Have you ever stopped to watch the number of commercials and the messages that are brought forward during the holidays! I find myself mesmerized by the differing messages that seem to be portrayed about what Christmas really is all about! I think in thirty minutes of my flipping channels I ran across at least fifteen distinct messages about the holiday season, including “that there really is no a reason for the season”.
I can’t stop thinking that the world often appears to be spinning out of control. The challenge to keep grounded in a life that pushes a bigger is better, relativistic and egocentric worldview is difficult. I suppose that if you have tried lately to schedule a parent and youth meeting you are more than aware of the schedules and issues both youth and parents are trying to deal with.
I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely challenging to keep up with the ever shifting and busy culture of today! Either I am getting slower or the rate of things changing is getting faster! I have heard it said that knowledge doubles every fourteen months. Whether this is true or not I suppose really doesn’t matter because if you are like me at all, you are probably feeling like you just cant keep up with the latest trends and the coolest techno gear, not to mention the shear number of activities that youth and parents find themselves wrapped up in. How is a youth worker to keep up with the shifting messages that beg for these kids attention and seem to be bringing with them evermore mixed messages that water down the gospel and fictionalize the ever present nature of God? How are we to bring a sense of grounding and the firm foundation that is spoken about in scripture.
Research study after research study, both secular and Christian, continue to show that the number one influence on teenagers is not the TV. It is not their peers and is not even the ever present marketing that hounds all of us. The number one influence by far in the life of teenagers is their parents. There is a reason that the anti-Drug & Alcohol ads that you see in the media simply say “talk to your kids”. When a parent has a conversation with their child it impacts the teenagers life more than all other influences that our surrounding them. The earlier and more consistent the messages that are given by parents, the more influence the messages have. This also plays out in matters faith.
Ironically, or maybe not so ironically we even see this in scripture. Way back in Deuteronomy 6 we see God presenting his love to his children by giving them clear boundaries (the ten commandments) and a clear message to talk generation to generation about these things in order that it may go well with them. Simply put, parents are important and will be important in the lives of their kids. The message they share both spoken and lived will be heard and will have influence.
With our culture running a hundred miles an hour and entertaining us with activities for which the church just can’t compete it is becoming ever more important that we cling to what we know to be true, that being God’s Word. It also is important that we not look away from what God’s Word shows us in terms of establishing influence and stability in the lives of our youth. We must embrace the family system in order to stay grounded and to leverage the message in the most effective way possible. Parents are not aliens, and contrary to one of my earlier beliefs in youth ministry they really are the best way to reach teenagers.
Imagine what the impact might be if you could be communicating God’s truth and the same thing was communicated in the home by a teenager’s parent! All of a sudden the youth who is being bounced around in a chaotic world is finding a consistent pattern, stability and truth. The chaos around them begins to fade and the clarity of a firm foundation rooted in Gods’ Word becomes the guiding light for this teenager. The trust level within the family is built and when the tough times come, the youth feels like they have a safe place to discuss issues.
While it might not seem “cool” for kids to be seen chatting and hanging out with their parents, research and scripture shows us that this is exactly what makes the difference. Many research pieces such as the 40 Developmental Assets work done by Search Institute demonstrate that youth really are longing for parents to be active in their lives and really do want to hear what their parents have to say. Of course this is a challenging process as adolescents are looking for autonomy at the same time. Both parents and youth are not sure how to handle the push and pull of discovering this new autonomy. This is exactly where you as an advocate for both can gain permission to help them discover new ways to share with each other and bring a sense of the “stable” in their lives.
The stability we have as Christians truly comes to us through a stable in Bethlehem, “the real reason for the season”! I challenge you to bring the “stable” to the youth you are working with by bringing some stability to their families in teaching them to better communicate. As noted before, parents are the single most important influence on the life of an adolescent. By helping families to exercise healthy boundaries and learn to talk about the “real” issues of life we are empowering them to navigate the turbulent events that life can bring to them.
To find out more check out the following resources:
Youth and Family Institute (www.youthandfamilyinstitute.org)
Search Institute (www.search-institute.org)
National Institute on Media and the Family (www.mediafamily.org)
Heritage Builders (www.heritagebuilders.com)
National Study of Youth & Religion (www.youthandreligion.org)