Spending 2 hours at the gym so he could play basketball with his friends
Making a healthy dinner
Washing his favorite sweatshirt
Laughing at his jokes
Reminding him to do his chores
Setting limits and saying no
Making him walk the dog. Twice.
Praying for him
Hugging him goodnight (as he squirmed away from me)…
We don’t always speak the same language,
my boy and I.
Sometimes he gets what he wants
and feels loved,
Sometimes he gets loved
instead of what he wants.
Often he wishes for a different mom,
One who would love him more… or less.
He’s not old enough yet to realize
that real love thinks long-term—
It chooses the eternal over the temporary
It chooses health over happiness
It chooses wisdom over being liked
It chooses God’s ways over the world’s
It chooses growth over popularity
It chooses to make the hard decisions
even when they are misunderstood…
Oh, how I love this boy!
Maybe one day he will grasp just how much.
I wrote this last week after a rough day with one of my boys. I must have whispered to myself, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed…” a million times that day! He told Jeff, “Mom and I quarreled, but then we worked it out.” (Extra points for a using a vocabulary word!!) I’m not sure that explanation fully captures the extent of our exchange or emotions, but that’s okay. It ended with teary-eyes and I love you’s, and that’s all that really matters. We came out better on the other side.
Parenting is hard, y’all.
H A R D!!!
But these battles for our children’s hearts are SO WORTH IT! Do not give up. Do not quit fighting for them. They need us to love them, even when they don’t know how to receive it. They need us to set boundaries, even when they struggle against them with every ounce of their being. They need us to fight through our hurt feelings and love them anyway. And they need us to keep pointing them to Jesus.
We will get it wrong half the time, and that’s okay. Just don’t give up. Keep loving them. That’s what we’re trying to do around here, however imperfectly; trusting the One who loves them most to fill in the gaps with His grace.
“My kids just watched our front running Presidential candidates behave in a way that is worse than behavior they themselves have lost phones and been grounded for. Awesome.”
This was posted by a friend of mine following the first Presidential debate of 2020. Whichever direction you lean, I believe we can all agree that debate was a train wreck!
Regardless of the reasons, neither candidate represented themselves in a manner worthy of the highest office of this nation. I can’t count the number of times I have told my kids that our choices are not dependent on other people’s actions. If our Presidential candidates were our children, we would have taken away their microphones and sent them to bed without supper!
Alas, that is not the case.
From my last blog post, you know I firmly believe in viewing challenges as teachable moments. Unfortunately—or fortunately— this election year is turning out to be a perfect opportunity to do just that.
I admit… it is a bit of a struggle. I find myself tempted to focus on:
The lack of integrity in our candidates
The division in America
The role of media bias & “fake news” from every side
Our tendency to choose “sides” and be “against” something
How mean and rude people can be to one another on social media regarding political issues and current events
The desire to throw something at the TV and stay home on election day!
However, I’m not sure those topics would be the most beneficial to my kids. As easy as it is, it’s not enough to complain to our children about politics. No, how we talk about the election with our kids matters.
This is one of those times I am reminding myself I have the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and use the current situation to create constructive conversation.
Here are some revised talking points I came up with based on the frustrations I listed above:
Why we should vote for policy/platform and not a person. While it would be nice for our president to be an outstanding role model for future generations, unfortunately that is not often the case. Let’s be real— most of our leaders have had closets full of immorality and shameful behaviors… they just didn’t put them on display quite like our current candidates. In any case, one of the beautiful things about our government system is that it is designed so that the President’s personal power is limited. His or her main impact comes through the people he/she appoints. The President’s cabinet is made up of the heads of various departments. These are the people who oversee the areas that directly affect us as Americans—transportation, education, national security, etc. The President also nominates Supreme Court Justices, should an opening occur. The Supreme Court verdicts often have widespread implications and, subsequently, guide the morals of our nation. Thus, the people a President appoints generally play a much greater role in directing our nation than the President himself/herself. This is so important for our children (and us) to understand!
While America seems very divided, there are large areas of common ground in the middle. In many cases, most Americans actually want the same thing, but see different ways of achieving it. Do you listen and communicate better with someone if you realize you mostly want the same things?
“I saw it on the internet (or TV or TikTok), so it must be true!” The reality is our kids DO tend to internalize what they watch and listen to, and so do we. And the more we trust our source, the more blindly we accept it. Unfortunately, NONE of our current news sources report anything objectively without bias. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is any source without an agenda. This is a GREAT opportunity to talk to our kids (and ourselves!) about the importance of implementing critical thinking skills. What does that look like? How do we pursue truth (even at the expense of our own opinions)? How do we recognize bias in a story? How can we tell when we are being manipulated? How do we check the validity of a source or a story? How do we research counter-arguments to make sure we have a more accurate perspective instead of just choosing articles that support our opinions? These are all great questions to walk through with our kids.
In this election more than any other, people are talking about their desire to vote “against” someone or something. As Christ-followers, there are obviously things we should stand up against. But mostly, I want my kids to be known for what (and who) they stand FOR. Do our children know what we believe in and why it matters to us, not just what we stand against?
This election season is the first time I have ever used Facebook’s “Snooze for 30 days” feature. I realize we all have personal experiences, which create strong emotions, and Satan is having a field day with that! But somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten about human decency. Seriously, y’all—if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all! However, this also creates a great opportunity to discuss the importance of listening with an open mind, sharing your words where they will have the best return, stepping away from the noise when you need to, and recognizing that POSTING about something is not the same thing as DOING something.
And yes, when I want to throw something at the TV, I remind myself of the privilege it is to have a voice in our elected officials and the responsibility that comes with it. Do our kids understand how this process works, how it is purposely different from other countries, and why that matters? Even at our worst, the ideals we stand for and our methods of maintaining them have tremendous value, and our kids need to know that. Otherwise, they will eventually forfeit those freedoms, and by the time they realize what they have lost, it will be too late. “History repeats itself” is a real thing.
Beyond that, the question I have been asking myself is what do our kids need to know specifically about how Jeff and I determine who to vote for? Basically, it comes down to two things: What matters to us and why.
