girls are struggling with pornography.
Ten years ago you never would have thought to talk about kids struggling with same sex attraction in a church camp setting.
Today most of the youth have accepted homosexuality as a normative behavior.
I can remember in 8th grade it being pretty scandalous if you were kissing your girlfriend, and yet this generation has self-identified homosexuals in 8th grade!
All parents know that there are no guarantees in parenting but there are patterns and there are some wise decisions we can make as parents that will help our children. Here are some ideas that I think Christian parents must consider.
It may be (It probably is) worse than you think – When you hear about kids struggling do not automatically jump to the conclusion, “That’s not my child.” Maybe they’re not…but maybe they are. Most parents of teenagers who are seriously struggling do not know their kids are struggling.
Praise your children for things that are praiseworthy – It is very easy and even natural for us to see what is wrong with our children. We correct them and try to change their behavior to make it what is acceptable. It is so important that we parent according to the gospel. Jesus calls believers His children. When His Spirit convicts us of our sin it is a calling up and not a pressing down. Satan uses fear and guilt. Satan reminds us of how bad we are and how we could never be accepted. Many times I am afraid Christian parents employ Satan’s strategy in parenting. We shame our children. We scold them and tell them how bad they are. God’s Spirit of conviction in our life is different. He convicts us of sin, not to shame us, but to call us to be who we already are in Christ. We are a son or daughter who was adopted into God’s family through the blood of Jesus. He tells us we are to act like who we already are…His children. I am working to remind my kids of who they are and not who they aren’t. Find what they are doing and encourage them.
IT is OK to tell your children that there are things that are NOT ok! We must not let the insane illogical world of culture dictate what is true in our homes. We live in a day of illogical confusion. We have laws to save endangered birds and also have laws that make sure we have the right to kill our own children in the womb. Our politically correct gibberish is creating a generation of confused young people. Parent, it is ok to say that a white woman who claims to be a black woman is actually wrong and confused. It is ok to teach our children that a man that thinks he is a woman is not a hero but a very broken person in need of finding his identity in Christ. It is ok–no, needed–that we teach our children that a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex is not ok. It is important to teach your children that it is not ok to look at pornography. This list could go on for a long time but basically you must teach your children truth based on the Bible and basic common sense. These are lost in our day.
Teens are begging for their parents to help them. They would not say it that way…in fact they would not verbalize it at all. The thing they think they want least (their parent’s love, discipline, and instruction) is the thing they are crying out for most. They are drowning! Teenagers from the beginning of time have struggled with sex…body’s change and hormones rage. All adults wandered through the awkward years of adolescence, but today is a day like never before. For centuries gone by, sexuality has always been a curiosity to teens but always something that was subdued until a time of marriage. A man’s strong desire for sex would drive him to work and to be a responsible man. A young woman’s virtue was her highest prize. A combination of unlimited free pornography, unlimited Internet access and most kids having smartphones has changed everything! Porn is the ocean in which our children are drowning. Some just feel like they cannot do anything to get free.
We need to give them a plan. It is not enough to say pray and read your Bible. They don’t need shame. They need help. They don’t need you to yell at them. When most parents find out their children have some great sin issue or struggle they blow their top, yell and scream, and threaten to lock their children up for the next 10 years. Most of the time these kinds of reactions only cause more separation between the child and parent. Parents should be hurt and even angry that their child has drifted into the deep waters of sin, but they must use that deep emotion to help their child develop a plan for getting out! Some issues need professional help. Sometimes it may be some simple levels of accountability. Every situation is different and requires wisdom and a long term plan for help. Maybe you are thinking, “I have no idea how to get my child help!” Start with the local church you attend. Ask a pastor. That is what they are there for. If they cannot help you, they can point you in the right direction.
We do not need to put undue weight on them. They “need” a cell phone because everyone else has one. We give them one because every other parent has given their child one, but what if they actually don’t “need” one. What if giving them a phone is not helpful but really the weight that pulls them down in the ocean of porn. Remember a phone is not a phone anymore. The thing they use their phone for the least is actually calling people. It is an eye gate to the world. It is an information center. It is the key to everything social. Their phone holds the key to everything they will find their identity in. Is that what you want for your 12 year old? It is the object that shapes our child’s worldview. I don’t even know if they make “just phones” anymore. Be very slow in making the decision of when your child will get a phone. Be very fast in taking their phone away if they are struggling. I don’t let my 18 month old play with knives because she will hurt herself. Most young children are not ready for smart phones when they receive them. We are giving our children a tool to hurt themselves.
Parents must make sure their children have safe, Godly people to talk to other than themselves. At church youth camp I was again shown the importance of Godly spiritual adults. I was reminded that the day will come where my children may not feel like they are able to talk to me about a particular subject because I am their authority figure and I make the rules. They must be able to talk to someone! I am so thankful for youth pastors, girls’ directors, small group leaders, and Sunday School teachers because they are that safe harbor where kids can go to talk. You must get your kids around Godly adults and leaders other than you that you trust. If they are not going to talk to you, then who will they talk too?
God’s Word is the best counselor. I am starting to get on a regular basis questions that I was never asked 5 years ago. Things like: “I have a child that is a girl, but wants to be a boy. What do I do?” or “How can I help my child who is attracted to the same sex?” or “My child is in Middle school and has been sexting. What do I do?” Because these issues are different than issues parents have dealt with in the past sometimes we feel inadequate…which we are. I have found that the best advice for parents is not something new, but something old. We must choose to believe God’s word and use it as counsel. While the problems may be complex, the answers are simple. We are sinners in need of Jesus. When we repent of our sin and live in a way that is pleasing to God, eventually our heart changes. Transformations are rarely overnight…they take time, but God’s word is true and He knows us better than we even know ourselves. We must choose to believe about us what God says about us. The best counselor a parent can know is their Bible! Most parents feel inadequate to help their children because they do not know what God’s word says or where to find it. Here is a novel idea for all parents: Read your Bible everyday. Pray for your children everyday! Don’t miss church and be among other Christian parents!