Dealing with a Rebellious Teen
At about 12 or 13 years of age, it’s as though a timer has gone off that has gone off that tells teens they need to make their own decisions. With their shoulders back and their head held high, they inhale and say, “After all, I have lived 13 years on this earth. I ought to make my own decisions.”
Most parents respond with something like, “As long as you’re in my house, you are going to do it my way!” It becomes a perpetual argument in the home as to who gets their way. Parents feel they are doomed to fight the battle of teenage rebellion for the next five years. “Why are they so rebellious? Why do they fight me on every little thing?” What is a parent to do?
This is what some teenagers have to say about their rebellion:
“I have a rebellious attitude and every time my parents tell me I do, it makes me even more rebellious.”
“About three years ago I got in some trouble with the police. I knew my parents were gonna trip out about it, but they got a little violent. It did make me want to never do it again, but it made me fear my parents instead of feeling like I could talk to them about stuff.”
“Understand why I’m rebellious or selfish and help me to change in a way that won’t make me want to rebel.”
In dealing with rebellion, we first need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. First, how frequent and intense is the rebellion? According to Kathleen McCoy, Ph.D., “Normal rebellion is sporadic. There are moments of sweetness; calm, and cooperation between outbursts. If on the other hand, rebellion is constant and intense, this can be a sign of underlying emotional problems.”
Second, has this behavior developed over time, or is it a drastic thing where their behavior is completely reverse of what it was? If you answered the second choice, it may be a sign of a deeper problem.
Why do teenagers have such a propensity for rebellion? Dr. James Dobson attributes it two main reasons. One is hormonal in origin. Because of all the hormonal changes, both males and females may get easily set off. The other is social in nature. Their peer group has become far more important to them than anything else, and the pressures bombarding them to be their own person and identify with a generation have been much more intense than ever before in their lives.
In Josh McDowell’s book, Handbook on Counseling Youth, the author gives several causes for rebellion:
- Poor relationship with parents
- No effort to communicate
- A need for control
- Lack of boundaries and expectations
- An expression of anger and aggression
- The absence of an honest, vulnerable role model
Obviously there are different stages of rebellion. Some are just minor things like, “I want my own way!” Some teens have an emotionless attitude of resistance and a hardened heart that says, “I don’t care what you say or do, I’m going to do my own thing!”
Let’s look at few principles that will help you understand where your young person is coming from. One of the most important is that rules without relationship equal rebellion. As one young lady said, “One of the worst things my parents have done is given me a ‘no’ answer, without explaining why.”
Most people think the rightful responsibility of a parent is to provide food and a roof over their teens head without developing much of a relationship with them. As a result, your young person might as well be living in a boarding school – just a place to live with a bunch of rules. When asked about a rule, most parents never explain the reason for it. “Because I said so, that is why!” Many times parents don’t even know why they have that rule. Their parents had that rule, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for their kids.
I can remember when my mom told me people shouldn’t have sex before marriage. I was probably 13 or 14 years old and I asked, “Why is it wrong?” She replied, “Just because it is.” In an innocent, not condemning way, I said, “Well you did it.” She said, “Well that was different.”
Kids want to know the why of the rules and understand the reason behind them. That is why it is important to understand the principles in this book.
When your teen is forced to obey a rule but feels that you do not know the or care about them, it produces a rebellious attitude that says, “You don’t care about me, so I don’t care about your stupid rules. I’m going to do what I want!”
One of the biggest goals as a parent is to have a final product of young adults who are responsible, productive members of society, church and the Kingdom of God. It’s never been our dream for our kids to be sitting on our couch, eating potato chips and watching television until they are 35 years old. We want them to be responsible and they begin to itch for responsibility when they are teenagers. They want to have some of their own “say-so” regarding their lives.
Some parents are like an iron fist: “As long as you’re in my house, I am going to make the decisions. Just do it my way.” This approach doesn’t give teens a chance to make any decisions or learn responsibility. They don’t want to be dictated to anymore. Even though you may still see them as young and not knowing what to do or where to go, they see themselves as quite skilled in life and wanting to have some control of their destiny.
A teen’s desires to be given some responsibility may be perceived as rebellion. But just because your young person wants to make their own decisions in life doesn’t mean they are rebellious – it means they are starting to grow up! Give them some opportunities to make decisions about what they do with their free time. It doesn’t mean you let them make decisions about everything. Start out with small decisions, such as spending the night at friends even though they need to study for a test. You know they have a test, they say they’ve already studied, but your inclination would be to make them stay home and study more. Give them the opportunity to decide what would be best.
Once they show themselves faithful in the small opportunities by making good decisions, you can allow them to make bigger decisions. The goal is getting them to make all their own decisions before they leave the house. I know parents who have said they don’t have any rues for their 14-year-old because he makes all the right decisions on his own. “I tell them they can stay out as late as they want and they always come back before 10:00 because they have learned responsibility at a young age.”
Children need rules. Adults need responsibility. Adolescents need advice.
We know we have to set very strong and clear rules for children or they will not have any structure in their lives. We just discussed the adults’ need for responsibility that they start thirsting for when they are young. Think about the first job you had. You were so excited to be making your oen money. You were thrilled over the responsibility that was yours. That yearning for taking responsibility for your own life started when you were a teenager. What do teenagers need? They don’t just need a bunch of rules, nor do they need all the responsibility to decide everything about their lives. Meet somewhere in the middle by giving wise advice.
Your teen will make some bad decisions. They’re a young person. One of our biggest tasks is to teach our teens how to make wise decisions. We do that by giving them advice. Say you gave your teen advice but they didn’t take it. They went and spent the night at a friend’s house the night before a big test, and then they got an ‘F’ on the test. Talk through that decision with them. Say, “Let’s talk about it. What made you want to go even though I advised you not to?” Listen to what they tell you. Then ask, “If you were in the same situation again, would you do the same thing? Why or why not? Look at the people who got F’s all the way through high school. Where are they today? Is that the kind of person you want to be?” The next time they get a chance to make a decision, give them advice and let them choose for themselves again.
There are going to be decisions that you might let them make too early. The big question is, what decisions do you make for your young person and what decisions do you let them make on their own? That is between you and God. Pray and find out from the Lord. Sometimes you’ll say, “I’ll let them make this decision,” and you realize that maybe you shouldn’t have. They are too young or not mature enough. Some young people are ready for certain decisions earlier than others. There is not a magical date and time to use a deciding factor.
It is much better for teens to make bad decisions under your protective umbrella, where you can go back and talk about the failure and how to do it right the next time, than for them to leave your house and make all wrong decisions. Once out from under your protective covering, they don’t always seek your advice or care what you have to say about it. Instead of propping them up all the time to keep them from falling, allow them to make a few bad decisions. Then go back and talk through those issues so they can make better decisions for the rest of their life.
Teens and Divorce
It must be one of the hardest scenarios a parent faces today- wanting to be the right influence over your teen, yet not having total control over the forces that influence them. You have been through the battle of divorce, the hurt and pain of separation from your spouse, and the hurt and pain of separation from your teen. They are in the heat of their teenage years when they need you the most. Some of the toughest situations they will ever face are on the horizon and they need your guidance and counsel. You are not afforded much of an opportunity to speak into those situations, which is complicated by the fact that most ex-spouses do not get along.