WHAT MATTERS TO US AND WHY
1. KNOW YOUR WHAT
This is where our worldview comes into play. As Christ followers, we focus on what the Bible says. God gets to determine what is most important to us, not us. Our job is to critically think, pray, and determine which platform (not person) we believe lines up most with Biblical objectives and will do the most good for the most people.
2. KNOW YOUR WHY
“Because I don’t like the other candidate” is not a good enough reason to vote for someone. The privilege of voting comes with great responsibility, and we must take that seriously. Even with all our faults, the freedoms we enjoy in this country cannot be taken for granted. We cannot be led by the crowd in matters this important! Just because some person with a microphone says this candidate is going to help someone doesn’t mean they actually will. We must look deeper to understand WHY a person or platform is more worthy than the other of our vote.
IMPORTANT VALUES FOR OUR FAMILY
Some of you have asked me to share some of the Biblical values that are important to our family, so here are a few. Yours may be different, and that’s okay! Or yours may be similar, but you may have a different perspective on how to best achieve those values. That’s okay, too! Diversity of thought can actually make us better—but only if we learn how to listen, compromise, and work together for the greater good. (Can you tell I’m an Enneagram 9? Lol!)
The freedom to worship God and to share our faith with others
The value of all human life, as every person, of every color, from the point of conception, is created in God’s image
The pursuit of Biblical integrity and character traits such as personal responsibility, wise stewardship, hard work, generosity, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves
The limited role of government—what it is intended to do in our lives and in our country, and what it is not intended to do.
National security—not just for our own safety, but also for what it means for the protection and provision of liberty around the world.
There are many other things that matter to us, obviously, but these are a good place to start. Whatever your values are, I encourage you to make sure you discuss them with your children. Teens and young adults are particularly impressionable, and the world will share its values with them whether we like it or not. I continue to see more and more thoughtful, compassionate students embracing what they believe to be enlightened, revolutionary thinking, when in actuality, they are being manipulated with biased information and merely following a trend.
PASSING ON OUR VALUES
Parents, please don’t forfeit the responsibility you have been given to pass on Biblical values to your children. Don’t assume they know your “what” or understand your “why” without explanation. Embrace the craziness of this next week as a teachable moment to discuss why voting matters, why you vote the way you do, and how the Bible influences (or in our case, determines) your choices.
And remind them that, above all, our hope lies in Jesus, not a political candidate. Whoever wins this election will do so under God’s sovereignty. We will pray and remain faithful, regardless of the outcome, and be grateful for the opportunity to vote again in four years.
“But Christians know that we are not at the mercy of chance. A loving hand, a great wisdom, and an omnipotent power rule our destiny. The government of all is on the mighty shoulders of Christ Himself, who sees all long before it happens. All is intended for our blessing. How different things look to us!”
-Elisabeth Elliot, Secure in the Everlasting Arms
In the words of Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn, we can teach our children to rest in this truth: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!
Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.
When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!
I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move!
But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!
Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind!
Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.
And that is something to be grateful for!
“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”
When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.
When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence.
When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected.
The important thing is how we handle them.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:
Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?
—Paul David Tripp
God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us!
We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know.
So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.
“Mom, are you serious?? What is wrong with you? No one else in the world has stupid rules like this. I hate it! You’re ruining my life! You and dad are the worst!”
I sat there suppressing a smile and polishing my Mother of the Year trophy while the child-who-shall-not-be-named stomped out of the room.
Sorry, kid, this isn’t our first rodeo.
In case you’re wondering about the preposterous rule, Jeff and I recently implemented a “No technology during the school week” policy. You can imagine how well that went over.
Y’all, sometimes parenting is really hard. Okay, most of the time, parenting is really hard! Making our kids mad at us is no fun. Setting limits and boundaries we know they won’t like is terribly difficult. Listening to them tell us that we are ruining their life (and wondering if it’s true) is heart-wrenching.
But sometimes a mom (or dad) has to do what a mom (or dad) has to do.
In this case, the reality is that our kids are different people when they are not using technology. When they know it’s an option, nothing else seems to matter. They rush carelessly through their schoolwork so they can get online with their friends. They overlook assignments or “forget” to study so they can be done faster. They lose sight of how much they love things like sports and other activities because their focus is on a screen. And though they hate to admit it, their aggression and anxiety skyrocket.
However, when digital entertainment is no longer an option, everything changes! They take their time on their schoolwork and their grades go up. They spend time together— laughing, playing outside, making up games, and being creative. As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol. Our hope is that, through this process, they will learn the value of denying themselves and be able to choose it for themselves in the future.
In fact, on a few occasions, our older children have even handed us their phones, recognizing they needed a break from the digital world, but not trusting their own ability to resist the temptation. How cool is that?
“As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol.“
Unfortunately, it never gets any easier to deny ourselves what we really want.
Jeff and I started a new eating plan this week. I’m not going to lie; it has been tough. Our meals (I use that term loosely, lol!) are planned out for us, and our eating is extremely restricted compared to what we are used to. Honestly, it feels quite a bit like torture!
But it has also given me new perspective. I had no idea how much my life revolved around food. It is horrifying and humbling to recognize how quickly an indulgence here and there can become an all-consuming, insatiable hunger. Like my kids, I have overlooked the most important things in order to satisfy what my heart craves. I have been ruled by the desire to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and I didn’t even know it!
However, this week, all that changed.
This week has been an experience in self-denial. I have had to prioritize what is best for me over what I desire. I have chosen integrity over indulgence and long-term results over short-term satisfaction. My hunger pains have reminded me that while I may feel deprived, there are those who would consider my small portion a gift, an answered prayer. As the week went along, my perspective shifted and I have grown more grateful for what I have been given instead of focusing on what has been withheld.
I’m not quite there yet, but I am inching my way towards finding the freedom that comes from releasing an idol.
Friends, it makes me wonder. If my kids didn’t recognize how technology affects them and I didn’t realize how food affects me, what else in our lives are we blind to? In what other areas are we indulging our senses, feeding our feelings, and drowning in our desires? And what would happen if we chose to step back and open our hands, willingly denying ourselves of whatever it is that consumes us?
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
We live in a fast food world of self-indulgence. Super-sizing is expected. Entitlement is rampant. Just look at our political climate—we are so quick to claim a side, yet we have forgotten how to have a conversation. We continually choose being right over being in relationship. We focus on our miniscule areas of disagreement instead of our larger areas of commonality.
