Archive for the ‘Equipping’ Category

Stressed Out Kids and Teens

Curled in a ball on her bed after a long day at school, Kaylie hypnotically skims through selfies and snippets of her friends’ lives on her phone. When she hears the door slam and her mom’s voice calling out, she suddenly wishes she could instantly teleport herself somewhere far away. When her mom’s voice gets louder and harsher, Kaylie reluctantly moans back. Unfolding her weary body, she wipes away a few tears, gathers herself together and heads downstairs.

After a quick greeting, her mom begins to question Kaylie about homework, music lessons, applications and whether she talked to her teacher about that one grade. Annoyed by her mom’s tone, Kaylie answers her questions and heads back upstairs…to hide. She can feel her chest getting tighter and the pit in her tummy forming as she enters her room again. “And, this is my life,” she mutters as she plops in her chair and begins to work.

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Kaylie is an ordinary high school kid growing up in America. She’s my kid. She’s your kid. And, she’s doing her best to live life consistent with what she’s been taught. Unfortunately, if nothing changes, she will live in a chronic and consuming state of stress that will set her up to cope in a number of unhealthy and destructive ways.

Kids were made for relationships. When they begin to form friendships, they soon realize that people can be mean. And, pain hurts and sometimes isolates. To cope, many learn to display only what they want others to see. Social media makes this easy. They create personalities, construct their words carefully and make sure it all presents a desirable self. But, when the outside displays do not equal the inner reality, the dissonance only leads to more pain, in the form of stress.

Kids were made to find pleasure in ordinary things and to see God in each of these.  As children this comes easy. But, as adolescence approaches, many realize that these delights can now lead to status, admission to elite clubs, teams, organizations, even colleges! They learn that they can use these to appear special and passionate. So, even if feelings of delight are replaced with dread, parents, coaches and teachers encourage them to keep at it, even to the exclusion of other activities. But, when play becomes work, the pressure to perform can easily lead to feelings of fatigue, irritability and burnout.

Kids were made to dream about their calling and contribution to the community. Early on they are told if they don’t do well then they won’t get into college. Before you know it, their performance on homework, tests, and projects feels like a linchpin that will cause the gate to a bright future to either open up or close before them. When the future is solely linked to today’s accomplishments, many kids will throw in the towel and give up or they will do whatever is necessary to make it to the top. Perfectionism and stress are best friends.

Our kids were made to worship God and be satisfied in Him. By the time many reach adolescence, however, their marginless lifestyles make it hard to find space for God. As a result, they can’t find room in their schedule for Him. Many wonder how He is even relevant to the treadmill they are now on. They have no idea that He is THE One who placed the desires within them and therefore is able to satisfy them. Believing that God is far off, uninterested or non-existent, many choose to worship the god of self instead. This always leads to more striving, more doing, more possessing and more stressing.

God created our kids for relationships, for discovery, for dreaming about His plan for them and for worshipping Him above all else.

IF WE

  • don’t foster relationships,
  • can’t encourage them to engage in activities for delight’s sake,
  • make them figure out they’re calling on our timing instead of His
  • don’t encourage them to leave space for God and His community of believers

THEN…the joy of living this glorious life will be reduced to waking up and resuming where you left off on the treadmill.

I’m so tired and saddened by the number of kids I meet who are popping pills and reaching for possessions and pleasures to numb their stressed and depressed emotions. No wonder suicide is still the number one killer of teens and young adults. As parents, we must commit to counter the stress-filled messages and make home a place where kids can do relationships, dare to discover, daily dream and most of all delight in God. This is part of their Creator’s plan for them.

KEEP ON TALKING ABOUT “THE TALK”

‘I have exciting news!” Grace said as she bounded past me and plopped on the couch in my office.

Wondering what she had to share, I quickly closed the door, spun around and excitedly inquired, “What?! What wonderful thing has happened?”

With a huge smile on her face, Grace squealed, “Kyle and I are officially dating!”

“Wow, this is big news!” I said as smiled from ear to ear.

Dating pic

Like many teen girls at the start of a relationship, Grace had trouble talking about anything else. Knowing this, I let her share more details about this new development. As she talked about their dates together thus far, I asked if they had set physical limits or talked about temptations.

Her eyes grew big as she hastily responded, “We are both definitely waiting until marriage to have sex!” “At least I am,” she emphatically added.
“Grace, that is so awesome,” I said, “but you need to know that a lot can happen apart from sexual intercourse.”

Wide eyed and quiet now, Grace agreed. As we talked more about this, she shared how several of her friends had already given in to sexual temptations with their boyfriends. Even though she was disheartened by their decisions, she hoped that her commitment and determination to stick to it would be enough. She never really thought about the challenges that might make it hard to remain committed to purity.