Teens all over the nation are feeling the effects of divorce:
“I wish that when my mom talked about my dad she would say ‘dad’ like she used to instead of calling him ‘your dad’ like she never had anything to do with him.”
“When my parents got a divorce they never explained anything to me why. I’m in the custody of my mom and now my dad is giving me guilt trips about not staying at his house more often. I wish he would understand that I just like staying with my mom better.”
“My mom talked bad about my dad through the divorce. They treated each other with no respect around their children.”
The Bible says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Ephesians 6:1-3
Now obviously this a commandant young people from the Lord to honor their mother and their father, to esteem them highly, to look up to them, to listen to them, and to treat them with respect. Sometimes, as a result of the divorce, we make it difficult for our teens to honor the other parent through the things we say, comments we make, or stories we tell.
Your teen needs to honor their parents. You can help by not telling them every story of hurt that happened or everything your spouse did or said. You need to protect them your ex-spouse and make them look good even when they may not deserve it. Why? Because you are protecting your teen.
Like it or not, your ex-spouse is still the mother or father of your child. When divorced persons play the childish game of being jealous for the attention of their young person, it ends up doing the young person a lot more harm. It rips their heart apart. It rips their allegiance apart. Sometimes they believe you, sometimes they believe the other one.
This takes humility. It takes a man or woman who is big on the inside to humble themselves and choose not to be threatened if the other parent looks good. In the long run, you are the one who will look good, because your young person will look back on the fact that you did not try to tear their heart away from the other parent. That says you are mature and secure and not intimidated by someone else’s success or respect.
Talk to your ex-spouse about agreeing on issues for the sake of your children. For example, agree on how to refer to each other and how to talk about each other (what we just discussed). Don’t ask them to constantly give you honor, but say, “Listen, I’ve decided that whenever I refer to you to our son or daughter, I am only going to say good things. We may not like each other, but you are still my son’s mother or father and I am going to afford you the respect you deserve because you hold that position.”
Agree on the rules you establish for your young person. So much dissension happens between a teen and their parents because, “Mom always lets me do this,” and “Dad always lets me do that.” The parents compete with each other to see how much fun they can let the kid have when they are at their house, hoping they will like them more and want them more than the other parent. The competition between parents is detrimental for the teen. It becomes a political situation, and the best interest of the teen is not considered at all.
In addition, if there is a step-parent involved, the rules should always be enforced by the biological parent, not the step-parent. You never want the young person to respond to correction with “Well, you’re not my real parent anyway.”
Sometimes a stepfather is called upon to enforce the rules for a son or daughter who is not their own because they are the man of the house. Although that is true, there is still a role that a biological parent has that a stepparent doesn’t get naturally. The stepparent needs to earn that role, respect, and right. They don’t simply get it because of who they married.
Another challenge you might face is the child playing one parent against the other, “Mom lets me do it.” Comments like that will make you want to be competitive with each other. But if you are on the same wave-length and in agreement on the issues, it will be almost impossible for your teen to manipulate you into that kind of situation.
If your young person knows they can’t play you against one another, the competition will be defused rather than fueled. If your teen senses they can fuel it, you know they will. As a result, your young person will have much better relationship with you and your ex-spouse, you will have at least a marginally pleasant and agreeable relationship with your former spouse, and your teen will be all the better for it.
Wooing Your Teen’s Heart
WHO OWNS THEIR HEART?
When your kids are very young, it’s easy to see that you still own their hearts. They look up to you with an adoring gaze, wanting to please you—partly because they don’t want to be punished, and partly because they literally idolize you and believe that you can do no wrong. At that point in your child’s life, he or she has not seen many of your flaws yet. As your child starts to get a little older, however, her gaze of adoration begins to wane. Many times, between the ages of 6 and 8, you’ll hear your child say things like, “I want that toy I saw on TV,” or “Mommy, why can’t I play with . . . ?” or “Johnny gets to do it, so why don’t I get to do it?” All are telltale signs that friends have begun to own your child’s heart a little more than you do.
The change in ownership is not something that happens dramatically. However, there are subtle signs that friends are beginning to hold more authority than you do. Your children begin to respond to the cues they get from their friends about what to wear or what to do, to a greater degree than the cues you give them on the same subjects. They develop a frame of mind that cares more about pleasing their friends than pleasing you. This thought pattern begins in very small ways, but each small thing you see is a sign that your child’s heart is being lured away from you.
Some people would say, “These little things are all just part of growing up.” And it’s true that most parents don’t worry about it. Yet the questions their children ask, based on feelings of peer pressure about why their friends get to do so and so and they don’t get to do so and so, are met with responses like, “Because I’m not Johnny’s parent, am I?” “Just do what I say” or “We don’t do that in our home.”
While these responses are partially true, there is a deeper issue here: Is it really a “natural part of growing up” for our children’s hearts to be given over more to their friends than to their parents? I’m not so sure. It may be a familiar part of growing up, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t stem the tide of the transference of their affections. It doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to lose our children, or that there’s sure to be incessant fighting with the “because I say so!” kind of mentality from now until the time they leave home.
The small changes that signal a pulling away continue as we start to see the “boy crazy” or “girl crazy” years between the ages of 12 and 17. That’s when we tend to hear things like, “I’ve got to have that CD that’s just coming out”; “I’ve got to wear these clothes because they’re the coolest thing ever”; “I’ve got to watch this TV program”; “I want my MTV!” That last telltale statement of defiance shows the formation of the attitude, “I want the culture that’s shaping me to continue to shape me, and I want to embrace it.” Many times, too many parents have acquiesced just to get their kids off their back and silence the relentless complaints. They justify this acquiescence by saying, “It’s really not that bad. It’s just music
television, for crying out loud, right?” “It’s just some new clothes” or “Yeah, it shows a little bit more skin than the clothes that we wore when we were young, but it’s just part of the culture.”
All of these signs—that the culture owns more of our children’s hearts than we do—start when they’re young. What that ultimately means is that the culture has more impact on our children than we do. The culture defines them, owns them and possesses them. After all, when MTV says, “We don’t advertise to this generation, we own this generation,” in many ways, it’s really true. What they say goes. What they put on their network sells. We can say, “As long as you’re a part of my house you’re not going to watch that” or “You’re not going to wear that,” but such parental responses don’t really get to the issue of who owns a child’s heart.
Somewhere in the process of this heart defection—moving from the influence of parents to the influence of peers and the culture—kids are turned into machines that don’t want to hear anything their parents have to say. They don’t want to talk over things with their parents. They don’t want to accept their parents’ instruction. If they do, they do it begrudgingly and with the wrong heart attitude. They’re not willing to embrace the values we’re trying to get them to embrace. Heart defection may be a “natural” part of growing up, but it’s not inevitable if we as parents jump between our young ones and the culture that’s out to claim them. Whoever owns their heart will have the most influence on them.