We are being deceived, friends! We are worshiping self-made idols and calling it freedom, when really we are enslaved to our own desires.
I wonder what would happen if we all chose gratitude over greed. Would our world look any different if we decided to walk the path of self-denial? If, instead of feeding our selfish desires, we denied ourselves and sought to fulfill someone else’s needs? What freedom would we gain by shifting our perspective, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of someone else’s restrictive cruelty, we decided to find freedom through restricting ourselves?
This is the perspective we are hoping our kids will grasp— that while self-denial is unpleasant at first, it can lead to great joy and freedom.
Just a few things to think about as I count the minutes until my next “fueling”…
Do you remember what it was like when you were having your first baby? If you were anything like me, you read all the books and talked to all the people and bought all the stuff, because that’s what good parents did. But the reality was, we had no clue what we were doing!
I will never forget the first night we brought Sarah home from the hospital. She was screaming her little head off and then doing this weird gagging thing, like a cat with a hairball. As her face turned purple, we panicked and called the nurse line, and all I could think was, “How in the world am I supposed to keep this little person alive?!”
Parenting teens in the technology age can feel a lot like that.
It’s scary and dangerous and there are so many unknowns. It can be hard to know where to start and even harder to control. We want to protect our children and give them independence at the same time, all without causing World War III in our homes. Is that even possible?
In Part 1 of this series, we covered some things you can do before your teens enter the digital world (you can read about that here). Today I want to share some things we have learned as we’ve navigated this challenge with our teen girls over the past few years. Much of this wisdom was passed down to us from people much wiser than we are. Some of it we have figured out on our own, and some of it we are still trying to implement.
Please do not think we have mastered any of this! On any given day (including today), you will find us either confronting or ignoring any number of these suggestions in our own home. We have loosened our boundaries in certain areas where our girls have proven themselves trustworthy (and also, let’s be honest, where we have gotten lazy), but many of these things really are essential for the well-being of our teens.
So I encourage you to read through this and discuss these suggestions with your teen. Hopefully this conversation will help you as you develop boundaries and expectations for your family and put together your Technology Contract (more on that in Part 3!).
The following bullet points are written as though addressing your teen; there are some additional details in the talking points section directed towards parents. This is obviously not exhaustive- feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comments!
Keep all maps & locations turned off. Always keep your privacy settings as private as possible.
Never give out (or post anything which will give out) private information, such as your full name, age, address, phone #’s, school or activity locations, etc.
Only “friend” and “follow” people you know personally very well. Ask permission before following famous people, etc. Be careful about who you are allowing to influence you!
Never block your parents from seeing any of your posts. If you feel the need to block them (other than for a surprise party!), chances are you shouldn’t be doing it.
NEVER agree to meet someone in person without your parents knowledge, even people you think you know well. Online traffickers are sneaky and manipulative; it just isn’t worth the risk.
Always ask people’s permission before you post a photo of them or tag them in a photo.
Before you post anything, stop and THINK: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind? If not, don’t post it! And don’t post anything your parents, grandparents, siblings, and youth pastor would not approve of. This includes profanity, bullying, humor at someone else’s expense, naked or “sexy” pics, etc.
If you see something inappropriate, tell your parents immediately, and DO NOT DELETE/UNFOLLOW/ETC it until your parents have seen it. This includes negative comments, images, bullying, and more. Please care more about doing the right thing than protecting your friends. (NOTE: Most teens don’t know you can be held legally responsible for images you receive that are not reported, not just what you send.)
Keep an updated list of all your accounts and passwords where your parents can access it. Understand that having your parents “follow” you and occasionally check your phone provides some accountability to keep you safe and help you make wise choices.
Stay away from temptation. Don’t use the “Search” and “For You” features unless you are looking for someone specific. Don’t Facetime from your bedroom. The Bible cautions us again and again to flee temptation for good reason; just stay away. And if (or when) you do accidentally see something you shouldn’t, tell a parent or trusted adult. It may seem like it’s no big deal, but trust me- bad things grow in the dark. Bringing it into the light will help you process your feelings and provide some accountability.
Remember Social Media can be used for “good or evil”… be the one who uses it for good! Make the most of your opportunity to be a Light in a world that needs hope.
Sane: (Stress/Emotional Health)
Have a central charging station (not in bedrooms) where all family members, including parents, charge their phones overnight. Set a time (9pm?) for all phones and devices to be put away each night.
Limit your platforms. The temptation is to do all the things, but no one can really manage more than one or two platforms well anyway. Choose one or two which are most useful to you and keep it at that.
Limit your technology time. It is so easy to get sucked into the digital vortex, where 20 minutes somehow turns into 2 hours! We need time and space to rest, to be creative, and to connect with physical people. Decide now how much of your time you are willing to give away to your phone or video games, and set restrictions to hold yourself accountable.
Don’t confuse important with urgent. You don’t have to immediately answer every text/snap/DM, join every game request, or reply to every comment (even if it shows that you read it). Nor should you expect others to be at your beckon call. Respect yourself and your friends enough to give each other space without constantly taking things personally.
It’s okay to stay silent. You don’t have to tell the whole world how mad you are or how much that person hurt you. You don’t have to confront every lie or engage in every argument. Learning when to speak and when to stay silent is an important life skill- social media offers a great opportunity to develop discernment.
Know when to step away. Social media and technology affect everyone differently; if you feel stressed, angry, or sad and you don’t really know why, try getting offline for a few days. The constant comparison and desire for “likes,” “followers,” “wins,” or “kills” can create pressure without you even realizing it. Stepping away for awhile gives you a chance to breathe and reset yourself. Do this occasionally, even when you don’t feel like it is necessary, just to make sure you are mastering it instead of letting it master you.
Here are some additional talking points for parents, explaining some of these guidelines in more detail. If all of this is new to you, take a few minutes and read through the rest of this.
Talking Points for Parents
Our girls started with Facebook. Since it is a platform used mostly by adults, it helped them learn not to post anything they wouldn’t want their parents, their friends’ parents, youth pastor, etc. reading. It also gave them a safe place to get their feet wet without embarrassing themselves with nerdy posts, etc. This is especially true if they are gaining access during their middle school years. My girls look back at some of the things they posted when they were 14 and are mortified (and grateful it was on FB and not Instagram where all their friends would have seen it! Ha!)