Grace is not unlike most high school girls I meet. Regardless of their commitment to remain pure, many teens do not have a plan to resist the physical temptations they will face in their relationships with the opposite sex. Not surprisingly fewer and fewer stay the course. One large nationwide survey indicated that 80% of “evangelical” adults between 18-25 years of age did not wait until marriage to have sex. (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2009)

Over the years, I have read many articles that try to explain why abstinence movements seem to have failed. Most cite a combination of reasons which often include the media’s perverted portrayal of sex, the prevailing “if it feels good, do it” philosophy, the exponential rise in pornography as well as a blatant misunderstanding of God’s intention for this limit.

While I would certainly agree that all of these play a role, from my vantage point as a counselor working with teens and families, I would add another. I believe there is an enormous void when it comes to open and ongoing discussions AT HOME about sex, sexual desires and temptations, and the ongoing challenges kids face as they spend more and more time with the opposite sex.

Too many parents (and kids) think that a verbal commitment, a purity ring, a ceremony, or one candid talk about the consequences of sex before marriage is enough. Some avoid the discussion altogether because of the awkwardness or resistance they get from their kid. Still others hope the talk at school or occasional admonitions from a youth pastor or youth worker will be enough.

We need to wake up to the reality that in order for kids like Grace to keep the commitment they made, they will need one or more adults in their life who affirm their desire to want more in a relationship but who remind them that God’s limits come from an incredible heart of love for them. They will need someone who is honest with them about how challenging it can be to remain sexually pure. They will need someone who will lovingly set limits, hold them accountable, and regularly ask them tough questions. If and when they mess up, they will need someone who will reflect the amazing grace of the Father and who will lovingly urge them not to throw in the towel because of their mistake but instead to run toward a God who remains crazy in love with them regardless of their failure.

Ideally, this message, does not come from just one person nor does it happen in one day or in one conversation. Instead, it comes from many people and it continues before, during and after relationships with the opposite sex begin or end.

We can’t wait for our kids to initiate this discussion because most tell me they don’t know how. They are waiting on YOU to begin the dialogue. They need YOU to keep it going. They are listening even when you don’t think they are. When you do this, you get the chance to reflect the heartbeat of the Father and His ultimate purpose to refine them as they courageously trust in His perfect plan.

So, will YOU be that person? For your son, your daughter, their friends, your friend’s kids? Because the dialogue out there has already begun. And, our kids are listening to it because they aren’t hearing much from YOU.

Making the Most of the Mess

“How did you feel when your parents found out?” I asked. Like a typical teen, Megan said, “Well, at first I was really mad at them. Then I felt so embarrassed and exposed.” After saying this, she slowly twiddled with a tassle on her sweater. She then looked up, sighed and quietly muttered, “It also felt strangely freeing as well.” As she tried to find words to express her feelings, she admitted how exhausted she felt from hiding her actions. Even though she had to endure some pretty heavy consequences, there was a big part of her that genuinely felt relieved.

Far beneath the sassy attitude,  scowls, angry displays and silent treatment lay thoughts and feelings that exposed a bit of what she really desired. “I’m tired of hiding,” she admitted. “I want someone to know what is really going on in.”

girl known

Megan’s sense of relief reflects a desire that lives within every human being. Even though she had spent an enormous amount of time and energy hiding her behavior and protecting her heart, she really wanted to be known. Especially, by mom and dad. God created her with a relentless desire to be known. Because she did not have the courage to reveal her poor choices, Megan kept up her disguise. Unfortunately, the more she hid, the more she hid. Eventually, she was completely unaware of the pain and brokenness she continually concealed in her heart. Megan couldn’t imagine that rest, relief and restoration could actually be found by being vulnerable and transparent with someone she could trust.

As parents, our response to our kids when they are caught plays a key role in either perpetuating the game of hide and seek or ending it. Unfortunately, fear and despair can cause us to freak out, overpower and squelch any desire they may have to tell the truth. If we can view these messes as pivotal moments, however, we can actually take steps that invite them to discover the life they deeply desire.

Remember, they deeply desire to be known. Your teen is aching to live the life they were created to experience. If they behave defensively or aggressively when their junk is revealed, take heart. Even if they don’t express it, these revelations move them away from Enemy territory and into the light. While the Enemy desires to convince them to hide, their lies and deception will eventually destroy relationships and ultimately themselves. God, on the other hand, offers them freedom as they bravely reveal what is going on behind the scenes. Our commitment to pursue our kids, project emotional safety and demonstrate unconditional love can fan the flames on the bit of courage they need to confess and come clean.

Reflect God’s grace. Being found out gives a parent the opportunity to display God’s love and mirror God’s grace. One teen recently told me she felt both shocked and uncomfortable when her parents calmly and lovingly confronted her after finding out about some poor choices she’d made. “I keep waiting for them to freak out or yell at me or angrily glare at me,” she said. This is what she felt she deserved. By verbally and physically expressing their love and favor toward her, while still implementing consequences and setting new boundaries, she understood a bit more about God’s amazing grace.