The Heart Meter
Parents, you are the ones to intervene in your children’s lives to keep them from being pulled away by the culture. To do this, you need to develop a “heart meter” for your kids by watching for the signs—even when they are very young. Watch who owns your kids’ heart and mind, in each stage of growth, and who they get validation from. When you start to see signs that your kids care about their friends or what the culture thinks more than what you think, it should be an indicator for you to “lean into them more.” When I say this, I don’t mean that you should point your finger at them and say, “This is the way it’s going to be.” You have to lean into them relationally. You need to woo their hearts back from
the culture or their friends so that you are their touchstone. You are the one they go to for advice and direction. But it takes constant monitoring of who owns your child’s heart. You can tell this early on by little statements they make.
As our girls were growing up, my wife and I could see these signs show up even sometimes in relation to the kids in children’s church or the kids down the street who played with them. Whenever our girls made a comment like, “Well, she gets to do . . .” we would try to jump in the middle of that. When I say “jump in the middle,” I mean that we became aware of a red flag that somebody or some force had invaded the hearts of our children, and we needed to intervene quickly. The way we did that was by investing time. We jumped in and began to spend time with them, talking about the issues they might be bringing up and why our values were different from what they would like to do. I’m not talking about
giving one lecture after another and hoping that something would stick, but talking and spending time so that an affinity was established through a heart-to-heart connection, resulting in their caring more about what we thought, allowing for more opportunity to impart the values that were most important to us.
It’s sort of like the jockey riding a horse. As he rounds the corner, he leans a certain way. He watches cautiously. That’s what parenting is— watching our kids for the signs of who owns their heart and making the necessary course corrections. Watch for little indicators—phrases or slogans they use, quotes or songs from movies or from advertisements. Then start looking at where the signs are coming from and see if they’re spending too much time with the wrong friend or with the wrong media. You’re already curbing their media intake, as a good parent will, but even so, never go on autopilot.
When kids say things like, “I don’t care what you say,” and we say back, “You’d better care, because this is the way it’s going to be in my house,” we might succeed in controlling their behavior while they’re in the house, in that moment, but we’re not going to succeed in wooing their heart when they’re not around us 24/7. What are they listening to when they’re at school? How are they dressing when they’re at school? The world is rife with kids who dress a certain way at home, but as soon as they get to school, they peel off a layer of clothing to dress as suggestively as they’d like to. Are they being obedient according to the letter of the law or according to the spirit of the law when you’re laying down guidelines for behavior?
When it comes to matters of the heart, you can’t command the heart; you’ve got to woo it. It’s our job as parents to woo the hearts of our kids so that they want to listen to us. If we allow the culture or their friends to overpower them, it becomes incredibly difficult to regain their respect, but it can be done.
Wooing Your Child’s Heart
When my girls were growing up, even when they were only one year old, I would spend time with them by taking one or the other of them with me when I traveled on weekends to events for teenagers in arenas around the country. We did fun things. For example, when I had a break, we would sneak out in the middle of a busy preaching itinerary to go to an amusement park or to a children’s museum. When they got a bit older, we would go to a concert in the town where I was speaking, or go out to a nice dinner.
Through their teen years, I would regularly “date” my girls. When I saw signs of their pulling away or that their hearts were not fully engaged, I would “lean back in” and say, “Hey, let’s go grab some coffee” or “I’m going to get up early and take you to school so that we can grab breakfast or coffee on the way and talk.” What that meant, literally, was that I got up earlier, by a couple of hours, in order to make room for that time together. It took sacrifice, but it’s called being a parent. I’ve also done the same thing with my son. We look for new adventures where we can bond and build memories that begin to draw his heart toward me.
Whether the adventure is a late-night coffee, even when I don’t feel like it because I’m tired and I know I’ve got to get up early; or whether it’s a late-night 2- or 3-mile run with my daughter Charity at the end of a busy day (when I’ve preached my guts out at a Monday night service and just got home at 11:30 P.M.), part of wooing my kids’ hearts means spending that time together. I call this time “leaning in.”
Leaning in means finding creative, relational ways to spend time together so that you’re not just sitting in a room, with nothing else to say but “Hi, how are you?” Leaning in hard requires that you spend lots of time together doing fun things. Your initial conversations with your child might be a little bit awkward. You want them to share their heart; you want to get close to them, but their attitude and non-response may be shouting, “I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to be with you. What are you doing this for?” Just remember that this is part of your job as a parent.
If you’ve found that your kids don’t really talk and share their heart with you, well, all the more need to lean in. Don’t try to probe and
provoke them to talk to you right away; just be there doing fun things with them. Eventually, they will talk. And they really do want to talk; they just want to make sure that you’re the one they want to talk to.
Men, start doing things with your sons. Make a “date” (or a “budgrub,” as some call it) each week or every other week to go out to breakfast or just do something that they like to do, even if you don’t like it. You could do paintball or some other kind of adventure sport, or go see some monster trucks or something else where they’re not expected to talk all the time. Why not do something way out like make dinner for the women of the family? You’ll have a great time of laughter and bonding, and you’ll thrill Mom!
When you lean in hard, your kids will soon get the message that “Wow, Dad cares about me; he wants to listen to me.” It may not happen during the first week or the first month. It may not even happen after the first three or four months. But if you keep doing it, what’s going to happen naturally is that they’re going to open up; they’re going to start sharing their heart.
If you’re tired of asking, “How are you doing?” and hearing, “I don’t know”; or asking, “What do you want to do?” and hearing “I don’t know,” just keep leaning in. I know it can be discouraging. But don’t give up. Even though those answers are a kid’s standard response, to indicate that he or she is not interested in sharing much with you, do not give up. You can’t force intimacy, but you can woo it successfully. Depending on how hardened your kids are, or how controlled and manipulated by the culture and by their friends, it might take you some significant investment of time to win their hearts back; but it’s not impossible.
Remember, it’s our job as parents to woo our children’s hearts, to keep their hearts and then to influence their hearts. When that happens, they will become the God-honoring people we’ve always dreamed they would be.
Teaching your Teens to Be Dreamers
Did you know that 98 percent of people are followers? Only 2 percent are the shapers of culture. The 2 percent are the dreamers.
One of our biggest responsibilities as parents is not only to protect our kids from culture but to help them be the shapers of culture. A lot of this book so far has shown you how to insulate your kids and proactively instill your values in them. The point of doing that is not just so you can have a “good family” with great values, but to teach your family to take those values and begin to impact and shape the rest of the world.
How do we get our kids into the 2 percent who are the shapers of culture? How do we get them to be the dreamers for their generation, inventing the gadgets, writing the songs, driving the businesses, running for political office and sitting on school boards? It starts while they are young. As moms and dads, we need to be about the business of sparking the desire and planting the seeds in their hearts to creatively dream when they are very, very young.
We have told our kids from the beginning that they were born to change the world. They were born to make a difference. We put them to sleep at night praying over them, “God, use Hannah (Charity, Cameron) to change the world. Use her to make a difference . . . to touch people’s lives.” From the youngest age, that seed was planted in their minds and hearts; they grew up believing they really can change the world and make a difference.
Our goal as parents is not just for our kids to become “good” members of society. We need to raise them to be change agents. We need to raise them to take the values we have instilled in them, harnessed with a passion for God, and inspire them to reach out to people. We multiply the impact we have had on their lives to countless others, as they reach out. Let me give you some practical ways that you can do this for your kids.