Encourage them to use their platform for good. There are so many ways they can be a LIGHT: texting friends who are struggling, sharing verses or encouraging posts about what the Lord is teaching them, making sure their words are kind and uplifting, confronting false ideology in love with Truth, etc. Make sure you notice when you see them doing this and encourage them!
Keep an eye on their followers and the people they follow. If you take the time to show them how easy it is to gather information on people with a public account, they should not argue too much on this point. But teens often feel like a friend of a friend isn’t really a stranger, and neither is that guy or girl they talked to for 3 minutes at their theater competition or baseball tournament. The people they follow have a voice in their life (this includes the “famous” people they follow). This is a great opportunity to talk about choosing wisely who we allow to influence us.
Hold them accountable. Just knowing their parents are going to see what they post (and what their friends comment) will provide a level accountability which helps keep them out of trouble. Require them to give you all their passwords; “like” their posts and talk to them about what they’re doing so they know you’re paying attention.
Our kids know that we will both follow them on social media AND monitor their social media and texting activity from their phones. THIS IS ESSENTIAL. I don’t care how great your kid is or how much they love Jesus, follow rules, etc. It is imperative that you check on them occasionally. There is no such thing as a perfect kid, and there are all kinds of things that happen that are difficult for them to talk to us about. They need us to walk alongside them in this journey.
***NOTE: This is not an opportunity for you to spy on your kid or learn all their secrets. It is more about scanning to make sure you’re not missing anything… are there signs that they are depressed or anxious, lying to their friends or you, being bullied or bullying others, etc.? And if you find something, try not to freak out! We have had to have multiple conversations with our daughters about things that we have found, and it has rarely been as bad as it seemed. Take time to pray about it before your confront anything. Often you can approach it in a way that doesn’t relate back to their phone; just bringing up the topic creates an opportunity for them to share what is going on. We need to choose our battles wisely. If we are constantly confronting them with things they post and text, it is likely they will eventually shut us out and hide their online activity from us. That is definitely not what we’re going for.
Limit their platforms. Seriously, as an adult I have a difficult time monitoring how much time I spend on social media. This is an even greater challenge for teens! They don’t need access to everything. Help them determine which one or two apps will best serve their purpose and limit it to that. Snapchat is extremely difficult for parents to monitor, so I don’t suggest starting with it. We showed our girls an article interviewing the creators of Snapchat in which they share how they created the app for the sole purpose of “sexting.” This was eye-opening to our girls and helped them understand why it was not something we wanted them to use. Our oldest daughter does have it now, but that came after several years of earning our trust in how she handles herself online and in real life. She shares her snaps with us… mostly they just send each other pics of half their face or with the camera looking up their nose. Not sure why that’s fun, but apparently it is…
Help them recognize when their connectivity is stressing them out and let them know it’s okay to step back for awhile (or for good). Some people cannot handle the constant comparison to other people’s lives or the pressure that comes with waiting for “likes.” They might find themselves feeling anxious or left out or angry; they may start being tempted to do things they don’t want to do or become someone they are not in order to fit in. If so, they need to step back. One of our girls would bring us her phone on her own every few weeks and ask us to keep it for a few days so she could have a break. She knew she needed a break, but she also knew she wasn’t strong enough to step back on her own.
Beware of the Search Feature: the “Search” feature is one of the most dangerous parts of Social Media. A friend told me this was the reason her boys wouldn’t ever have Instagram, so we checked it out… within the first five minutes we saw a man expose himself, as well as a college-age girl “vlogging” in her car, who then ended up masturbating on camera! WHAT???? So we basically just explained to our girls the kinds of things they would see, that they couldn’t “un-see” those things, and that our expectation was for them to not use the Search feature (or videos/people you might like, etc) unless they were searching for a specific friend. Protective software (like Covenant Eyes) does not monitor inside apps, btw, so we basically just had to trust them. Again, we know them well enough to know that they would not really be interested in that, just like they are not interested in viewing the trash on Tik-Tok. But we still monitor and try to keep on top of whatever they ARE watching.
Parents, we must follow through! If we say we are going to follow their accounts or check their devices, we must actively do so. If they agree to set time limits, we must enforce them. Our teens have enough friends; they need us to be the parents!
Above all, pray. Pray for your teens- for their protection, their safety, their purity, their influence, their relationship with you, their friends, and their relationship with God. Ask the Lord to reveal anything hidden that needs to be brought into the light, and to prompt your heart when something isn’t right. Every single time I have found something in our girls’ digital life that needed addressing has been a direct result of a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Of all the things we do, prayer is the most effective tool we have in navigating these digital waters with our teens.
Do you have anything to add (to this very long post!!)? Feel free to comment! And click HERE for Part 3 on developing a Technology Contract with your teens…
I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “There is no way parenting is like math! There is no easy formula to follow, and no variables to plug in that equal a perfect child.”
And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Parenting is hard! Math is hard! I get it!”
And you’re right, too.
So if you’re both right, then what in the world am I talking about?
Just hear me out…
One of the things I love best about homeschooling is watching the light bulb come on when something “clicks” for one of my kids. This phenomenon is not unique to homeschooling- all parents experience this with their children in different ways. Maybe you are helping them with homework, or teaching them how to shoot a basketball, or even teaching them how to talk when they are little. There is something special about that first time they say your name, make a basket, or solve the math problem. Their eyes get big, their face lights up, and something special passes between you. Success! It is an amazing moment to share.
But those moments are rare, like finding a single pearl hidden somewhere among an ocean of oysters. It takes hard work, perseverance, and is often overwhelming. And in my experience, they usually come about the time I have decided to give up.
I find parenting to work much the same way. There are moments when they get it, when the hard work of character training and spiritual investment align in some sort of magical moment, and we get to high five each other for a job well done. But if your house is anything like mine, before the party’s over, another issue or growth area pops up, waiting to be whacked, and the challenge begins again. Sometimes it’s even the same problem, the one we were just celebrating- apparently prematurely. What’s a parent to do?
