Marking Milestone Moments With Your Youth
By Joe White
A recent issue of Parade magazine, the national publication inserted into millions of Sunday newspapers, featured an article titled “What to Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home.” Subtitled “It would be great if by 18 every person could do the following,” the piece presented a dozen areas in which teens should be proficient before launching out on their own:
1. Domestic skills
2. Physical skills
3. Handyman skills
4. Outdoor skills
5. Practical skills
6. Organizational skills
7. Social skills
8. Artistic skills
9. Human skills
10. Orientation skills
11. Recreation skills
12. Survival skills
All these skills would certainly be helpful to a young man or Woman setting out into the world, but there’s something missing:
What about “Moral skills” or “Ethical skills”? Better yet, how about “Spiritual skills”? Okay, it’s probably too much to expect a secular publication to take a strong stand on anything smacking of faith and religion (imagine the letters to the editor). But with such a woeful disregard for integrity permeating our country, it seems as if this should be number one on the list. (To be fair, an accompanying piece said that “qualities such as morality and honesty are of overarching importance.” But excluding morality and integrity from the top-12 list seems to give the statement short shrift.)
Throughout this book, we’ve encouraged you to prepare your teens with the very thing the Parade article ignored: a strong commitment to faith, values, and morals. We’ve talked about using regular, planned teaching times as well as those unexpected teachable moments that pop up every so often.
In this chapter, we want to offer ideas for special events or spiritual high points that help to mark your teen’s progress on the path toward spiritual maturity. Call them “milestone moments,” “memory makers,” “power sessions,” or whatever you like, the idea is to implement a handful of structured discussions or ceremonies that your teen is sure to remember and carry into adulthood.
What follow are six suggested milestones, along with the ideal age for conducting them.
Have a “Key Talk” About Sexuality and Purity
(Timing: ideally, by age 14)
We realize the danger in placing this item first: Some parents, recalling their own painfully awkward “sex talk” from adolescence, may quickly turn the page and move on to another topic. Hear us out on two critical points: First, you know, of course, that our culture is saturated with sexually explicit images, references, and jokes. It seems as if every other television ad contains a sexual innuendo—if not a blatant “sex sells” ploy. Because young people are bombarded with inappropriate, immoral messages, your kids need guidance in this area. If you don’t provide information, instruction, and direction, someone else will. It’s true that many parents would just as soon avoid the subject of sexuality with their kids, but your teen may suffer much emotional, spiritual, and possibly physical harm if you remain silent.
Second, discussions about sex need not be awkward and embarrassing. In fact, they should be positive, upbeat, and candid. Speaking about sex in whispered tones and with vague euphemisms sends the message that sex is bad or shameful, which is clearly not what God intended. What’s more, having a milestone event encompassing sex and purity can be a meaningful time of relationship building for you and your teen.
Teens need their parents’ help to withstand the immense sexual temptations they face. What specifically can you do? We think Richard and Renee Durfield came up with a terrific idea.
When their four youth were growing up, the Durfields weren’t about to give in to the helpless attitude that says, “Well, there’s so much pressure on kids to have sex these days, they’re bound to give in. There’s nothing we can do.” Instead, they decided to have ceremony—a private, personal, and intimate time—when each of their youth reached an appropriate age.
During this special occasion, the parents would explain the biblical view of marriage and the sacredness of sexual purity. This is done between a father and son or mother and daughter (same sex is preferable but not mandatory) at a nice restaurant, as befits an important event.
The Durfields also wanted to commemorate the occasion, and they decided to present a specially made “key” ring to the son or daughter. The ring, which symbolizes a commitment to God, is worn by the adolescent during the difficult teen and young adult years. Richard explains the significance of the gift:
The purpose of a key is to unlock a door, and the ring symbolizes the key to one’s heart and virginity. The ring is a powerful reminder of the value and beauty of virginity, of the importance of saving sex for marriage.
The ring also represents a covenant between the youth and God. A covenant not only obligates us to God, but it obligates God to us. As long as we honor a covenant, God will also honor it. Throughout history, God has blessed those who have remained faithful.
The son or daughter wears the key ring until he or she is married. Then the ring is taken off and presented to the new spouse on their wedding night—that sacred evening when a life of sexual experience begins.