Encourage Them to Be Others-Oriented
From a very young age, encourage your children to be “others-oriented.” For example, when your kids decide to get entrepreneurial, as most kids will, you can encourage them to mow lawns and sell lemonade so that they can donate the money to help other people, not just satisfy their own purchasing power. In a similar vein, when they do want things, instead of buying them everything they want, teach them to find enterprising ways of earning money. They need to learn how to save for things they want to buy.
Help Them Pursue Small Dreams
We can teach our children to be opportunistic. When my oldest daughter, Hannah, was 13, she had an idea that she wanted to use the Internet to help preteen girls through a website she wanted to create. I got a mentor to help her learn how to do a little bit of programming. She wrote the code for a website called girlofgod.com. She had all kinds of ideas on how she was going to do the art. It was thrilling. She got lots of preteen girls on that site and ministered to them. The vision did not continue for very long, but it was a fantastic life lesson for her. She saw this truth: “If I have a dream, I can learn how to go about achieving it, and I can accomplish something.” Help your kids find opportunities to impact other
people and not just indulge themselves; and then show them how to take the vision from an idea stage to completion.
Defy Selfish Logic
All throughout our kids’ growing-up years, we had a special Christmas morning tradition. After eating breakfast, we got ready to leave the house for what my wife and I felt was one of our most important holiday traditions before opening gifts: We would serve the meal at the local Salvation Army. We did this to send a message to our children that Christmas is about serving, not just indulging ourselves. Inevitably, we would end up having some conversations with people who were really hurting, listening to them and praying for them. Look for various ways to plant seeds in your kids about being others-centered.
One of the greatest things you can do is help your kids want to serve and impact other people. You can provoke this by giving them experiences that are way out of the box. Sending them to summer camp is great, but finding a camp that doesn’t indulge them makes a bigger impact. Look for something that teaches them to be closer to God or gain a skill. Some examples would be leadership camp like Student Leadership University, basketball camp, acting camp or anything that will give them a skill they can use even in their high school years to serve others and become excellent at something.
One of the greatest things you can do is help your kids go on a missions trip in another part of the world. There they can see how other people live who are far less fortunate than we are in America. Start doing this at a young age. (We started taking kids on Global Expeditions trips with Teen Mania when they were 11 years old.)
If MTV is targeting kids at younger and younger ages, then so must we. We must plant in our kids a desire to really make a difference and change the world. Sending them on a missions trip is not just sending them on the trip. It’s showing them how they can raise money. Of course the trip is not just paid for by Mom and Dad; the kids have to write fund-raising support letters and get sponsors. They have to prepare. They have to bring their passport, pack their clothes and be responsible. It gets them out of their comfort zone.
While on a Global Expeditions trip, they are mentored and discipled (taught precepts and principles about a godly life based on the teaching of Scripture). At the same time, they are reaching out in a very practical way, whether that means digging a well in India or reaching out to orphans in Africa whose parents have died of AIDS. They realize that life is more than the stuff they accumulate. Even though they may not become a missionary later in their life, at least this experience gives them a taste of doing something that is definitely not self-centered.
Letting our children have this experience is a test for us as parents, a test of our trust that God will take care of our kids. Allowing them to go out of the country sends our children a message while they are young that they were born for greatness and destined to impact the world!
Katie and I began to take our kids on missions trips while they were very small—in fact, while they were still in the womb. But even when they were 1, 2 and 3 years old, we took them with us to different missions destinations so that they could see how the teenagers we took on the trips were doing. We always got them involved, even when they were only 4 or 5 years old. Sometimes they would take some of their toys or stuffed animals to give away to the children they met on the trips, while at other times they would say to a child through a translator, “Hey, I brought this doll for you and just wanted to let you know Jesus loves you.” Our children would share things like this as they were giving their toys to the children of the world. Each step of the way—in every trip they took to Africa with me or to India with Katie—it made an impression on them. These indelible memories marked them for life through lessons of how blessed we are in America and how God created us to change the world.
When our kids were 11, they started going on missions trips by themselves. What this really meant was that they were accompanied by trained and refined leaders and with a team of kids their own age. This was an experience that they could have without Mom or Dad hovering over them. Now, this was as big a step of faith for us as it is for the thousands of parents who let their kids go every year on these trips. In fact, it was shocking for us to think that they were going to these nations with other leaders, even though they had been on trips many times with us.
I remember when Hannah first went on a junior missions trip to Costa Rica at age 11. It was amazing to hear her stories afterward. In fact, when she got back from her two-week trip, she sat down in my office for two hours and shared story after story of the miracles that had happened and how the Lord used her to minister to other children. At the end of our conversation, her lips began to quiver and her eyes filled with tears. She exclaimed, “Papa, I just feel like God wants to use me to do something to reach my generation!” With that said, she began to sob uncontrollably.
Even though Hannah grew up surrounded by a ministry and traveled to other countries, there was absolutely nothing I could have said that would have produced that response. It was only when Katie and I let her go minister for herself that God ignited the destiny inside her heart. From that moment on, she realized she was not just here on this earth for fun, but that God had placed her here for a reason. Your kids will experience the same thing when you find opportunities to get them out of the box so that God can ignite the destiny inside them.
Make Friends with Dreamers
I have said this in so many ways, but let me say it again: You can influence who your kid’s friends are. Many parents think, I can’t influence anything my kid does at school. That is not true.
You can influence who your kids’ friends are even when they are at school. First of all, when they are young, plant in their heart the desire to have the right kinds of friends. That does not always mean they are going to choose correctly, so you are going to have to help shape who they call, who they hang out with, who they are allowed to interact with after school, which is where most of the shaping would happen. Most important, if you find kids who are really making a positive difference, find ways to get your kids connected with them. At the very least, do not allow them to have a bunch of slug friends that are so submerged with media and the culture that it rubs off on your kids.
Limit Media Input
The more they watch other people’s media, the more they are part of other people’s dreams. At the most, it can pour bad values into them. At the very least, it preoccupies their mind so that they are not dreaming and thinking, “What can I do in my school?” “What can I do this summer to change the world?” “What should I major in?” “What is my part in helping broken humanity?”
Establish incentives for good grades, creativeness, demonstrating good character, and so on. Reward your kids with words, money, encouragement, opportunities, going out to do something fun together. If our value system is really about family values, and we really want them to be creative people, then let’s reward the things we know are going to send our kids down that road. Inevitably, too many families reward what is not geared toward making their kids into innovators, shapers and creative people.
Inspire with Stories
I urge you to constantly share stories of historic greats or young people today who have done amazing things to shape our nation. You can read a story quickly during dinner time. A couple of books with examples of young role models are Columbine Courage and The Power of One. These books contain many stories about young people who have stood up for their faith. The Power of One also includes some biblical examples you can use to inspire your kids to be world changers.
Ultimately, your kids are your heritage to the world. Planting seeds in them from a very early age to use their life to change the world is our primary job. As we stay focused on the belief that “My job is to help them dream God’s dream for them and do all I can to equip them to accomplish that dream,” then we will all have children who impact the world much more than we have.