Which brings us back to math. I’ll be honest- I like math, I really do. It has a rhythm and a reason to it; it is logical. It’s like doing a puzzle; you keep the big picture in mind, but mostly you figure out how to fit things together piece by piece, until the picture finally appears. Sounds simple enough.
However, in teaching math to my children I have found it is not always that easy. Sometimes they don’t catch the rhythm, and often they can’t see the logic. So here are a few things I have learned that apply to both parenting and math:
1. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson.
I’ll be honest; this one caught me completely off guard. I assumed once a child learned long division and experienced the “light bulb” moment, we could check the box, right? No. Apparently kids can completely understand something one moment and then forget everything they know three problems later. It’s a real thing- ask any teacher in your life. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson, even when you learn it well.
The same is true in parenting. “Obey the first time” is an ideal, not a reality. I mean, do you always obey God the very first time every single time? I certainly don’t! Believe it or not, we will have to teach our kids patience and kindness more than once. We know hitting their brother or talking back is wrong every time, but in their mind, that lesson requires multiple applications to every possible situation before it sinks in. It is not personal against us or limited to only our child. It’s just like math; it takes more than one time to master a concept, which requires… practice and repetition.
2. Practice and repetition are necessary for mastery
The idea is that the more you repeat something, the easier it will become. In math, there are two parts to learning basic “facts,” such as addition and multiplication. One must both understand the concept (2 cookies plus 3 cookies equals 5 cookies) and memorize the equation (2+3=5). The first one takes practice, over and over, to truly understand the concept, applying it to different values. The second one requires repetition of the same equation, again and again, until the answer is instinctive.
How does this idea translate to parenting? There are certain concepts our child will have to repeat over and over again, with a number of different variables, in order to truly grasp the character traits involved. There is no substitution for practicing; we simply must be patient and consistent and understand it is a process. There are other truths they simply need to hear repeated over and over again until they become instinctive. These truths are foundational to the building of their faith and character, just as math facts are foundational to algebra equations. Choose them carefully and repeat them often!
3. Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help
Let’s be honest- frustration is inevitable in both math and parenting. However, an angry, yelling parent is not any more effective than a child throwing his pencil in frustration.
One day several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters with her math. I was frustrated because she had “forgotten” a concept she already learned (see #1), and she was not responding well to my extremely calm, patient, loving instruction (in other words, she was being a sassy pants and I was reacting like a pre-teen girl). I said something like, “You would never treat a teacher this way, would you?” and she yelled back, “No, because a teacher would never treat me like you are!”
Ouch. She was right.
So when you find yourself getting frustrated– in math or in parenting- the best thing to do is…
4. Take a break and try a different approach
Sometimes the best thing for everyone is a little break. Take a time-out, move on to a different subject, walk outside- whatever it takes to catch your breath and calm down. And then when you are ready, you can approach the problem again from a different angle.
As the saying goes, if we do the same thing over and over again, we’re going to keep getting the same result. If something isn’t working, whether it is a math problem or a character issue, try something different.
Once I quit focusing on how I wanted her to solve the problem and started thinking about how she was trying to solve the problem, I usually saw a new way to approach it. The same is true in our parenting. We can solve a multitude of problems by simply shifting our perspectives.
5. Go back to the basics
More often than not, when my kids are getting wrong answers in math, it is because they have forgotten their math facts (see #2). Those foundational truths have gotten rusty and are no longer instinctive, causing them to spend too long figuring out a problem or guessing at numbers. A quick review of the basics generally gets them back on track with minimal interference from me.
The same is true with parenting. When our children were really little and we suddenly found ourselves with sleep issues or attitude problems, a friend suggested I simplify our schedule and focus on structure, consistency, and my own attitude- the basics. The issues almost always resolved within a few days.
As they have gotten older, we shift our focus back to heart issues- character, prayer, time in the Word, honoring others over ourselves… all those things we spent so much time “repeating” when they were younger. Okay, and cleaning a toilet often helps, too!
6. If all else fails, ask for help
Even with our best efforts, sometimes we don’t have what we need to figure it out. In math, that means reaching out to a teacher or a tutor- finding someone who can see things we can’t and who can provide outside perspective we are not able to see or give on our own.
More than once as a parent, I have been at my wits end, having tried everything I knew to try (usually that was my problem- I was trying to fix something that was not within my power to fix! But that’s a whole different blog post!). Assuming you have already spent time in prayer, the best thing to do is get help. Reach out to a friend whose parenting you respect and admire. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or staff member at your church, or ask them to help you find a solid, Biblical counselor who can give you perspective on your situation. There is no shame in asking for help. People get tutors, hire personal trainers, and visit professionals in various fields all the time. Your children are your greatest investment on this earth. Seek help if you need it!
So… no, there is no formula to follow that will give you a perfect child. And yes, math can be really hard and so can parenting! Both are true. Therefore, instead of wasting time worrying about them, maybe we can learn something from one that will help us with the other, trusting that God will meet us in our efforts to draw their hearts towards Him.
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:31 (NLT)
It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I realize I have about 30 minutes to myself before I start making dinner. Just as I settle in with my book, my teen plops down on the couch next to me. “Whatcha reading, Mom? Oh, that sounds cool. Hey, did I show you this video I found…”
It’s 11:27 pm and my bed is calling. I finish brushing my teeth and walk into my bedroom, and then hear footsteps in the hallway. “Hey Momma, do you have a minute?” she says…
Why is it my teens never want to talk when I’m ready to listen? It seems like, without fail, they always approach me at the most inconvenient times!
Oh, that happens to you, too?
It’s crazy, right?
Last night I listened to a video interview with Craig Groeschel, the pastor of Life.church, on “Raising Biblically Based World Changers.” I already had this blog topic planned, so I perked up when he mentioned how important it is for us to listen to our teens.
He said, “While young children need our physical presence, teenagers need our emotional presence, but they are not always emotionally available to us. So when they are, we need to drop everything and listen.”
He couldn’t be more right.
In the last blog post about listening so teens will talk, I shared some things we can do to ensure that we are actively listening to and communicating with our teens instead of just trying to tell them how much we know.
Today I want to share a few ways we can make the most of opportunities to get our kids talking, so we’ll be ready to listen when the time comes.