When Richard took his youngest son, Jonathan (15 at the time), for his “key talk,” they dressed in their finest clothes and went to a fancy restaurant. Shortly after they were seated, Richard told his son that no question was out of bounds and that if he had been thinking about one of those awkward questions about sex, this was the night to ask it. Jonathan already knew the “facts of life,” since his parents had always been open about sexuality. But this was the time to talk it all over and clear up any confusion.
“If something’s been bothering you about adolescence or whatever, it’s okay to talk about it,” Richard told him. “This is a special time for you and Dad to discuss any sexual questions that might still be on your mind.”
It didn’t take long for the awkwardness to ease and the questions to start coming. Jonathan, who had not been on a date at that point, wanted to know precisely what the line was for physical contact with a girl. How far was too far? He thought he knew, but he wanted to hear it from Dad.
“A light kiss is about as far as you can go,” Richard explained. “Sexual emotions are very strong, and if you’re not careful, you’ll do things you don’t want to. So you need to avoid anything that leads you up to that point.”
The discussion continued throughout the meal, and finally Richard concluded their time by asking Jonathan if he would like to make a pledge of chastity before the Lord. Jonathan said he would. That’s when Richard presented his son with the key ring and explained its significance. Then, right there in the middle of the restaurant, father and son held hands and prayed together, asking for God’s strength, guidance, and delivery from temptation. They also prayed for Jonathan’s future wife.
Richard says this about that special evening:
My key talk with Jonathan was one of the most memorable and moving experiences I’ve ever had. It seemed our hearts were bonded together.
Young people are romantics. They have a real need to identify their personal self-worth. Wholesome, biblical thoughts instilled during their tender years open an avenue for parents to discuss sex with their youth. The importance a parent places on the key talk will greatly influence the youth’s sexual behavior prior to marriage.
Obviously, the key ring is a powerful day-in-and-day- out reminder for the youth. The more the youth values his or her virginity the more the key ring becomes a precious symbol of the commitment to God and the future spouse.
We highly recommend the Durfields’ “key talk” as a milestone moment early in your youth’s adolescent years. You can and should adapt the event to suit your own circumstances and your youth’s personality (for instance, some kids might clam up if you try to talk about sex in a public place). However you choose to approach the purity and sexuality discussion, make it meaningful and memorable, not just another chat over pancakes and coffee. Go some where special, present your youth with a nice gift, and talk positively and affirmatively (Your gift may or may not include the design of a key but it should be something your teen will wear or at least see every day And it should remind your teen of his commitment to purity) Emphasize that God invented sex, and there’s nothing shameful about it when it is enjoyed in marriage.
Skeptics might ask, “Are kids going to resist sexual temptation just because they make a pledge of abstinence? Do these chastity commitments really work?” As a matter of fact, they do work. Researchers with the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that teens who take pledges to remain sexually pure wait about 18 months longer to have sex than those who don’t.
Results of the survey which included interviews with 9,000 American teenagers seem to have surprised the researchers. The University of North Carolina’s J. Richard Udry who helped design the survey said, “We were cynical about the likelihood that the pledge would produce [results]. But we were wrong.”
According to Peter Bearman of Columbia University and Hannah Bruckner of Yale University authors of the study “The delay effect is substantial and robust. Pledging delays intercourse for a long time. In this sense, the pledge works.”
Is It Ever Too Late for Purity?
What about those kids who are no longer virgins? Should their parents just forget the idea of a purity talk? Absolutely not! Richard Durfield says he has shared his “key talk” idea with many families over the years, and he’s convinced it’s a meaningful event for all teens, virgins or not.
“Although some kids have jumped the gun,” he says, “they can commit themselves to God to remain pure until their wedding day. Teens who have fallen short can become virgins again in the sight of God. Once they’re forgiven, it is as though they had never sinned. The Lord tells us in Isaiah 43:25 that ‘I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’
Whew! You made it through “the Talk.” You even had a ceremony where your teen committed to remaining sexually pure. Now you can forget about discussing sex with your teen again, right? Sorry, not so fast.