Remain faithful. When teens get caught doing something they knew they were not supposed to do, you have the opportunity to keep your promise. When a kid has been warned about a consequence and a parent does not follow through, the promise is broken. Demonstrate that you mean what you say and that you will do what you said you would do. A parent who chooses to do the hard thing by being direct, intolerant of destructive behavior and lovingly implements consequences demonstrates what it means to be faithful and trustworthy with regard to commitments.

The next time your kid is engaging in behaviors that are inappropriate, imagine yourself in the trenches. You are, indeed, at war. You are fighting for their character, their future, their life. Getting louder, trying to win arguments or cranking up your control will only interfere with this effort. Instead, consider the One who fought for you and emulate what He has done for you as you interact with your child. Because He made you, He knows what you really need in your most messy moments. Pray that He reveals the root desire beneath your kid’s actions. Because He loves you and died for you, He extends grace and mercy to you even though you never deserve it. Offer this to your kid, especially when they least expect it. Because He is trustworthy, He will always remain faithful. Follow through with the promises you’ve made.

Slaying the Techno-Beast at Home

Most kids today have had their hands on a gadget before they ever formed their first word. Technology is so integrated into their lives, that few if any can even imagine a world without it. If we are perfectly honest, we probably played a major role in feeding our children’s passion for all things media. Brilliant marketing strategies compelled us to purchase digital products that bore the names of geniuses or that contained convincing words like “leap” in them. We were sure that these “educational” toys could somehow give our kid an edge socially, academically or developmentally. We marveled at the way they were lulled and mesmerized by them and thought surely something wonderful was happening in their mind.

By the time our little tots become teens, however, many of us started to view technology a bit differently. Now, the smartphones, tablets, game systems and computers seem more like a beast threatening to devour us all. We try hard to tame this behemoth by setting guidelines, limits and by forcing them to endure life without a gadget in their hand every once in a while. Now, we find ourselves hoping and praying that their brain won’t be permanently harmed by the constant staring, scrolling, and screening.

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This digital age and all that comes with it has become a regular conversation among parents of pre-teens and teens. We consult with one another to see how others are dealing with it all. “When should he get a smartphone?” “How long is too long in front of a screen?” “What kind of wifi filters do you use?” These are just a few of the questions I am frequently asked. Parents are worried, confused and tired of the daily disputes that often arise when limits or guidelines are set and enforced. Kids want more. And, moms and dads dream about the days when none of this existed at all.

Even though I have often felt the urge to toss every computer, gaming system, tablet and smartphone in the trash to instantly get rid of these, I know that in many ways we have greatly benefitted from technology. Eradicating it doesn’t really address the bigger problem. When we get mad or lose our temper because our kids seem more disobedient or distracted, we must ask ourselves what is really going on. Why are we so agitated? Could it be that the daily dilemmas remind us that our deeper longing to feel more connected with one another is not being satisfied? Or, perhaps, these battles indicate our great desire for order, peace and a bit of predictability at home. Connection and order are essential and both point toward part of God’s plan for man.

Quite often, our teen’s overdependence upon technology stems from their thirst to feel more connected or included. Because God created us for relationships, our teens desperately want to learn how to relate to one another. They long for authentic, life-giving relationships where they can be heard as they discuss, disagree and work through conflicts.

Even though social media seems to offer a forum for this, more than ever, teens seem to be struggling to create deeper connections and to maintain order and harmony. Nonetheless, the systems or devices themselves are not the problem. Our willingness to let these interfere with our ability to create committed relationships with one another seems to be the bigger problem. Our kids rely on us to teach them how to communicate, resolve conflict, and work toward peace. They need their moms and dads to show how messy and magnificent human relationships can be. Their devices won’t offer them this model nor will most of their peers. Like many things, our homes will become a place of connection and peace to the extent that we model this.

Become aware of how much you are pulling out your smartphone, staring at your tablet or tuning into a screen instead of chatting with your spouse, child or friend. When there is discord, work hard to stay tuned in and open up the lines of communication to resolve conflicts. Slay the beast by pursuing your teen, by creating order and predictability through the use of guidelines and limits, and by being more intentional about being fully present whenever you are interacting with friends and family. And last, but certainly not least, ask God to give you wisdom, insight and direction so that you can defeat the disconnection and discord that is all too often blamed on the products and platforms of the digital age.

Paying Attention to Our Words

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Sophie Magazine. 

One of the most powerful resources we have as parents are our words. What flows from our mouths has the power to build up and encourage or tear down and dishearten. Many great books have been written on this topic. A favorite of mine is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. In it the authors use humor and helpful illustrations to give the reader with skills and insight to motivate kids with words. Another favorite is the Bible. Throughout God’s word we are repeatedly offered nuggets of wisdom to help us guide our word choice. Some of the most profound are found in the book of Proverbs.

proverb

The words ofthe reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Pr. 12:18

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Pr. 15:4

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Pr. 29:20

The gist of these verses is that words have great power. The wise parent should learn to be intentional and prudent in speech.