1. Learn WHEN your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen.
This may seem silly, but I have found this one thing helps my listening attitude more than anything else. Believe it or not, my patience level at 11:27 p.m. is not super high- I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by that time in the day. The LAST thing I want to do is spend an hour reminding myself of all the things I need to do to be a good parent while my teen pours out her heart- or at least, that’s the last thing I FEEL like doing.
But the truth is, underneath the feeling, there is actually nothing in the world I would rather do more than listen to my teen’s heart. So learning their rhythms has helped me a lot in preparing my own heart to be ready.
The best way to do this is simply to pay attention. Make a note of when your teen approaches you for conversation, even seemingly insignificant conversation, like sharing a TikTok video or rehashing some terrible call in last week’s game. Before long, you will likely begin to notice a pattern or a rhythm to when they tend to make themselves available to you. For some it’s after school, or right before dinner, but for many- especially older teens- it’s after 11:00 p.m. Maybe their defenses come down when they’re tired? That’s my theory. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty much universal, so watch for it!
The important thing, though, is to discern your teen’s rhythms so you can prepare and be emotionally available to them.
2. Learn HOW your teens make themselves emotionally available for you to listen.
Some kids spout their innermost thoughts like a gushing fire hydrant, while others wait for you to pry every single word out of their zippered lips. Some kids process externally, while others process internally. Some are comfortable sharing their feelings, and others, not so much. None of these things are right or wrong; they are simply how your teen tends to communicate. Learning these tendencies is kind of like learning to speak our teen’s language, because they show us the best ways to approach conversations with them.
Does your teen have a hard time expressing their emotions verbally but like to write? Keeping a shared journal is one way you can help them open up to you. One of our daughters tends to hold her feelings inside. She had an especially difficult time expressing anger and frustration towards us or sharing things that she thought we just wouldn’t understand. Using a journal gave her a chance to open up without feeling disrespectful, as she was able to write down things she never would have had the courage to say in person. It also helped her process her thoughts so she had a better grasp of what she was really feeling, and it gave me time to think and process as well so I could respond with grace and truth. Now it is a beautiful record of our relationship over the years, and she can read those pages to be reminded of how very much her dad and I love her! As she has gotten older, we have made an effort to coach her in expressing herself verbally, but the journal was very helpful for a season.
Our other daughter expresses her feelings almost too easily and hates to write, so the journal idea wouldn’t work for her. Instead, we’ve learned (and are still learning!) that when she gets worked up about something, she is not ready for conversation until she releases all her emotions. Since my husband has thick skin and a higher tolerance for confrontation than me, he likes to poke and prod and help her get it all out, so they can deal with whatever is really going on. I, on the other hand, gently tell her I can tell she’s upset, so she needs to go into another room until she feels better and then I’ll be ready to listen. Okay, so my words often sound gentler in my head than they do out loud, and they are rarely received calmly by her- but we are working on it! Once she calms down, we usually have a great conversation about whatever is going on in her world.
Some teens find it very difficult to express themselves at all! But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to share. It just means they need someone to invest the time in helping them figure out how to open up. Maybe they like to text, or make videos. Maybe watching a TV show or playing a video game together will allow them (or you) opportunities to bring up topics they would otherwise not talk about.
The important thing is to invest time in learning HOW your teens communicate so you can look for opportunities and be ready to listen.
3. Learn WHERE your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen.
Does your teen love Starbucks? Then buy them a latte and sit down for a chat. Does your teen love baseball? Head to the field. Does your kid avoid one on one conversations? Then wait until you have them trapped!
Actually, I’m not kidding. Some of the best conversations with teens take place in the car. I have found that teen boys, especially, seem to open up better while riding side by side in a vehicle as opposed to sitting down face to face. I don’t suggest this avenue (ha, get it?!) for bringing up super volatile issues, but many awkward or embarrassing topics (which for boys can mean anything slightly emotional) are much more productive if discussed with some sort of distraction. It could be riding in a car or working on a project together or playing golf- anything that works for you, as long as it gives your teen an opportunity to open up without feeling like they are the center of attention.
Remember, it is still important for them to have your full attention, but just in a way that doesn’t make them feel so self-conscious.
During his interview, Groeschel mentioned that he has found his teen’s friends often open up to him easier than his own kids. Therefore, he has learned to engage his teen’s friends in conversations, and they eventually join in. If your teen doesn’t always respond well when you initiate conversation, try bringing their friends into it and see what happens! Perhaps they will open up more in a group of friends.
4. Show your kids you’re ready to listen by keeping communication open.
This is probably the most important thing we can do as parents. No matter what your kids tell you, don’t act surprised, shocked, or disappointed. Don’t be overly antagonistic or judgemental towards their friends. There will be time for those insights, but the best thing we can do when our teens are emotionally available is keep them talking. Ask questions, make connections to their feelings, find out what they think about things, anything. As Groeschel said, “the goal is just to keep them talking. We should shoot for 90% listening and 10% talking.” The more we know, the better we are able to express our love to them, to pray for them, and to offer help or advice when they seek it.
Again, just because I know the importance of being ready to listen to my teens, doesn’t mean I always am. The past few days have been filled with failures on my part in this exact area, so I am definitely preaching to the choir!
But I won’t stop trying.
As exhausting as parenting can be some days, our time to speak into our teens lives is limited, and we cannot waste it. But before we can speak, we must be intentional about listening, so they know how much we care.
When our teens are ready to talk, will we be ready to listen?
“Mom, you just don’t understand! You’re not even listening to me!” she lamented as she stomped off, slamming her door.
This scene repeated itself countless times during our younger daughter’s pre-teen years (and still does on occasion). And she wasn’t wrong. I was hearing her words, but I was not really listening to what she was trying to communicate, probably because I was too focused on what I wanted her to understand instead. Thankfully, my husband is a rock star and filled in the gaps for us during those tumultuous years, always reminding us how much we loved each other and never letting us give up on trying to understand one another. He reminded me of a foundational truth in ministry and life:
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If you are like me, there are so many things we want our teens to know: lessons we’d rather them not learn the hard way (like we did), wisdom we have acquired through decades of walking with God, and just basic common sense that they may be lacking. Yet, so often when we try to impart this much needed wisdom to them, we are met with blank stares and deaf ears. Why?
Because kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.
So that begs the question: How do we let the teenagers in our lives know that we care about them?