A recent federal survey found that adolescents are most likely to adopt their parents’ attitudes about teen sex if Mom and Dad discuss sex-related topics often and seem comfortable doing so. The study involved interviews about communication and sexual attitudes with more than 900 teens and parents in New York, Alabama, and Puerto Rico.
Daniel Whitaker, a psychologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “A lot of parents are afraid to talk [sex] because they think they might say the wrong thing. But this study suggests you should try to communicate your beliefs openly.”
Even the New York president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council—a group whose Web site lists the “right to express your sexuality safely” as one of its “Teen’s Sexual Rights”—says that the study results add to growing evidence that “young people do want to hear from their parents about sex on an ongoing basis—it’s not a one-time thing.”
Encourage Your Youth to Write a Personal Constitution of Core Values
(Timing: ideally by age 13, with a reevaluation each birthday)
In their book Leaving the Light On, authors Gary Smalley and John Trent tell about “constitutions” their families drafted. These were written documents; updated and revised periodically that formalized the families’ rules, codes, and guiding principles. In essence, they were mission statements for the family When Gary and Norma Smalley’s kids were young, their document read like this:
1. We honor Mom and Dad by obeying them.
2. We honor others and our possessions by putting things away after we have used them.
3. We honor friends and family by performing all chores responsibly
4. We honor friends and family by having good manners and exercising responsibility toward others.
5. We honor God’s creation; people and things.
6. God is worthy to receive our highest honor and praise, and His Word is to be honored as well.
These commandments were posted in a prominent place in the home, where each family member would be reminded of them often. And the Smalley clan would regularly evaluate whether they were living according to the ideals they had established. Gary wrote:
These six guidelines represent the final draft of a Smalley Family Constitution that each of us signed and dated. In a real sense, it was like the constitution of a country. We discovered that having a written, objective set of standards greatly contributed to our family’s peace, harmony, and security. The youth knew from the beginning that violating those limits involved sure and consistent consequences.
Smalley and Trent summarized the constitution idea by saying, “Getting a parenting ‘plan’ is essential if you want to have a loving home. But so, too, is the need to learn how to define and fulfill our unique mission in life—that captures the vision God has given us to accomp1ish.”
If a family constitution is an excellent idea (and we certainly believe it is), then individual constitutions are equally worthwhile, especially for adolescents, who are pulled in many directions and face all kinds of temptations. A written document outlining “who I am and how I want to live” provides an anchor in turbulent times.
The best age for drafting a constitution is 13, right on the threshold of the teen years ahead. That is the age—symbolically, at least— when a boy or girl leaves behind youthhood and begins marching toward young adulthood. If your son or daughter is already past 13, the 16th birthday is another excellent time. Requiring your teen to write this document before getting a driver’s license is great motivation. (Keep in mind that these are suggested ages; your son or daughter can go through this exercise at any time during the teen years.) As new phases of adolescence are reached, your teen should draft amendments to the constitution, such as guidelines in dating relationships, driving a car, conduct on the job, and so on.
What about the contents of the constitution? Whereas the example above contained general overarching principles that could encompass family members across a range of ages and maturity levels, we recommend a teen constitution be as specific and unambiguous as possible. A constitution should have two major components: things to leave behind and things to press on toward. These categories are based on two of the apostle Paul’s well-known verses:
* “When I was a youth, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
* “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
The “leave behind” portion of the constitution contains all the things the teen doesn’t want to do, such as drug and alcohol use, breaking curfews, and cheating at school. The “press on toward” section outlines positive pursuits: daily quiet times, church and youth group participation, obedience to Mom and Dad, maintaining sexual purity, serving others, and so on.
Your teen should write the constitution, and then you can discuss it together. Take this opportunity to talk through the significance of each item. This is a “living and breathing” document, one your teen will refer to often over the years, so make sure it’s thorough and crystal clear.
Some parents and teens include a third element: consequences if the constitution is broken and rewards if it’s maintained. What discipline will be implemented if your son or daughter deviates from the agreed-upon standard of conduct? What is the “prize” for consistently pressing on toward the goal? When all this is spelled out in black and white, there will be no confusion about the appropriate course of action later on.