OUR KIDS TRUMP OUR CAREER AND MINISTRY
We were enjoying the first day of our one-week Florida getaway as a family. The kids were buzzing with all the fun we were going to have— from going to the beach to visiting Disney World. In the middle of the hotel lobby, I got a phone call from someone inviting me to come to a special meeting with him and the president of the United States, George W. Bush. While I listened to this call, I was looking at my family in the lobby, so excited about what we were planning to do. I told the person that I was in Florida on my family vacation. He said, “But, Ron, this is a two-hour meeting with the president of the United States.” I said, “I know that, but I’m on my vacation with my family.” He repeated his last statement.
After a few minutes of discourse, this very kind gentleman realized that nothing could dissuade me from spending time with my family, even a meeting with the president.
As I listened to what he was saying, I played in my mind the memory my kids would have and the message I would have sent them if I had given in to the desire to go meet with the president. Sure, my family would have forgiven me. Katie would have said, “Sure, honey, you can go.” There may or may not have been another opportunity to meet with the president, but there would never be another opportunity to raise my kids. There would never be another opportunity for this vacation. I had one chance to leave an indelible mark in their mind of the value that I place on them.
When my wife told the kids that I chose to spend time with them over meeting with the president, there is no amount of preaching or saying “I love you” that could possibly compare with the value they felt at that moment.
All of us are busy people. If you have a career, are involved in ministry, or have a desire to succeed in some kind of endeavor, there are always going to be other things to do to keep you away from your kids. You have to make a decision in advance that your spouse and children are more important to you than your career and/or ministry. Period! When you make that decision, many other decisions will fall into place, including where you spend your time and invest your heart. When “opportunities” come up, your priorities are already set. You may think, I’ll get promoted if I make this presentation really good and work over the weekend. But you also know that it’s your son’s first T-Ball game. There will always be another opportunity for promotion, but there will never be another first T-ball game. If you are in ministry, there will be another TV appearance or great church to preach in, but you will never get a chance to raise your kids again.
We need to be careful that our drive to succeed in business and ministry does not justify neglecting or overlooking the precious young ones God has given us to raise.
You need to make a decision that there are some things you are just not going to miss:
- You are not going to miss birthdays.
- You are not going to miss drama performances.
- You are not going to miss games. If a child has 30 games in a season, it’s okay to miss a few. But don’t be an absent father or mother.
- You are not going to miss celebrating your wedding anniversary.
I can think of opportunities that came up at the same time as a family birthday or anniversary. It seemed like this opportunity might never come my way again, but I had already made the decision about what I would not miss for the sake of my family. I don’t even mention most of these opportunities to my family, because it would be easy for them to feel bad (because they don’t want to mess up Dad’s career). And I have tried to avoid promising, “I’ll make it up to you later.” There are some things you just can’t make up. You send a bigger statement by just making sure that you are there for your family.
You don’t have to be a perfect parent. If you are just there and have a real relationship with your kids, it makes up for a lot of things that may not be so perfect. There will always be another big break, another deal to make, another promotion to go for; but you have only one chance to raise your kids. They will remember where you spent your time. They will remember if you sacrificed for your family.
But I Meant to Be There . . .
Famous words from a parent with good intentions: “I meant to be at your ballgame . . . I meant to be at your recital . . . I meant to be at your parent-teacher conference . . .” Are these words supposed to comfort the young person who sees every other parent but theirs at an event?
We easily say the words, “I really wanted to be there.” Think about that for a second. Did you REALLY want to be there? Whatever we really want to do, we do. When we tell our kids that we wanted to be there but could not make it, we are telling them we wanted to be somewhere else more, and that is why we were somewhere else. In a kid’s mind, all he is thinking is that if you really wanted to be there, you would have been there.
There are only a few situations when absence from a child’s event is unavoidable, when not being there is because of an emergency. When we say, “I really wanted to be there, but . . .” we are sending a message that we didn’t want to be there as much as we wanted our career or our
Decide in Advance
Make the decision in advance that you are going to give top priority to your spouse and your children. Does that mean there can’t be some massaging of this rule? Of course not; but I hesitate to even say that. Many families live from one compromise to another. They make a rule or decision and then they violate it repeatedly for the rest of their life.
If you make the decision in advance, missing out on an opportunity that comes your way is not such a hard thing to stomach. I did not get a chance to meet with President Bush, but I did get a chance to meet with my family. I lived according to my values. My kids love me, and I love them. I have decided what type of marriage and family I want, and everything else will have to revolve around that. I made the decision to not cheat my family long before I got the call to meet with the president.
We have always had a weekly family day or family date. Flexibility comes into play if for some reason I have to travel during our regular time together. Then we find another family time that week. If I work an extra day during my regular day off, I find another day to “give back” to the family. Katie does not have to beg me, or even ask. I just plan it into my life. I have tried to live so that my kids would never say, “But, Dad, you are never here,” even though I travel every week all over the country.
In fact, I would say that as my kids grew up, I actually spent more time with them than many fathers who never travel out of town. At the end of the day, when your kids are teenagers, and they still give you great big hugs, you realize it was no sacrifice at all.
Coming Home from Work
It’s so important that when you come home, you come home both physically and mentally. Many people come home from work so exhausted physically that they are not any good to their family. Their mind is still at work. They are sitting there with the kids thinking about what they are going to do the next day. Maybe they turn the TV on and get engaged in their favorite program and call that spending time with family.
When you go to work, you put your game face on. You work hard. When you get home from work, it’s the second half of your workday; it’s not over. It’s over when the kids are in bed. Your wife may have been working hard all day. Now is the time for the family work of being a parent. You focus and mentally engage. Turn off work; leave it in your briefcase. Don’t check your email. Engage with your kids. Roll around the floor. Laugh with them. Play with them. Do stupid things with them.
I remember when my kids were smaller—and even now that they are older—that I would tickle them, play with them, laugh with them, wrestle with them and listen to them. Closing my eyes at the end of an intense day and listening to their giggles and laughter as I tickled them on the floor would be like a waterfall over my soul just soothing away all the intensity of the day. It created balance in my life.
Your life is not all about your job. It is not all about your ministry. But it is all about the different dimensions that God has allowed you to participate in. If you have children, that is one dimension. There is something about a child’s laughter, and comforting them when they are hurting, and listening to their little hearts that brings wholesomeness to you as an adult.
You know that if you don’t go to work with your game face on and give your very best, you are in danger of being fired. It’s the same at home. If you don’t come home and put your game face on and give your very best, you are in danger of being fired by your kids. They will fire you from being the one they share their heart with. They will fire you from being the one they cuddle up to. They will fire you from being the one they trust with all their heart. I would rather be fired from my job than fired from my family.
The Gift of Family
It’s easy to think, If I put my family first, I am getting further behind; I have a list of things to do at my job (or ministry) that takes 24/7 to do. It really is a fallacy to think that way. In order to do your very best at your job or ministry, you need to be whole. You need to be strong. You need to have a whole family, whole children and a whole relationship with your spouse. By listening to them, disciplining, instructing, talking, running, being frustrated—just being present with them, you become a better person. When you go back to your office, you are not just a driven machine executing details; you are equipped to relate better to the people you are managing and deal with the frustrations they have at home.