There are many different ways to accomplish this, but for now we are going to focus on the investment of active listening. My 12th grade small group girls are currently learning about the 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), and yesterday I asked them what it looks like to spend time with someone without it actually being “Quality Time.”
One girl quickly replied, “Sitting next to each other, but with one or both of you on your phone the whole time.” Great example.
“So, if quality time doesn’t just mean being in close proximity with someone, what does it actually look like? What is it about being with someone that makes you feel loved (or doesn’t)?”
After a few minutes, they began to share words like “intentional,” and “uninterrupted.” They mentioned that what they do together (the activity) doesn’t matter as much as how they do it. They want to know that the other person is there because they really want to be with them and not just because they have nothing better to do.
When I asked for examples of when they had spent Quality Time with someone, I noticed something interesting. When they talked about ways they had shown love to others (especially their parents), they mentioned the activities- “It didn’t really matter to him that we were just throwing the football/making cookies/reading & studying/etc. I think he mostly liked that I was doing it with him.” But when they shared about someone investing quality time in them, they focused on the conversation instead of the activity.
What can we learn from this?
Our teens want someone to listen.
Digging a little deeper, they confirmed that not all “listening” is the same. As with my opening illustration with my daughter, someone can hear your words without hearing your heart. Here are some of the important things they shared about listening:
1. Eye Contact. There is an obvious difference between when someone is looking in your eyes and when they are looking around the room or at their phone. When you are interested in something, it holds your attention. Our teens desperately want to know that what they are saying is more important than our latest notification.
2. Ask Questions. “When someone asks questions about what I’m telling them, it shows they are really listening and engaged. Not only that, it makes me feel like they are actually interested and want to know more!” As the listener, asking questions can help us learn more about the person and situation. It can also help us clarify their emotions…
3. Sympathize/Empathize. Teens want to know that we understand them, which means, more than anything, they want us to validate their feelings. “Wow, I can’t believe your coach did that! That must have made you so mad!” “She really said that? Ugh. I bet that really hurt your feelings!” Remember, there will be a time to share what we know, but first, we need to show how much we care!
Full disclosure– I usually do this really well with my small group girls, but not so well with my own kids. I tend to rush right into imparting my wisdom and telling them how to fix it, usually pointing out their part in the problem as I go. Do not do this!! I am training myself to repeat “FOCUS ON HER FEELINGS, FOCUS ON HER FEELINGS” and let the rest of it go. For now.(Men, this advice is pretty applicable for the women in your life, too!)
Also, while you want to validate their feelings, resist the urge to gossip or slander anyone. They have enough friends- they are talking to you as an adult. Our goal is to show them how much they are loved and point them to Jesus. We can empathize with their feelings without compromising our witness.
4. Ask and wait. Do they want a solution to their problem or do they just want someone to understand? Sometimes this is evident as you listen, but if not, just ask:“Do you have any idea how you want to respond? Is there anything I can do to help?” If they want your help, they will ask for it. If not, trust that your presence is enough. Those doors will open eventually, maybe when they are not so emotional, because they are learning they can trust you. Sometimes sharing a story of a time you went through something similar (and had a positive outcome or learned something important) can be helpful; just make sure you are not trying to make the conversation about you. Teens see through stuff like that in a heartbeat. We are the adults; we are there to support and encourage them, not to feed our own ego or make ourselves feel important.
5. Point them to Jesus. When a teen opens up to an adult, they are expecting an adult’s response. Once we have done all the things mentioned above- focused attention, asked questions, empathized with them, and asked to help- then we can offer to pray with them. We might share some Scripture that applies to their circumstance or that will encourage them. This can be intimidating if you are not used to doing it, but you will likely be surprised at how receptive they are. And really, Jesus is the One who has the answers they are seeking. He is the One whose love and acceptance matters so much more than ours. The sooner they grasp that, the stronger their faith will be. We just get to be a conduit of His love and grace in their lives!
Finally, the thing I so often forget is that listening to teens in the little, insignificant things is what opens the door to them sharing the big things when the time comes. Learning to be excited about another episode of Fuller House or the latest cast list of a Broadway show or the play-by-play of the football game paves the way for the more significant conversations. If we are faithful with the little things, they learn to trust us with the bigger things. And the truth is, we learn so much about them in those little things- what is important to them, what makes them angry, what brings them joy. Knowing those things helps ustruly care about them.
And once they know how much we care, they might just care about what (and WHO) we know.
How are your active listening skills with the teens in your life? Which of these areas are you strong in and which require some growth? Who made a difference in your life by taking the time to truly listen to you in your teen years?
Let’s be intentional this week about showing our teens how much we care by taking the time to really listen.
I have loved working with teenagers since, well, since I was a teenager myself! When I was a freshman in college, the speaker for our college Bible Study asked me one night if I would be willing to lead a weekly small group for 8th and 9th grade girls at his church. I remember thinking he was crazy… I was barely 18 at the time! But I loved Jesus so much that I said yes, and it turned out to be one of my most favorite experiences in college. They taught me way more than I taught them, that’s for sure! I had the privilege of walking with those girls for the next 4 years, and I am still in touch with most of them today. There is no greater joy than seeing how much they still love Jesus all these years later!
Being a small group leader soon led to an intern position, which eventually led to a full time Youth Ministry position once I graduated. I will be honest… looking back, I realize I didn’t have a clue what I was doing half the time!
SoI spent most of my time mirroring what I saw in the leaders around me.
I am eternally grateful that God gave me the most amazing adult leaders in high school who believed in me, loved me unconditionally, and showed me what it looked like to walk with Jesus. I had rock-solid Youth Ministers in my circles who answered all my questions and modeled servant-ministry as they led with passion and integrity. And most importantly, I just really, really loved Jesus and teenagers, and I believed God was going to work in their lives.
And I prayed.
He did work in their lives, too; sometimes through me, but more often in spite of me. I was simply given a front row seat to watch… It was the best job in the world!
I always wondered if I would “outgrow” my love for teenagers, but so far that hasn’t happened. How I relate to them has certainly changed; I have become a “bonus mom” now, instead of a cool college girl they look up to (okay, who am I kidding? “Cool” was never an adjective one would use to describe me- I was always a big dork! Nonetheless… you get the point).