Once the constitution is agreed upon and approved by you and your teen (it might take a few drafts to finalize it), commemorate it with a celebration, a special gift, a weekend getaway, or extra privileges at home (for example, a later curfew, more phone time, increased allowance). Whatever you do, ensure that writing the constitution is not a chore and a bore; make it a festive rite of passage, a memorable step toward adulthood and independence.
Teach Your Teen How to Set Goals and Work Toward Reaching Them
(Timing: ideally, by age 16)
Amazingly, some 15-year-olds can state precisely what their college major will be, what their career ambitions are, at what age they want to marry, the kind of person who would be a good mate, and how many youth they plan to have (they’ve probably even researched the highest-rated retirement places). The sureness of their plans is startling, especially since most adults still don’t know what they want to be “when they grow up.”
The majority of teenagers, however, have a hard time seeing beyond next year (or maybe their next meal). Therefore, one of the best skills you can teach your teen is how to set goals and work toward achieving them. You challenge your youth to look ahead, identify precisely what she wants to accomplish in a given area, and establish a plan for progressing toward it. Howard Hendricks has said, “Families don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” It’s the same with teenagers—they don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan. Instilling the importance of goal setting trains your youth to plan for success.
A word of caution: Strive for balance. Some zealous, type-A parents urge their kids to set lofty, sky-high goals: straight A’s, student council, the lead in the school play, first violin in youth symphony, and first string on the varsity squad. With goals like that, you might end up with a teen who’s driven, compulsive, and perfectionistic—a teen for whom a 3.9 GPA is a failure. Kids who are pushed too hard for too long often succumb to depression, anorexia, excessive anger, and other psychological problems. Or you may destroy your youth’s self-esteem by setting him up for failure. Set the bar too high and your youth might stop trying to jump over it altogether.
On the other end of the continuum are the phlegmatic, go-with-the-flow parents who say, “Goals, shmoals! Just let life hap pen. Too much planning and organizing robs you of spontaneity.” These kinds of parents often produce kids who are unmotivated and unfocused.
Aim for a healthy middle ground. Teach your youth to set reasonable, reachable goals—goals that are both challenging and achievable. Consider helping your teen establish goals in areas such as the following:
* Academics. Strive for improvement, even if it’s just a little nudge upward, over last semester or last year.
* Finances. Set a savings account or college fund goal your teen can work toward.
* Extracurricular activities. This might be athletics, music, theater, speech and debate, or anything else your teen pursues outside the classroom.
* Spirituality. Formulate goals for quiet times, Scripture memorization, evangelism, growth in character qualities, and so on.
This goal-setting exercise might be completed annually (on birthdays, New Year’s Day, or at the beginning of each new school year) or less frequently. Be sure to keep up-to-date on what your teen is striving for, and when he or she meets those goals, celebrate in a big way.
Conduct a Rite-of-Passage or Blessing Ceremony
(Timing: ideally, by age 13 or 16)
One night a few years ago, Phil Altmeyer poked his head into his 13-year-old son’s room and said, “Hey, Nate, you and I are going out on Friday night. No one else in the family will be coming. Just us.”
“Where are we going?” Nate asked.
“I can’t tell you,” he replied. “But I want you to get dressed up in your slacks and sports coat.”
What’s Dad up to? Nate thought. This couldn’t be the sex talk. We’ve already had that.
When Friday night arrived, Phil and Nate drove from their home outside Spokane, Washington, to the city’s downtown area. They pulled into the parking lot of a fancy hotel, and Nate gave a low whistle. Pretty snazzy. As Phil led his son through the hotel lobby, Nate asked again, “Dad, what’s going on?”
“Patience, son,” Phil said. “You’ll see soon enough.”
A few seconds later, they walked into a private dining room, where Nate was surprised to see his five uncles and a teacher standing around the table, all dressed in suits and ties.
“Is this some kind of special dinner?” Nate asked.
“It sure is,” Phil answered, “and you’re the guest of honor.”
Nate’s expression registered the word “Huh?” so Phil explained: “Nate, you recently turned 13. That means you are well on your way to becoming a man. All these men who you know well, along with me, count it a privilege to encourage you, support you, and teach you as you become a godly, honorable man. Tonight, we’re going to share our thoughts on what it means to be a man of integrity, and we’re going to pray a blessing on your life.”