It’s one-dimensional living to only go after your career or ministry. We often think that if we stay focused on that one dimension, we will be successful. If you are married, having a wholesome marriage will make you more successful than just being driven by your career. If you have children, being focused on your marriage and your children brings wholesomeness to your life so that when you put your game face on for work, you really are at 100 percent capacity rather than barely surviving from day to day.
Marrying Katie has truly saved my life. In order to have a balanced, wholesome marriage, I have learned that I’ve got to listen to her. I’ve learned how to say to myself, It’s time to shut work off and focus on her. When we decided to have children, we committed to spending the right amount of time with them. Family life has actually preserved my life and increased my chances of living a longer life because of the wholesomeness found in a relationship with my wife and children.
Don’t miss out on the experience of having your kids share something that enlightens you, or even rebukes you. They may show you a part of your personality that needs work. They will definitely give you joy. God brings our children into our life to make us the whole people we need to be to be effective in the world, period.
Checking the Culture Invasion of Your Home
Lest you think we are only addressing issues that affect “less responsible” parents than you, ask yourself these questions and see how you score:
- How many quotes from movie dialogue have you heard out of your mouth or your kid’s mouth in the past 6 months? (Or in the last week?)
- How many quotes from ads have you said or heard your kids say?
- How many times have you heard, “But Johnny does it” or “Johnny’s parents let him do it”?
- What happens when all of your family is gathered around a TV program and someone interrupts to get something or accidentally flips the channel? How violent is the response? Does everyone get mad? Do they yell real loud, “Shut up!”? It may be an indicator that you’re so into the media that you value it more than the actual people in the room with you.
- Do you find yourself acquiescing to your kids’ requests just to get them off your back so that you can have peace in the house? You let them watch that movie; you let them have that video game; you let them have that magazine; you let them wear those questionable clothes.
- When is the last time you bought something you didn’t really want to buy for your kid after she saw so many ads that she just had to have it?
- Can your kids quote countless lyrics from their favorite pop songs, but not much Scripture?
- What would your kids say if someone asked them, “What are your TV rules?” or “What are the Internet rules in your house?” or “How are the rules enforced and how are they implemented?”
- Do your kids know what is happening with Jamie Lynn Spears (younger sister of Britney Spears) right now, but they have no idea what your family values are?
- Do they always forget that they have a church activity on a certain night, but never, ever forget what night their favorite TV show airs?
- Do they know the storyline of multiple TV shows but have no idea of your family heritage?
If any of these touched a somewhat sensitive spot or hot button regarding your family, then perhaps it may be true that you’ve had more invasion of popular culture than you were aware of. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay like this. You can turn your family around and proactively shape the hearts and minds of your children. Not only can you do that, but you must. It is the only hope your children have in the midst of a culture that is bombarding them with missiles of deadly assault at a velocity once unthinkable but now a bitter reality.
Strong Marriage = Secure Kids
So much has been said and written on the value of having a strong marriage. My wife and I have read many books by authors such as James Dobson, Bill Hybels, Gary Smalley and Dennis Rainey on the subject and have used their wisdom to build and strengthen our marriage. I’m not going to even try to reiterate those relationship principles here.
The point I do want to make in this chapter is that if we really want a chance at creating a culture in our home that is stronger than the culture of the world, we have to pay attention to the health of our marriage relationship. The culture of a home emanates from the relationship between husband and wife (for children, that’s Mom and Dad). You can’t pretend that loving your kids and being committed to them is the only thing that creates the culture. It’s actually your relationship with your spouse that brings stability, confidence and wholeness to the home.
With so many divorces happening in our culture, it’s not uncommon for young people, even our own children, to wonder if divorce is going to attack their home. Are Mommy and Daddy always going to stay together? This anxiety is breeding insecurity in children. If there are fights or disagreements, or if the D-word is ever used in a discussion or in a burst of anger, it only perpetuates this fear. The security that every child needs is not created just by saying, “Your mother and I will never get a divorce.” The wholesomeness of a great romance and friendship (showing that you like as well as love each other) makes your kids feel safe and gives them confidence that their home will be stable and secure.
It’s clear that children need both parents to have the healthiest upbringing. I know that there are many single-parent families doing a valiant job at making things work in spite of the bad situation they’ve found themselves in. The data is irrefutable on how little boys and girls need their daddy around. It takes a man and a woman to lead a family.
Consider the following:
- 71 percent of pregnant teenagers lack a father.
- 90 percent of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
- 85 percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.
- 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
Steps to a Healthy Relationship
In the following section, I’m going to give you some relevant tips that Katie and I have found to be critical to the success of our home.
Spend Time Together
After the new wears off of a marriage relationship, it’s easy to start taking each other for granted. You stop pursuing each other. You get focused on all the busyness of raising children—getting them to do their homework, taking them to sports practices, games and other lessons and rehearsals. There is really no time left for each other. Nevertheless, husbands and wives need to prioritize their relationship in such a way that they make time for each other.
One of the things that Katie and I have done for years is have a weekly date night. We also learned very early in our relationship about having “couch time” every day. After I got home and said hi to the kids and loved on them, Katie and I would sit down and talk about how the day went, and so forth. The kids would see us spending time with each other even though they wanted our attention. They saw that we gave top priority to our relationship with each other.
It’s important for children to see that they are not the center of your universe. If they are the center of your universe (which is common thinking of parenting romanticized), they control your world. They get you to do anything they want.
“What?! My spouse is more important than my kids?” It might sound harsh or heartless, but the fact is, kids feel secure when they see a team of a mom and a dad who love each other and are committed to each other. The kids feel fine being priority number two.
Show a United Front with the Kids
There are many decisions that the two of you will disagree on. Katie and I made a decision early on that when we had kids, we would never disagree in front of them. As far as our kids were concerned, we were always in agreement with each other. If we needed to talk about something, we would talk apart from the kids.
A united front makes it almost impossible for kids to play Mom against Dad. If a child knows that Mom is okay with a decision, but Dad is not, the child can work the system. This united front commitment also allowed us to work things out in private, especially if it required some difficult and serious dialogue.
Never verbalize disagreements in front of your kids. Even if you are the one who acquiesces and does not get your way, you still win, because as a team, you are both deciding to go the same direction.
Stand Up for and Support Each Other
Katie and I made a commitment that we would always be each other’s greatest advocate. If my kids were saying something they didn’t like about Mom, even if I agreed with what they might be saying, I stood up for her. I might say something like, “I know she has wisdom, and God gave her to you, and we are going to honor her.” We always made each other look good for our kids.
Some small-minded moms and dads give in to the temptation to be liked. Even if they are not fueling their kids’ grumbling, they are allowing derogatory words about the other parent to go unchallenged from the mouth of their teens. There is no advantage to the child feeling like one of you is the favorite parent.
Even in a divorce situation, with kids going back and forth between homes, there is no advantage to making the former spouse look bad. That person helped bring your child into the world. It’s your responsibility to make your child’s other parent look as wholesome as possible in the midst of a very difficult situation. Making yourself look better only benefits you, not the kids.