Believe it or not, even those words that are hidden in our heads carry great influence. These are the phrases that we instantly form as we make observations throughout our day. They shape how we feel and then respond to what we see. In my work as a counselor, these secret perspectives offer a critical insight about the paradigm from which a person may be operating.  For example, one parent might say, “I’m afraid my daughter is emotionally sinking from all of the stressors she is facing.” While another parent may say, “I have noticed that my teen daughter is lacking some key coping skills to manage her stress,” about a similar situation. The difference may seem subtle and unimportant but the variance in word choice is quite significant. The first parent’s fear may actually drive the way they helps their daughter address the problem. The second’s parent simple observation will also affect the tone and manner in which they come alongside their teen. Even though the differences may seem subtle or overly analytical, when we are addressing problems, a slight distance like this can significantly impact the hope we feel and the solutions we generate as we help ourselves and our teens.

Of course, both our thoughts (observations) and feelings have enormous value.  But when we pay more attention to the fear we have, we actually engage a completely different portion of our brain. Because fear is experienced in our primitive brain, fear-based responses to situations tend to lead to one of two extreme reactions. The first is a tendency to be more passive, which may lead us to withdraw, ignore, or even to create a barrier of protection between the problem and our teen. We may pull away from actually addressing the problem, hoping it will all disappear. The second is a tendency to hold a more aggressive stance. This may cause us to become threatening or overly controlling as we strive to control the situation and the outcome. Both of these fear based responses provoke a roller coaster of emotions, especially if we shift from one extreme to the other.

When we choose to pay attention to what is required instead of focusing on our fears deep fears, however, a completely different part of our brain is activated. This region is known as the cortex and it operates very differently than our more primitive and protective portion of our brain. When we operate from this region we are more able to generate the most rational, creative and thoughtful responses to the difficulties we face as parents. Not only that, it is as we use our cortex that we are able to fix our eyes on Christ. Utilizing His help and our best brain, we will find it much easier to minimize fear and maximize our hope. Above all, we provide our teens with a godly example of stress management.

Words matter.  So, pay attention to what is coming out of your mouth. The way we audibly or mentally combine them greatly impacts how we address the dilemmas we and our kids face each day. I challenge you to notice your first response to a predicament you may be in. If you are reacting or coping out of fear adjust your posture to a more hope filled, Christ centered observation. You will be amazed at how this slight adjustment can positively impact how you and your teenager individually and collectively move through the next problem that arises.

Pornography and Your Teen’s Brain

By the time most  children reach the age of 11, statistics show that more than likely they have already been exposed to some form of pornography.  While most exposures occur through emails, social media, or ads on the internet, many kids easily access pornographic images, movies and programs through the television.  With over 372 million pornographic webpages available through the Internet, it is abundant and readily available to children and teenagers with very little effort.  Because of the impossibility of being able to completely shield kids from ever seeing pornographic pictures or movies, more than ever before parents must be aware of its impact and begin to effectively address this problem.

Through the years  many have debated, downplayed, or even dismissed the possibility that pornography could negatively effect an individual and/or their relationships with others.  But as God continues to allow scientists to understand more and more about the human brain, we are now able to gain a clearer and more accurate picture of the negative impact that pornography has on the mind. Because the brain is involved in everything we do, whatever impacts the brain also greatly influences other areas in a person’s life.

Using fMRIs and other investigative measures, researchers are able to identify the powerful combination of sexual hormones and other neurotransmitters released while an individual views pornographic images.  These are very similar to the sequence that occurs in the brain when a person experiences heightened excitement and pleasure from substances like heroine and cocaine.  Because the brain is designed to record and remember pleasurable encounters, the individual begins to crave more encounters hoping to replicate the euphoric experience once again.  Similar to other addictive cycles, however, the brain slowly begins to become less satisfied unless the new experience is more intense, stimulating or thrilling than the one before.  Over time this neural pathway in the brain becomes reinforced and preferred which  leads a person to greatly desire this activity over others.  This is how the vicious addictive cycle slowly begins to control the heart and mind.

Aside from the research that is revealing how and why the brain becomes quickly addicted to pornography,  there is another critical dilemma that must be mentioned as well.  When an individual is watching any activity, specialized cells in the brain called mirror neurons store behavioral or motor  information that is later accessed to be able to mimic the previously observed behavior.   Because pornography offers the brain a perverted, immoral and often violent representation of sex and sexuality, this will now be a major part of the template the viewer will access and use  to powerfully shape and influence his/her own behaviors and attitudes related to attachments, sexuality, the purpose of sex, the value of women, and the nature of intimate relationships.  If this still doesn’t shock you or cause your heart to sink, consider this.  The largest consumers of internet pornography are between the ages of 12 and 17 years of age.  Think of the millions of pre-teens and teens whose brains have begun to daily crave pornography and whose minds now have a gravely skewed,  immoral and perverted imprint for sex and sexuality in relationships.