It turns outs that Phil had read Robert Lewis’s book Raising a Modern-Day Knight, in which he asserts that boys need a community of older men to guide them into manhood. Lewis argues force fully that the passage toward manhood should include meaningful ceremonies: “Most men in America today lack a rich, masculine memory because there are no manhood ceremonies. Instead of lasting impressions, there are no impressions—no powerful internal portraits etched in memory that call to mind our passage to man hood, no indelible moments that shaped our masculine identity and now compel us to pursue authentic manhood.”
With that challenge, Phil had arranged this event for his son. So, after a scrumptious meal, each of the men took turns talking about their lives and highlighting different aspects of manhood— integrity, honor, commitment to God, finding a worthwhile vocation, and so on. Other men who couldn’t attend had sent letters to be read. It was a lot to soak in, but fortunately the entire evening was recorded so that Nate could review it all later.
To commemorate the event, Phil gave Nate a specially designed picture, which featured the qualities of manhood Phil is trying to instill in his son. That plaque hangs in Nate’s room as a constant reminder of the men who are supporting him and praying for him.
Now 16, Nate says this about his ceremony: “it’s something I’ll never forget. It was incredible to have all those men I look up to giving me advice and encouragement, and they all planned what they wanted to say and made the effort to come just for inc. It made me feel really special. It was awesome.”
In chapter 24, we provided detailed information about elements of great ceremonies, as well as ideas for ceremonies you might use with your son or daughter (you might find it helpful to review that chapter). Two points bear repeating here:
First, ceremonies that have a strong spiritual and moral theme are often life-changing for teens. These events are mile markers on the road to adulthood. Those few teens privileged to have had a ceremony held in their honor often describe them as some of the richest-, most memorable experiences of their growing-up years.
Second, our society has a woeful lack of ceremonies that honor our teens and give them guidance and support. Think about it: What rite of passage or blessing ceremonies are held these days? A sweet 16 birthday party? Maybe, but the focus there is usually on fun and games. High school graduation? Yes, but that’s at the tail end of the teen years. We strongly suggest you correct this deficiency in your home by holding some kind of ceremony—whether simple or elaborate— that will serve as a tribute to your teen’s progress from youth to adult.
Teach Your Teen the Relationship Between Freedom and Responsibility
(Timing: ideally, after a rule is broken, with review as needed)
“That’s not my responsibility!”
“Why should I be held responsible?”
“You don’t think I’m responsible for that, do you?”
Chances are, you’ve heard statements like this in the past few weeks, and not just from teenagers. These days, adults are just as irresponsible as young people. Politicians and other leaders have made an art form of blame-shifting and passing the buck. In our society, the idea of responsibility-like its first cousins honor, integrity, and duty—has become outdated and outmoded, a quaint notion of a bygone era.
If you want your son or daughter to buck that trend and become a responsible adult who handles freedom wisely, now is the time to teach him. In her book Good Enough Mothers, Melinda Marshall hits the bull’s-eye: “If parents award freedom regardless of whether their youth have demonstrated the ability to handle it, youth never learn to see a clear link between responsible behavior and adult privi1eges.”
The relationship between freedom and responsibility is most forcefully taught after an incident of rebellion, when rules have been violated, or some other situation where discipline is called for. When your youth mishandles his freedom, he should be held accountable. Consider how two parents approached their sons’ abuse of freedom, both involving cars:
Popular speaker and teen specialist Jim Burns recalls how his usually conscientious parents blew an opportunity to teach him the link between freedom and responsibility. Like most teenagers, Jim was excited to get his driver’s license when he turned 16. His mom was delighted, too—no more chauffeuring her son around town. But Jim hit a pothole on the road to responsibility. On his first drive-by-yourself date the weekend after he’d gotten his license, he missed his curfew by two hours.
His dad was furious. He immediately revoked Jim’s car privileges for four months. However the next day, Jim’s mother asked him to drive to the market to pick up some groceries. He learned that errands were okay, not covered in the driving ban. Then when he needed a ride to a baseball game a few days later, his father said he didn’t want to go to the game early. So he threw Jim the car keys and made an exception to the ban. After two weeks, his parents had forgotten about the curfew violation altogether and Jim was back on the road.