Do More Than Tolerate Your Spouse
Some have given in to the delusion of believing, “I will just put up with my spouse. I don’t really like him (or her); but because I love my kids, we’re staying together.” While it sounds noble, if you really loved your kids, you would love your spouse too. You would work things out and humble yourself, and you and your spouse would listen to each other and let God help you win each other’s heart back.
The best thing that you can do for your kids is to love your spouse with all your heart. Your children can sense whether there is wholesome, fervent, committed love in the home. You can say that you are staying together for the sake of the kids, but in reality, that’s just a recipe for disaster. Every day there are stories of parents whose divorce, after their kids turned 18, 19, 20, 25, absolutely destroyed their children because they realized the delusion of their family life for all those years. Don’t just endure for the sake of the kids; deal with the real issues and go to counseling if you need it. Ask God to draw your hearts toward each other once again.
Agree On Parenting Habits
Before Katie and I started having kids, we read books on how to parent. We both had come from divorced homes and did not have the best wisdom on how to raise kids. We sought people who were wiser than us. And there are plenty of them around.
Before you have children, develop a philosophy for parenting that you both agree on. This needs to include the issue of discipline—deciding on the behaviors that require consequences, and why. This is one of the reasons why two parents in a family are so important. As you are deciding how to parent and how to discipline, and what values you want to pour into your children, there are going to be times when one of you will be totally and completely exasperated. Your child has spun you in a web of his or her logic, and you feel helpless and frustrated. That is when your spouse can come in and help make sense of the situation. He or she is able to be a sounding board for you. You are a refuge for each other
so that you can lead from a position of strength. Whoever is spun in the web is going to have blinders on, at best. The other parent offers a different perspective. Together you can confidently make decisions to move forward and resolve the issue with your child.
Moral Authority to Lead Your Family
The way you conduct your relationship with your spouse adds or detracts from your moral authority with your family. When you look at your kids and say, “This is the way I want us to live,” is that standard reflected in your life? Do your kids see it lived in your relationship with your spouse? Do they see you reflecting the standard as an individual? If you scream or cuss at each other, why should your kids allow you to speak into their lives? You want to shape them with good values, critique their conduct and impart wisdom, and yet they see a problem with the way you live. Why would they want to embrace the values you are espousing? We would all like to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But that is exactly what Jesus said about the Pharisees. The truth is, children look to us and do what we do much more than they do what we say. As the saying goes, “More is caught than taught.”
What if you are from a divorced and/or blended family? How do you discipline the kids from your spouse’s first marriage? How do you make sure there is wisdom being used between the biological parent and the stepparent? If you’re struggling with these issues, I encourage you to read one of the books listed here:
- Blended Families: Creating Harmony as You Build a New Home Life by Maxine Marsolini
- The Smart Step-Family by Ron L. Deal
- Winning the Heart of Your Stepchild by Dr. Bob Barnes
It’s the biological parent who needs to do most of the disciplining of his or her children in a mixed family situation. You don’t ever want to put the stepchild in a position where he or she would say, “You are not my real parent; you can’t say that to me.” In fact, if there is a stepfather, much of the discipline might have to come through the mother. Even though Scripture says the man is the head of the home, you have a different situation. The stepfather can support the mom, but to keep from dividing the family further and living in a hellacious world, the biological parent should always do the disciplining and the correcting.
One last word of encouragement to husbands: When your children see that you love your wife and are pursuing her, it provides an example for your sons of what a wholesome love looks like so that they will see a glaring difference in what the world calls love. Your little girls will see what a wholesome romantic love looks like so that they are not enticed and lured by guys who tell them they are pretty and that they love them, just so they can use them. There are so many intangibles created by a strong marriage. It builds security in the hearts of young people and helps them make decisions not out of fear but in response to the examples their parents show of a wholesome, thriving romance that makes them want to have the same.
To raise kids effectively, there is a lot of coaching, mentoring, rebuking and disciplining involved. If, in the middle of trying to discipline your child, you are constantly dealing with a battle between you and your spouse as well, you are not going to have near the effectiveness of shaping your young people that you could have. Much of what you say will be disregarded, because it doesn’t line up with the way you are living. A solid, thriving marriage relationship builds a culture of trust and confidence so that you can pour your values into your children and they will receive your teaching, because they see the benefits in your own marriage.
What to Do if your Teen is Drinking and Partying
You have discovered that your young person has been drinking alcohol. It started by going to a few parties with their friends. You thought they would never drink – but they did. They may just be getting drunk once in a while, or they may have a real drinking problem.
Seventy-nine percent of students say it is easy to get alcohol. Seventy-seven percent say alcohol is common at parties. Forty-one percent say some friends have a problem with alcohol, and 22% have ridden in a car with someone who has been drinking.
Before you fly off the handle and destroy the possibility of a relationship with your young person, take a deep breath. Realize they are still the same person on the inside as they were before they began drinking. They are still your child. And they will remember the way you respond to this crisis for the rest of their life.
What exactly should you do? Most importantly, think through how to approach the situation and really talk about it with your young person. You don’t want to come off as a parent who just says, “Don’t do it again,” and that’s all you have to say. There is more going on in their life and their mind that has pushed them to this level.
Ask yourself this question, “How much have I really taught them about drinking – the physical dangers and the emotional effects?” It is easy for parents simply to tell their young person not to drink; but it is another thing to teach them why they shouldn’t based upon principles rather than just because you said so.
While expressing fact that, although you do not approve of or like their behavior, you still love and appreciate them, it is important they understand both are very true. Just because you did not like their behavior does not mean you do not like them. It seems like a small distinction to us, but it is a huge one to a young person. Jesus did things like that all the time, as with the woman who was caught in adultery. He did not condemn her or cut her down, but at the same time He was very clear. He told her, “Go and sin no more.” [See John 8:11]
Think about the disciplinary measures you need to implement. Don’t just say, “Don’t do that again.” If they are going against your wishes in doing this, there ought to be a price to pay, like doing chores, giving up privileges, restricting phone calls, etc. Tell them drinking is wrong and you do not want them doing it, but back it up with consequences that will make them think. Do not discipline out of anger! But think about what will make your young person feel the sting of having done the wrong thing.
Educate your teen by sharing the following:
According to research, in 1993 an average of 14,000 Americans per hour got behind the wheel after drinking too much. Alcohol related crash deaths totaled to more than 17,000 in 1995. One of every 12 instances involved an underage drinker.
The Bible says in Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” The Bible plainly tells us that if you drink, you are going to be mocked. You are going to do stupid things – things that you may not remember and will likely regret.
Wine is a mocker. Ultimately, the very alcohol you drink will end up mocking and laughing in your face because it destroyed your life. You become a slave it. Romans 6:16 says “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
If you choose to obey and submit yourself to alcohol, you are no longer a slave to the Lord. You are no longer master of your own destiny. You have become the slave of the fermented grape. Drinking may seem like the tough, cool thing to do, but ultimately you degenerate as a human being.
Discuss object lessons as you drive by bars or walk by alcohol in the store. Say things like, “There are people in there right now who are hurting and broken, not knowing that the real answer is to give their lives to God. There are people in there who could have been doctors, lawyers, authors, or inventors, but they flushed their potential down the toilet of alcohol.”