What I find most interesting about the vast majority of the research, documentaries and articles is that, for the most part, these inquiries are not being conducted by Christians or a moral majority who are intent on proving a point.  Instead, most of the neuro-scientific research, reports and documentaries are being completed by scientists, social scientists and journalists who are interested in understanding what may be lurking behind the exploding interest in pornography.  Pornography is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide ($57 billion)  with revenues in the US alone exceeding those of  ABC, NBC and CBS combined ($12 billion, with $3 billion solely from child pornography).  While it is difficult to gather sound statistics regarding the numbers of individuals who are reportedly addicted to pornography, the negative impact of  pornography is now being substantiated by an abundance of  research.  I am certain there isn’t a marriage therapist or pastor who wouldn’t agree that pornography is overwhelmingly linked to the problems and ultimate demise of many, many marriages and families, both in and out of the church community.

A few decades ago scientists were also very helpful in clearly pinpointing the effects of drug and alcohol use on the brain and the body.  In response to this information millions of dollars began to be poured into prevention programs to educate and deter kids and teens from using drugs and alcohol.  Proactive parents didn’t wait for their kids to hear this information from their local DARE program.  Instead, they knew this was ultimately their responsibility to have planned and spontaneous conversations with their kids about the risks and consequences of drug use.  While this problem may seem very different, the grave impact on the brain, body and quality of life also exists with regard to the problem of pornography.  Preventive and educational programs may never be implemented in the public school systems,  but if they ever are I am quite certain they will be not presented from a biblical world view.

Parents, I implore you to begin this critical conversation with your kids and keep it going throughout their adolescence and young adulthood.  Yes, we can safeguard our homes to make it difficult for our kids to access pornographic images through social media or other outlets.  That will never be sufficient.  We must have consistent and directed dialogue with both our sons and daughters to protect them and their future families from the serious impact that pornography has on the brain of both the young and the old. Regularly, take the the time to teach your teens that…

  • pornography can actually change their brain, increasing their desire for more and leaving behind a neurological template about sex and sexuality that is distorted, perverted and in complete opposition to God’s plan. 
  • pornography, like every other perversion, is one more byproduct of sinful man living in a fallen world.  (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 6:18-20)
  • they were created in God’s image, which means they will always have a deep yearning for intimacy in relationships. This desire stems from a deeper desire to know and be known.  (Genesis 1:26)
  •  their sin nature will lure them away from God’s design for anything, including sex. (Galatians 5:16-21)
  • they are in a spiritual battle every day against an Enemy who desires to destroy their body, heart, mind, and soul and that pornography is one of the many ways he is attempting to do that.  (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • God is faithful to convict His children when they are tempted and will always provide them with a way of escape if they yield to Him. (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • pornography offers only a  false sense of intimacy, which always leads to increased emptiness, loneliness, guilt and shame.
  • if they do succumb to the temptation to view or even participate in pornography, they are not neurologically doomed and God can set them free from their addiction but they must confess their sin and consistently yield to God and His plan for their life.  (I John 1:9)
  • they will never be fully satisfied when they seek anything apart from God and His will for their life. (John 4:13-15; Philippians 4:19)

 

I don’t know about the teens in your life,  but mine need to hear things repeatedly so they can wrestle, debate and hopefully absorb what is being said to them.  In order for teenagers to truly assimilate these and other related biblical truths, one conversation will just not cut it.  We must engage in ongoing conversation about this and equip our kids to resist the temptation to minimize and/or engage in pornographic activities.

The truths about pornography and its destructive effect on the mind, body, heart, and soul are not being taught in their school.  Most of your teen’s peers are ignorant of these truths and for many different reasons most churches tend to avoid discussion about this problem as well.  So, who will tell your sons and daughters about God’s perfect plan for life, for intimacy, for relationships?  Who will fight for their minds and hearts so that they can be shielded from the devastating effect of pornography?  

Pray, ask the Lord for guidance, for opportunity, for spiritual insight and for compassion as you take the initiative to begin a conversation with your teen about a toxic problem that is daily impacting the brain of millions of young people and as a result destroying lives, marriages and families around the globe.

For other helpful articles on this topic, click on the links below. 

http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/sexuality/when_children_use_pornography.aspx

http://www.equip.org/articles/the-effects-of-porn-on-the-male-brain-3/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/Porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

When A Teen is Hurting

Skinned knees.  Bee stings.  Bicycle wrecks.  Sibling spats.  These are just a few of the many circumstances that compel a child to seek out their mom and dad for comfort and relief.  But as kids enter the teen years the struggles they face will often take more than a band-aid, a hug and a few simple words of reassurance or redirection.  Before teens reach adulthood, most will likely encounter broken relationships, academic challenges, friendship problems, personal failures, sudden losses and bouts of loneliness.  Anyone of these can emotionally pummel even the most resilient and well-adjusted teen.  Yet there are other teens who will seemingly glide through problems like these with little fallout.