Reflecting on his parents’ lax discipline, Jim wrote, “The primary purpose of parental discipline is to teach responsibility. This means consistently helping our youth understand that most of life involves choices and consequences.”
Joe White’s son Cooper ran into his own car troubles early in his driving career. Joe remembers returning home from a trip at 11 at night and climbing into his car in the airport parking lot. As soon as he fired up the engine, his cell phone rang. It was Cooper, who had calculated his dad’s arrival time perfectly.
“Hey, Coop, what’s up?” Joe asked, sensing the late-night call would bring more than just “welcome home” greetings.
“Well, uh, I got a little speeding ticket,” he replied.
“Oh? Just a little one?” Joe said. “How fast were you going?”
“Eighty?” Joe said. “What interstate were you on?”
“Well, it wasn’t an interstate exactly,” Cooper said. “It was a highway in town.”
“What was the speed limit?”
“And you were going 80? That’s 25 miles over the limit,” Joe said, as if his son didn’t know well enough already. “All right. I’ll be home soon. We’ll talk about it then.”
Joe and his wife, Debbie-Jo, had an advantage in meting out fair discipline in this situation. Cooper had written driving regulations into his “constitution of conduct,” along with consequences for breaking agreed-upon guidelines. A ticket meant no car use for a month.
Cooper wasn’t thrilled by the loss of a privilege, but he knew the rules. In fact, in this case, he had made the rules. Joe and Debbie-Jo only had to enforce the consequences and resist the urge to let him slide “just this once.” They held firm, and Cooper learned a valuable lesson about freedom and responsibility.
Our intent is not to admonish Jim’s parents and applaud Cooper’s. We simply want to illustrate the point: It’s critical that parents teach their kids that responsibility goes hand in hand with freedom, and moms and dads teach that most forcefully by clearly specifying rules and consequences and then following through when a rule is violated.
Help Your Teen Understand God’s Purpose and Provision in Times of Loss, Adversity, and Hardship
(Timing: whenever such things occur)
Years ago, a TV movie called The Boy in the Bubble told the story of a youth with a rare immune deficiency that required him to be raised in a ventilated, sanitary, plastic enclosure. He grew up Insulated and isolated from the world—that bubble was his World. Naturally, with limited contact with the real world, his perspective on life was distorted.
Some parents, with the best intentions, create a kind of bubble around their youth to protect them from life’s dangers and hardships. Wanting their kids to have a wonderful growing-up experience, these moms and dads rush to resolve problems, alleviate stress, and remove painful circumstances.
There’s a big problem with this approach: Kids whose youth and adolescent years are too cushy and problem-free will be in for a rude awakening when they step into the real world. Life is full of distress and despair, headaches and heartaches. Every one faces adversity at some time or another. Therefore, wise parents teach their kids how to deal with pain rather than helping them avoid it.
One mother wrote this letter in response to a newspaper column dealing with overprotective parents:
Being a sheltered youth myself, I know what it’s like to reach adulthood unprepared for reality. It’s like being all warm and cozy and then being dumped into a vat of ice water. It’s taken me twenty years to get over that shock and to realize that my parents just loved me too much and couldn’t bear to see me get hurt.
I still have an unreasonable fear of people. But getting hurt is what it’s all about. How can we ever grow and learn if we aren’t hurt sometimes? Mom is not always going to be there to kiss our wounds.’
If parents are too protective, if they shield their youth from all hardship, if they raise their youth in a “plastic bubble,” that kid will leave home an emotional cripple. Woe to that youth who is unequipped to handle pain and peril when she leaves the safety of the cocoon.
Worse, sheltered youth might be spiritually impaired. James told us that God uses tough times to bring about spiritual growth: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:2-4). Lacking spiritual toughness, young people may be blown over by the next strong wind. As the writer of Proverbs said, “If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength” (24:10).