Develop this process of teaching, training, and constantly expounding on the craziness and foolishness of using alcohol, and it will help your teen develop their own conviction. They will get to where they are no longer refraining from it only because you asked them to, but because they see it will wreck their life.
How to Keep Your Teen On Fire for Jesus
Your teen just came back from camp, a conference, or an Acquire The Fire youth conference and they can’t stop talking about what God did in their lives. Now you pray that it stays that way.
What can you do to help? Maybe you are thinking, “I wonder how long it will last this time. I saw them get fired up like this before, but it died out after a few weeks.”
Most parents, not feeling very gifted as “youth ministers,” get discouraged thinking they really cannot do anything to help keep their young
person’s fire burning. This is simply not true.
In a recent Gallup poll, 93% of the young people interviewed said they believe God loves them; 2% said they don’t believe it; 2% said they don’t believe in God; and 3% were unsure. 86% believed that Jesus was a God or the Son of God.; 6% believed that Jesus Christ was just another religious leader; 3% believed that Jesus never actually lived; and 5% were not sure.
86% of born again Christians agree with the statement, “the bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves,” 49% of Christians agree, “the devil, or Satan, is not a living being but is a symbol of evil,” and 39% of born-again Christians believe “if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in heaven.” No wonder many young people have trouble maintaining their fire – they have been presented with unclear picture of true Christianity.
Listen to what some teens have said:
“It is hard to stay on fire when my parents say one thing and then do another. Their actions don’t follow their words.”
“Many Christians I know are self-righteous and they are always right. I am losing interest in Christianity because most Christians I’ve met show more hatred than love.”
“I need more encouragement, discipline, and accountability from my parents – particularly from my dad.”
“I always feel like I’m doing something wrong in my walk with God. I wish my parents would encourage me more.”
What can you do?
Embrace your teen’s excitement. Many parents patronize their young person. “Yeah, yeah, yeah I remember when I was that fired up.” They think it’s simply another passing teenage fad.
Instead of patronizing your young person and playing down their new-found passion and love for Christ, embrace them and their fire.
Ask some questions about what God did in their life. What specific things can you pray for? What are they going to do differently to make sure their fire does not die? What can you as a parent do to help them maintain their fire? They may have some good suggestions for you. Ask them what decisions they made during the camp or conference that they want to be held accountable to. Ask them what makes it different this time compared to any other time before.
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:11
Keep your fire burning for God. Simply stated, do not keep a spiritual “air” about you without being truly spiritual. If there are areas of your walk with the Lord that are shallow or empty, deal with them. If you need to ask for someone’s forgiveness and repent – then do it!
Sometimes when we see our young person get on fire, we get a little intimidated by it. We think “What can they teach me that I haven’t
already learned?” and we become guilty of sitting in the back of the church, acting like we’ve heard it before.
A wise person can learn from anyone. We need to realize we can learn from our teen instead of letting their fervor and passion intimidate you. Let it push you to deeper levels of humility and intimacy with God, and more passionate times of mediating and reading His Word.
When you have a genuine fire burning passionately for the God, your teen cannot help but be affected. When your relationship with God becomes stale, your young person’s heart will grow hard.
Start having honest discussions with your teen regarding your Christian life. Do not try to be pseudo-spiritual which your teen will interpret as fake, but seek God with more fervor than you ever have.
If your young person is going after God with all they’ve got, you have to go after Him even harder to provide true spiritual leadership for them. As you share with them your prayer concerns, your struggles, and your victories in your walk with the Lord, your young person will do the same with you. You will be on the road of a discipling relationship with your teen. But do not assume that now that they are on fire for God, they will stay that that way forever. The fire must continually be fanned and encouraged in order for it to be kept burning.
In the process of establishing this dialogue, let there be some mutual accountability. Ask your teen to hold you accountable to having quiet times or to dealing with certain areas of your life; not so they can throw it in your face later, but so you can show a little trust and respect. Then ask them, “What can I pray for you about? What are some areas you are being challenged in that you want to God to help you get through?”
When most people who get the fire of God in their life start losing it, they don’t want anyone to know, so they cover it up in the darkness. But when the light comes in, it reveals the darkness for what it is. If you show the darkness for what it is before it becomes a problem, the darkness has no opportunity to become a stronghold. Being accountable to one another will take the friendship intimacy factor to a whole new level in your relationship with your young person.
A fallacy many parents buy into is thinking we need to keep our young person on that spiritual mountaintop . We want them to stay on there forever and ever and hope it never goes away. First of all, you cannot just hope – you must do something to keep the fire burning. Do not presume they will stay on fire forever by accident.
Also, it is helpful to know we were not meant to stay on the mountaintop. What do I mean? Look at the story of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. Jesus went up there to pray and have His quiet time, not necessarily to get transfigured.
“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed.” Luke 9:28-29
When Jesus was praying on the mountaintop, the presence of God appeared. Moses and Elijah were there having a conversation with him. The disciples got so freaked out, they said, “Lord, Lord, do you want us to build a house for the three of you so you can stay around?” This is what happens when we encounter God – we want to institutionalize it. We want to remember that encounter forever and ever and hope it will never end.
“A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is the Son whom I have chosen; listen to him.’” Luke 9:35
In other words, “Quit talking, man! Check out what is going on”
In visiting the Mount of Transfiguration years ago, I discovered that since that moment in the Bible, Christians have gone up there and built a church for Jesus with two rooms – one for Moses and one for Elijah. It is not surprising, since we’ve been doing that same thing in Christianity for years. We have built whole churches and entire denominations on one experience with God.
There is not supposed to just be a mountaintop. We are supposed to go back again and again into the presence of God. We are not supposed to hope our young person stays on that mountain, but that they get taken to the next mountain.
What’s the next challenge in their life? What’s the next area God wants them to grow in? Maybe it’s going on a mission trip. Maybe it’s doing ministry in the inner city. Maybe there are areas of their character God wants to refine. Ask the question, “Why did He give you that fire and what is the next mountain God wants you to climb?”
Help your teen find what the next mountain is. Help them define the next step in their spiritual journey. They need to feel there is someone helping and guiding them. You cannot just depend on your pastor and youth pastor. Be the spiritual leader of your home! Help your young person see that they have the fire for a reason. God wants to do something in them and through them.
When they see there is another mountain to climb, they’ll throw their passion and fervor into climbing that next mountain, not just trying to keep the fire they have. In going up that next mountain, their fire will build and become stable and strong.
Hannah Is in Dallas
I wanted to quickly share with you the latest on Hannah’s recovery. On Monday, I traveled with with her on a medical transport flight from Kansas City to Dallas. We had to fly between several thunder storms, so that made it an interesting adventure. We landed and checked her into the Parkland Hospital burn center, and she has begun the rehabilitation process.
Hannah is still in much pain, but not as much as before. We are expecting her to be in rehab in Dallas for several weeks before coming home, where she’ll continue out-patient rehab.
If you would like to send a letter of encouragement or card to Hannah, the updated address for the hospital is below:
Zale Lipshy Hospital
5151 Harry Hines Blvd
Dallas, TX 75390
Teen Mania International
P.O. Box 619010
Dallas, TX 75261
To provoke a young generation to passionately pursue Jesus Christ and to take His life giving message to the ends of the earth.