Regardless, of how teens handle pain parents must be ready to walk beside their teens as they face the varied storms that frequently rise up during the teen years.   Most of the challenges a teen faces will not require the help of a professional counselor.  But unfortunately many parents initially doubt their own ability to help their teens when they are emotionally hurting.  As a licensed counselor I certainly believe that seeking professional help is in order when a teen is quickly decompensating, engaging in dangerous or life-threatening behaviors or unresponsive to a parent’s efforts to walk beside them and help them.   Otherwise, parents must remember and trust that God placed them in the best position to help their kids when pain comes their way.  Just as He guides the Christian counselor who surrenders each client before Him, so too will He offer wisdom, direction and insight to a parent who regularly yields their teen and the tough stuff they encounter to Him as well.

Yes, I know.  Dealing with the depth and complexity of problems that kids are dealing with these days can certainly be a daunting task.  Not only that, a teen’s emotional displays can compel any sane parent to suddenly become emotionally unstable as well.  Nonetheless, a parent’s willingness to enter in, stick beside, and commit to see a teen through life’s challenges will accomplish far more than any paid professional could do for a teen or their family.  Why?  Because whether they say it or show it or ever disclose it, most teens want their parents to be the one who guides them to the other side when the waters become rough.  So roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath and soak up a few tips that may help you as you personally counsel your son or daughter through impending storms.

Enter In:  Sometimes parents forget that teens are still comforted by their parent’s presence when they get hurt.  Teens still lack key emotional and relational skills necessary to cope with big problems.    Entering in does not mean you own the problem, fix the problem or rescue them from the problem.   Instead, it means you remain face forward in your relationship with your teen and commit to check in, be available and offer guidance as you walk beside a teen who is hurting

Remain emotionally and spiritually anchored: If you are standing on a slippery rock, the last thing you reach for is something that is not tightly tethered or firmly planted.  Sadly, that is what many teens have available to them when they are in distress.  Commit to remain a parent who is emotionally and spiritually firm so that you can give them the security they desire.   This means that you consciously separate yourself from their problem and remain a separate individual.  A spiritually anchored parent is praying, seeking God’s wisdom and strength and remains confident of His provision to help them see their teen through.  Your ability to remain emotionally safe, calm and confident in the Lord regardless of the crisis will be one of the most powerful testimonies you can offer your teen about living in Christ.

Actively Listen: Listening well requires an enormous amount of patience, impulse control and emotional energy.  When you actively listen you are not only tuning into both the spoken and unspoken expressions coming from a teen but as a believer you are inviting God to speak to you in the midst of  your conversation.  Discover what lies beneath their words.  What is the focus of their emotion/ pain?  What do they long for?  What do they want/need and what are they doing to get those needs met.  Is there a deeper struggle going on?  As you listen ask clarifying questions that will help you and your teen begin to uncover some of these bigger problems.

Teach:  When emotions are regulated, allow these difficulties to be opportunities to teach your teen.  They need to know how to effectively manage emotions, solve problems and most of all seek the Lord in the midst of their pain.  Counselors use presenting problems as a way of assessing deficits and strengths.  Do the same.  Through it all your own ability to model all of these to your teen will offer the most powerful instruction.

Look Beyond: Be a hope giver.  Most teens have difficulty seeing beyond today’s problems.  When parents can’t see past their teen’s emotional struggles, they can actually thicken the emotional quick sand in their midst.  Offering hope does not mean making false or trite promises.  Instead, it is an opportunity to demonstrate confidence in the Lord and his ability to rescue, resolve and relieve as we lean into Him.

Counseling your teens can be one of the most difficult yet rewarding tasks as a parent.  In Proverbs 4 Solomon tells how his father David encouraged him to seek wisdom when he was a young man.  The Christ-centered instruction and counsel you have to offer your teen offer them far more than anything the world can give them.  May we lean into Him as we love well, lead well and listen well to the teens in our midst.

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.  Proverbs 4:20-27

When YOU Cross the Line With Your Teen

One of the most frequent themes that inevitably arises while chatting with parents of teenagers is most certainly the topic of limits, boundaries and consequences.  With adulthood looming on the horizon, teens love to test the limits and exercise their independence.  As a result, parents are always trying to stay one step ahead of their teen by mastering the art of setting good limits and responding to the rebellion in a way that will be helpful to a teenager.

But what happens when you, the parent/adult,  are the one that crosses the line?  What do you do when you have said or done something that is completely inappropriate and possibly  wounding to them?  Maybe, your behavior was a direct response to your teen’s negative behavior or attitude.  Perhaps, you felt provoked, unprepared or even attacked.  Whatever the case, there is never an excuse for verbal or behavioral retaliations toward our teenagers.   The inappropriate words or behaviors never help or heal a bad situation  and often deeply stab at the heart of your teen.