Janice Hanes of Portland, Oregon, takes this issue seriously— and she takes an unusual approach to preparing her teenagers to handle hardship. “I actually pray that God would bring some hard times, even some temptation, into their lives,” she says. Does this sound mean-spirited, maybe even cruel? Listen as Janice explains: “Before long, my kids will be heading off to college or into the working world. They will face temptation of every kind, and they’ll encounter lots of painful situations. I want them to experience some of these things while my husband and I are here to help them through. I believe that’s one of the best things we can do as parents—build up their strength so they can withstand trials and trouble when we’re not around to prop them up.”
As you consider how to respond when your youth endures hardship, keep these points in mind:
1. Character counts most. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Seneca said, “Calamity is virtue’s opportunity” Nothing has changed since he made that statement. Tough times often stimulate the most spiritual and emotional growth.
One dad in Austin, Texas, said: “My son, Bryce, has always been a gifted athlete—the star of just about every team he’s played on. So when he was benched during his junior year of football, he became angry frustrated, and depressed. He was clearly a better player than the kid who took his spot at wide receiver. But the coach was apparently trying to teach Bryce a les son of some kind, though it was never clear what.
“I wanted to march down to the coach’s office and have a few words with him. But I didn’t. Bryce and I decided to pray and let God take care of it. That was one of the toughest years of Bryce’s life, but also one of the best. He learned a whole lot about humility fairness, patience, and trust in God. It killed me to see him suffer through that miserable season, but he’s much stronger spiritually and emotionally because of it. In the end, that’s what matters.”
Few things are more difficult for parents than watching their kids endure pain. But remember, God may be using the difficulty to shape and perfect your youth’s character.
2. Adversity might be preparing your youth for greater spiritual service. The apostle Paul wrote, “Praise be to . . . the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can com fort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God has a way of redeeming our most painful experiences. The teen who is rejected by his peers will likely gain a deep sensitivity for outcasts of all kinds. The teen who struggles with an eating disorder will learn firsthand about body image and self-esteem issues. The Lord will often use tough experiences—and the character qualities that come from them—for His service later on.
3. Teach at the appropriate time. Nobody in the midst of pain wants to hear a sermon about God’s sovereignty or growing through tough times. While wounds are fresh and emotions raw, the best thing you can do is to be there. Be there with an arm around your son’s shoulder. Be there with a big hug before your daughter goes to sleep. Be there, most of all, with prayer for strength, guidance, and wisdom.
Then when the time is right—days, weeks, or months after a painful event—talk it through with your teen. Help him see any good things that might have come from the hardship. Describe incidents from your own life when you’ve suffered disappointment and difficulty, and tell what you learned through those experiences. Discuss how God is not the author of evil (rather, Satan is) but that the Lord can use painful circumstances to draw us closer to Himself.
Obviously you cannot set a time for a milestone discussion about pain and suffering. But you can be prepared to guide your youth through hardship when the opportunity comes. Before adversity arises, you may want to read Dr. James Dobson’s book When God Doesn’t Make Sense or Philip Yancey’s Where is God When It Hurts?
Let’s face it, parents need to utilize all the tools in their tool box—seizing all the teachable moments and following through on planned-out events—to combat a culture that increasingly champions immorality and irresponsibility As educator William Kilpatrick wrote, “Parents cannot, as they once did, rely on the culture to reinforce home values. In fact, they can expect that many of the cultural forces influencing their youth will be actively undermining those values.” The milestones presented in this chapter—along with others you choose to implement – will provide some of the spiritual, moral, and ethical skills your teen needs to stand strong for Christ.
God’s Masterpieces Are Stained-Glass Windows
Joe White taught his own teenagers, as well as all the kids who come to the Christian camps he directs, that God uses pain, hurt, and brokenness to mold them into the people He intends. Joe uses the metaphor of a stained- glass window: “The works of art God creates out of His children’s lives are not done on canvas, where the paint dries and the picture never changes. No, God takes thousands of little p our wonderful experiences and all our terrible ones—and solders them together. The result is a beautiful stained-glass window. If you stand close to a stained-glass window, you can see lots of jagged pieces with nicks and scratches. But stand away from the window, let the light shine through it, and you’ll see a magnificent mosaic.”
Excerpted out of the book ‘ Parents Guide to the Spiritual Mentoring of Teens’
This book can be purchased at www.family.org
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”