In addition to being mom to two beautiful, fun, smart, sassy, Jesus-loving teenage daughters (love you, girls!), I have also had the privilege of leading a small group of (now) Senior girls for the past 3 years. There are no words to describe how much I adore these girls or how grateful I am for the way they have begun to truly seek after Christ! My time with them each week really is a gift.
As we get closer and closer to graduation, however, I find myself wondering if I have done a good job preparing them for this next phase of their lives. When they are tempted, will they stand strong or will they fall? When they are lonely and uncertain, will they seek security in Jesus or the world? When they are searching for Truth, will they turn to their friends or to the Bible? Will they remember they are a treasure, and wait for the guys who treat them as such? Will they continue to seek the path God has for them, trusting Him to lead the way? These are the questions I am asking myself. And as a mom of a Senior girl, I question and pray even more.
Oh, how I pray they cling to Jesus!
Because I find teenagers so engaging, it makes me sad to hear the way so many parents talk about the teen years, as if they are something to dread. Yes, they are hard, no doubt. But they are also wonderful and enlightening and soul-searching and fun! As parents, our roles begin to shift from directors (who are pretty much in charge of everything) to coaches and encouragers. I read one time that a good coach, after laying the ground work in practices and playbooks, puts his arm around his players and asks what they think they should do next. He may offer some perspective and insight that the players lack, but otherwise he begins to turn over the decision making process to the players while he steps into the role of encourager. Yes, sometimes they will fail. But oh, how exciting it is when they succeed!
I love this illustration! So I thought for my next few blog posts, I would share some of the important things God has taught me in my many years of serving teens, such as how to really listen, what teens need most from the adults in their lives, and how to pray for your teens. Please do not think for a moment that I have mastered any of these things! Most of them I have learned from consistently doing them wrong. And I will be the first to admit that I am much better at doing these things as a Small Group leader than I am as a parent, which my kids will be more than happy to confirm! I see the two roles as serving different purposes, which often derails me, but the skill set required truly is (or should be) the same for both.
So if you are a parent of a teenager, have kids who will eventually be teenagers, or maybe you teach or volunteer with teenagers, I hope you will follow this series.
Our world needs teenagers who love Jesus and live their convictions.
In order for that to happen, our teenagers need adults who will step into their lives and show them how very much God loves them and what it looks like to walk with Him.
I am grateful for the adults who were willing to do that for me- God used them to change my life in ways they will never know. Jeff and I are beyond grateful for the adults who have stepped into the lives of our daughters, and how God continues to love and grow them through their investment. I pray He will use me in the same way! And I hope that some of the things He continues to teach me will help you make a difference in the lives of teenagers, too. If you have specific questions you would like to see addressed or want to share some insights you have gleaned while investing in teens, feel free to comment! Let’s commit together to letting God teach us how to truly love our teenagers.
More than that, even, I love that my husband and I have teenagers of our own.
But so often, in both cases, my heart just breaks when I hear these young people feeling alone, or left out, or different. I know that feeling. We ALL know that feeling. It is normal, and natural, and part of growing up; part of being human, even. But that doesn’t make it any easier to feel!
I have heard a lot of this from my young friends lately, and it reminded me of something I wrote several years ago- a note for my children about living in a world where they don’t belong. Since I shared last week about my gratitude for “my people,” I thought I’d share this tonight for anyone struggling through those inevitable seasons of not quite fitting in.
(NOTE: Edited 8/28/17 in response to wise words from a good friend to hopefully be more encouraging specifically to teens wrestling with being in this world at all. Your life is SO valuable and you are not here by accident! Please hear my heart and reach out to me or someone you trust! There are brighter days ahead if you push through the darkness.)
I want you to know that there are days-
sometimes even weeks or months-
when I feel like I don’t belong.
And I’m a grown up.
I know you feel the same way, too. I am sorry you experience this- it is a lonely, sad feeling, and in the midst of it, you will begin to hear lies. The whispers in your heart will tell you that you don’t have any real friends, and that’s why you feel this way. You don’t wear the right clothes, you don’t have the right “toys” (i.e., iPad, phone, jeans, etc), you’re not smart enough or sporty enough or musical enough or good enough… and that’s why you don’t fit in.
You may find yourself wondering why God would leave you all alone.
You may even wonder why He would make you in the first place, just to leave you all alone.
But these are lies, sweet ones, and don’t you believe them.
You see, as I said, even as a grown-up I still feel that way, too. And despite what that voice may tell you, there is actually a very good reason we feel that way, and it has nothing to do with all those lies.
It’s quite simple…
We were not made for this world.
We feel like strangers here, “aliens” even, because this is not our Home! This is not where we belong. Our spirits were created for another world, and until we are Home, we will not completely fit in here.
There are wonderful things to be found in this world-
Love. Joy. Friendship. Laughter. Purpose.
These are glimpses of our life to come, sparkles of heaven that drift through the mist, encouraging us to run the race with perseverance, trusting that the finish line is more than just an end.
And it is SO much more!
But we are not Home yet.
When the time comes, we will run into our Father’s arms, join the angels in singing His praise, and the piece (and the peace) that is missing from our hearts will fall into place at last.
Until that day, though, we are to live as His children here on this earth. Don’t rush it. Know that He created you and placed you in this world for a purpose, to bring Light and Love in a way that only you can.
Know that’s it’s normalto not quite fit in- EVERYONE feels that way at times (sometimes even lots of the time). You are not alone.
Know that time and maturity will give you a different perspective on those experiences, and may even cause you to be grateful for how they lead you to lean into Jesus.
And in those times when we feel alone, we can trust that God’s Holy Spirit is with us always, teaching us, encouraging us, and reminding us of our way back Home, just as Jesus promised.
You will feel alone, like you don’t fit in. That’s okay.
I still feel alone sometimes, like I don’t fit in.
But we are NOT alone… Our God is with us!
We won’t always fit in, because we were not made for this world. However, we were placed in this world for a purpose…
So don’t give up.
Make the most of this temporary home. Fight the good fight. Remain faithful even when it’s hard. Reach out to others so they don’t feel so alone. Make a difference.
And when you do,
Heaven won’t seem quite so far away after all.
“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” -1 Peter 2: 11-12, (The Message)