Unfortunately, most parents have or will cross this line at some point or another.  Recently, I leaped over the line by reacting to the sin of one of my teenagers by sinning right back at them.  During a family devotion (of all things!), one of my kids had been displaying an obstinate and resistant attitude by offering curt answers and sarcastic remarks.  While my husband continued leading us in a discussion, this particular child seemed determined to distract and disable our time together.  My husband calmly attempted to redirect him and remind him of the limits and expectations as a family.  A few minutes later, I thought I heard our grumpy teen utter an ugly, cutting comment toward his brother who had been trying his best to ignore his brother and participate in the conversation.   Frustrated by his unkind manner and his refusal to just be nice to everyone, I abruptly stood up at the table, exclaimed some harsh words his way and physically corrected him in the most immature and unnecessary manner.

The whole table fell silent and I immediately felt a wave of conviction come over me.  My husband’s bewildered expression combined with my son’s tear-filled eyes added to the shame that was swimming around inside my heart.  Ugh. Aaah. Gulp.   “What had I done?!”  How had I let something so minor get to me in such a major way?  After apologizing to my whole family and individually to our son, we proceeded to finish up our time together.  Even though he had accepted my apology, I still pursued a private conversation with him afterward.  I was humbled and blessed by the genuine forgiveness he had offered me as well as his desire to apologize for his earlier behavior.  Despite the grace I had received from my family and my son, throughout the day I found myself wanting to do something more to make things right.  In the midst of this battle in my heart and mind, I was reminded of a passage in the book of Micah.

In this short book in the bible, we are given a true picture of our God who hates sin yet loves the sinner.  Through the prophet Micah, Israel is reminded of how they have repeatedly forgotten their covenant with God by refusing to live by the standards that He had given them.  He tells them that God is angered by their sin and will pass judgment upon them because of it.  In the midst of God’s words of judgment, however, He mercifully offers forgiveness and new life to those who will repent and follow Him. When the people suggest bringing gifts and sacrifices as a way to make things right with God once again, the prophet Micah tells them

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (Amplified Bible)

The same is true for you and I today.  Whether you have sinned against God, your friend, your spouse or your teen, the very best thing that you can do after you repent and confess your sin is to move forward in His grace.  Ask the Lord to help you as you commit to act justly, to love kindness and mercy and to exude humility as you humbly walk with Him.  Your temptation to do anything else will lack the redemptive power that comes when His streams of mercy and love and kindness flow out of you and into your relationships.   This is good.  And this is what the Lord requires of you when you wound someone.   May you find freedom in His forgiveness as you commit to walk this way as a mom, dad, or friend of a teenager.

Constant Conversation

The changes that occur in our teenagers often accompany shifts that begin to occur in our relationship with them.   Many parents notice their teens spending more time in their room or with their friends.  As a result,  there is often a steady reduction in the amount of time parents are interacting and conversing with their kids as they approach adulthood.  While this desire for separation and solitude is certainly a natural part of adolescence, parents are more limited in their ability to guide and disciple their teenagers if their kids aren’t around as much as they were.  For many parents, this disconnection offers the solitude and relief they have been craving and even dreaming about for so many years.  But, as I have written in earlier posts, during these last years we must pull up our boot straps as parents and intentionally seize the opportunities God has given us to continue  instructing, guiding, loving, supporting, admonishing and correcting our kids while they are still under our roof.

Rather than expand my thoughts on why this need for constant conversation is so critical, I thought I would direct you to one of my favorite books for parents of teens.  In his book Age of Opportunity, Paul Tripp gives parents a biblical perspective on this issue and why it so important for parents to keep the conversation going well into adolescence and young adulthood.  Below is an excerpt from a section in his book where he discuss some critical strategies for parenting teens.

Why do our teenagers need constant daily conversation? Why is it dangerous for us to let days, weeks, sometimes even months go by between personal, self-disclosing conversations with them?  Hebrews 3:12-13 answers this question for us and provides a model for our daily interchanges with our teenagers. 

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.             

This passage gives us a reason for constant conversation with our teenagers.  The reason comes in the form of a warning against turning away from God.  Notice that the turning away refers to a turning away of the heart.  The heart always turns before the eyes, the mouth, the ears, the hands, and the feet. 

As parents we want to do everything we can to protect our teenagers from falling away.  We want to protect them from rebellion, unbelief, rejection of God, and the hardening of their hearts.  To do so, the writer of Hebrews says, we need constant conversation; that is we need to encourage them daily.  Our teenagers (like all of us) need daily contact and daily help.  They need daily encouragement and daily exhortation.  They need daily pleading.  They need constant conversation. 

The constant conversation model means being willing to pursue your teenager.  It means not living with the distance that he has introduced into the relationship.  It means hanging in through those uncomfortable moments when you’re not really wanted and not really appreciated, and forsaking a negative relationship where you only have meaningful talks when your teenager has done something wrong. 

