Tackling the Tough Issues: A Guide for Parents

Consider some of the following big issues for teenagers today:

Drug and alcohol use
Peer relationships
Piercing and tattooing
Poker and gambling
Career and the future

And while big issues for teens, they are often frightening issues for parents of teenagers and adults who work with young people, too.

As concerned adults, we know that these issues need to be addressed and talked through. But how? What’s the best approach? How do you get kids to open up and talk about these things, especially with adults and with their parents?

Lawrence O. Richards, a well-known Christian education theorist, offers a four step approach to teaching that can also be used as a guide in addressing these big issues in the life of a teenager. The four steps rhyme making them easy to remember: Hook, Book, Look, Took.

Step 1: HOOK.

In this first step, the focus is on the world of the teenager and finding a way to enter that world. What will hook them? What approach will connect with them at this present time on a particular issue? What will set a fire within them on an issue?


1) Use current events and stories in the news as a taking-off point. Want to talk about drugs? Bring up the reports on performance enhancing drugs. This can be done by parents, simply surfacing recent news events around the table at dinner, in the car, or as they appear on the news report. In a group setting, bring in stories and headlines from local newspapers for discussion. Recently in our community there was an article of an 18-year-old girl who died from the use of the RU-480 abortion pill. It was a most unfortunate incident, yet provided a poignant way to start a conversation on a very important topic.

2) Use established TV shows and current movies as another option. Yes, it means that parents and adults will have to see movies that might not be of their first choosing, but if you haven’t seen it, you really can’t talk about it!  Take some time, head to the theatre,  watch some TV, and see what is going on. You might not like it, but you can learn what is going on in the world of young people.

Step 2: BOOK.

This second step is to understand what God’s Word, His book, says about such matters. Scripture is our source for teaching all things. This requires study and homework on what God’s Word says on these issues, and where it speaks to us book, chapter, and verse. To simply say, Somewhere in the Bible it says not to have sex outside of marriage, may not connect as meaningfully as looking at it and discussing in detail the messages of Exodus 20:14, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, or 1 Thessalonians 4:3. This step also requires an understanding of some basic steps of Biblical interpretation so that the meaning of the text can be applied appropriately.


1) Do your homework! Study the Scriptures. Know the pages of God’s Word well if you are going to address certain issues. Show your children and youth group that you are interested in them and their concerns by reading up on issues and diligently searching God’s Word for insight and understanding.

2) As a family, take time for family devotions to study God’s Word together. Use a resource from a Christian publishing house or a Bible storybook when they are young. As they grow up, let them select the materials to be read and studied. Choose a time to do this on a regular basis. Daily is fantastic, but if schedules won’t allow, don’t feel forced into a time constraint that becomes burdensome. Start with one or two nights a week. Tie it into a special family night or meal together. Use this time to built trust and openness within the family setting and when tough issues surface you will be comfortable dealing with them.

3) Don’t claim to have all the answers. Work hard to seek understanding, but be willing to admit your own confusion on issues. These vital issues of teens today don’t always have easy and clear cut answers that’s why they are issues! Also be willing to seek the guidance of others, such as your pastor and other church experts, on issues. For example, on the subject of abortion, the organization Lutherans for Life has a number of resources.

Step 3: LOOK.

In this next step, the young people are asked to examine their perspective on the issue, to look at it from a personal point of view. What are their current values and understanding of the concern? What experiences have they had related to the concern? Do they know of others who have encountered this issue and what did they do? How did it work out for them?


1) Ask them! Let them speak. Let them tell their stories and share their experiences. You may disagree. You may have good Biblical support to argue against them, but debate is not the purpose here. Airtime is the goal. Let them share. The conversation may take various directions and tangents, and that is okay. What is important is developing a trusting, open environment that accepts them as a person with a viewpoint. Opinions are welcomed!

2) Challenge them. In the previous suggestion, you simply let them speak, ramble on if they need to, and put their perspective on the table. Now, take it a little further. Ask them to support their perspective logically, socially, Biblically. Do this in love, of course, but be sure to address issues that aren’t congruent with God’s Word if need be. Push them to a new level of understanding and discovery of what God says about this matter.

Step 4: TOOK.

This step is titled in past tense. This is a step of hope hope that a young person will find meaning and understanding on the issue. The focus in this final step is what they will take away from the discussion. What have they learned? Will there be a deeper understanding of the issue? Will they have a better handle on what God’s Word says about this topic? Will there be a change in behavior? How will they do things in the future as they encounter this concern?


1) If you are in a group setting, ask them to write a letter on the topic. Have them write the letter to:

Themselves in three years;
The local newspaper as an editorial on the subject;
A good friend, via e-mail;
A younger sibling, nephew or niece; or
Themselves as a parent, to their teenage child.

There is power in putting our convictions on paper. Writing things down in a thoughtful manner can strengthen our understanding on an issue.

2) Invite verbal responses by asking for summary statements from the youth. If you were a newscaster covering this topic, what would your final comment be?

3) Bring in someone who has experience to share their story. See who is available in the community and your church to share their insights and understanding. The real life story of someone who has been there can have a powerful effect in helping youth come to grips with how they will act with regard to the important issues in their life.

An easy to remember flow: Hook, Book, Look, Took. See you remember it already! During the discussion, each stage may take a varying amount of time to enter and exit successfully. Adults (especially parents), want to jump right to the final stage. They make remarks like, So don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex. Don’t drink. Don’t. These messages for young people come from the hearts and minds of well intentioned adults, yet are not always as effective as we would like. Discussion of the big issues in the lives of young people can be enhanced immensely by using this four step approach. It is designed to address the tough issues and concerns of teens in the 21st century in a welcoming, Biblical, reflective and practical manner.


Richards, Lawrence O. Creative Bible Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970.*

*Part of the mission of DCS is networking resources for our partners in ministry. thESource articles and Bible studies, and resources produced by Concordia Publishing House, have passed doctrinal review. Additional resources are recommended from time to time with the confidence that LCMS church workers are trained to discern what is useful and proper for Lutheran churches and schools.

Published March 2006

Published March 1, 2006

About the author

Over the past 25 years, Dr. Steve Christopher has served in a variety of youth ministry positions such as a parish DCE, a District Youth Committee Chairman, a volunteer youth leader, a confirmation teacher, a District Youth Ministry Executive, a member of 3 LCMS Youth Gathering Planning Committees, an Instructor of Youth Ministry at Concordia University in Irvine, and as a father of two children. Steve is married to Dee Christopher, who also has served for a number of years in youth ministry.
View more from Steven

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