Be committed to prevention.  Don’t settle for nonanswers.  Ask good questions that cannot be answered with the teenager disclosing his heart (thoughts, motive, purpose, goals, desires, beliefs, values, etc). Finally, always bring the Gospel to each of those conversations.  There is a Redeemer.  He has conquered sin and death.  He present as the Helper in all my trouble.  There is hope!  Goliaths do die! Change-radical heart and life change-is possible!

A parent who has his hope in the Gospel will pursue his teenagers and will not stop until they leave home. We won’t wait for them to come to us for help.  We won’t argue with them as to whether we are needed or not.  The call of the Word is clear.  With hearts filled with Gospel hope, we will question and probe, listen and consider, plead and encourage, admonish and warn, and instruct and pray.  We will awake every day with a sense of mission, knowing that God has given us a high calling.  We are walls of protection that God has lovingly placed around our teenagers.  We are the eyes that he has given that they might see.  So we converse and converse and converse.  (Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity,  excerpts from p. 223-226)

I am often asked by parents what they are to do when their teen seems uninterested or even resistant to having any conversation with them.   For many different reasons, some kids don’t demonstrate outward interest in your pursuit of them.   That does not, however,  let you, the parent, off the hook.  We are to continually model God’s gentle and loving pursuit of us as His children.  He never, ever stops pursuing His children.  Nor should we as parents.

You might begin this constant conversation by stepping into their world and showing a non-condemning interest in their passions, struggles, conflicts.  Ask good questions and seize the opportunities that you have with them every day.  Pray that the Lord gives you insight into any resistance you experience while you pursue them.  And be wise about when and how to start a conversation with a guarded or defiant teenager.  Often times the best conversations between parents and teenagers occur during those unplanned moments – car rides, trips to the doctor, preparing food in the kitchen, or doing mundane tasks around the house side by side.  These are the opportunities that God gives us each day to “encourage one another daily while we still have today.”

Today, ask the Lord to prompt your heart to notice these and to be ready when they happen.  I pray you will have many opportunities to lean in, listen well, love unconditionally and lead boldly just as our Father does for us each day.

The Final Stretch of the Race

The pistol sounded and we were off.  I was happily running beside my 10 year old son as he was attempting his first 5K race.  Since his decision to run with me was made the night before, there had been no time to properly prepare him for the challenges of the race.  Instead, I encouraged him to stick closely by my side, to let me set the pace and to take breaks whenever he needed them.  After the first mile, however, my energetic and naturally athletic son became bored with the pace I had set.  He dismissed my caution to speed up and suddenly took off on his own, sprinting toward the finish line.

Knowing that he would never be able to keep that pace up for two more miles, I began to scan the groups of runners in front of me.  I was certain I would find him walking the course, desperately trying to catch his breath.  I never did.  Instead, I spotted a kid his size just beyond the finish line, lying flat in a patch of grass.  Apparently, my son triumphantly crossed the finish line with an amazing time but collapsed from exhaustion just after he ran past the time keepers.   His shoes were saturated with sweat. Blood dripped down his feet from open blisters on his toes.  Concerned by what I saw, I asked him how he felt.  I will never forget the grin that appeared and the boasting that followed.  Barely able to summon the energy needed to speak, he proudly uttered, “Mom, I never stopped running and I beat your best time on my very first race!”

As we drove home, Alex admitted that several times throughout the race he had seriously considered stopping.  It seemed that every time he was about to stop and take a break, he would tune into the crowds who were visibly and audibly cheering him on, reminding him to keep pressing on.  Apparently, the most powerful motivators were the cheers my son heard toward the end of the race.  These supplied the fuel he needed to successfully complete the race.

What a great lesson for us to consider as we walk alongside teens.  Teenagers are running the last leg of the race called “childhood”.  While the end of this journey marks the beginning of the next, the manner in which they cross the finish line powerfully affects the way they enter the next race set before them.  Like trainers and coaches, we are called by God to equip, correct, and guide our kids well in the race they are all called to run.  But like a great coach, the same tongue that chides should also cheer.  Amidst the instruction, reprimands, and guidance we give to kids each day, we must make sure that we are also offering plenty of encouragement-words and gestures that fuel these kids to push through the battles they face during the grueling and most demanding stretch of this race called adolescence.

Even for those kids who outwardly reject or even resist words or gestures of affirmation, express them with love anyway.    God can use them at just the right time to defeat the negative and even destructive thoughts they may be entertaining as they run the race before them.   In this final stretch, we will never know when our kids are feeling tempted to give up the race that God has for them.  If our words genuinely reflect the voice of God, we can cling to the fact that His words and His truths have the power to strengthen and renew our kids as they crawl, walk, skip or even sprint to the finish line of adolescence.

And as you, my friend, face the final stretch of parenting kids at home, know that you are receiving the applause of heaven as you faithfully choose to mirror the Father’s limitless love for your teenager.    And like Paul you too can say,

I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (2 Timothy 4:24)

 

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