Parenting Your High School Seniors (Video)

During this Digital Lab, Pastor Keith Minier talks about how parents can help their teens pursue the Lord in the midst of our current culture. This lab will challenge and encourage parents who have seniors at home who are feeling like they’ve faced a lot of disappointment. Keith will also help parents of students who are struggling with great loss, anxiety, or even showing signs of depression.

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What’s your role/connection with the seniors in your church?

Keith started pastoring a pretty small church and it has now grown to four campuses. He and the elders realized that investing in the next generation was vital to continued growth. Keith began to lead a small group of young adults and then moved to leading a small group of seniors in high school which meet in people’s homes. Keith and his wife have been investing in seniors for about 5 years now.

Why do you think being a parent of a teenager is so difficult in our culture today?

There’s some historical parenting issues with teenagers and then there are unique challenges now.

  • Identity – how “being my own person” and “figuring out who I am” plays into my faith, friends, and activities
  • Peer-pressure to fit in – the comparison factors is now on steroids due to social media
  • Relativism – absolute truth is debatable
  • Extra-curricular activities rule the day

What are some themes or areas of concern you’ve seen in recent months for teenagers?

Comparison via social media and real or perceived expectations to achieve success are contributing factors to teenagers feeling overwhelmed and under pressure. This in turn leads to a lot of anxiety and depression. Even middle schoolers are experiencing some of these feelings which are unique to our time in history.
Suicide or thoughts of suicide have also become more normative.

What does your relationship with parents look like in helping them navigate these concerns with their students?

Parents need to be honest about where their children really are, especially spiritually. Your child may not be a Christian even though you want them to be.
It’s also important not to internalize your child’s state as your failure or your success and then project the associated feelings onto them – these feelings can include shame, guilt, or anxiety.
Parents also need to admit when they don’t know the answer and go talk to other people to bring things out in the light. This can be hard with the embarrassment factor or the “we never thought that would be us” factor.
Parents need to admit their own failures. Maybe they came across too hard. They need to listen to their kids and be involved and attentive to what their children are saying (not dismissive).
There’s a tension between looking for teachable moments and not trying to make every single moment a teachable moment. Constantly bringing up the issue of same-sex attraction or some other idea during every conversation is not helpful.
As parents, are we involved? Sometimes, it’s easy to compartmentalize our lives from our kids as they get older, start driving, or get involved with sports. When this is the case, we are not able to see them and acknowledge them the way that we should.
The families Keith respects the most have done a great job keeping their teenage children involved in the flow of their daily lives.
The more experience you have as a parent, the more you have empathy for other parents and grace for yourself in the process.
Good parenting doesn’t always translate into positive results. At the same time, parents need to be honest when they aren’t trying. 1 Kings talks about how there were “good” kings whose children turned out “bad” and “bad” kings whose children turned out “good.”
Own and control what you can. Pray for what you can’t. Take responsibility for what you should. Don’t take responsibility for what you shouldn’t. Some of that responsibility is to process and ask for help if you need it and some of it is to decide not to feel guilty for the decisions that your kids make when you’ve already had conversations with them or made the rules clear – especially your teenagers.

What advice would you give to parents who want to help their kids pursue the Lord in the midst of this culture?

Living out your own faith – nothing will make your child run away more than your own hypocrisy or inconsistency. Is our marriage and walk with God an attractive model for our kids when they grow up and get married? Do they hear us ask for forgiveness? Do they hear us pray?
There’s also an art to bringing spiritual things in front of your kids without necessary telling them why and perhaps a conversation comes up about it. Examples include listening to Christian music while driving or doing dishes, the kind of movies they see you engage or not engage in and whether you talk about what you’re seeing, or whether you flip the channel when something inappropriate comes on.
When Keith was growing up, his mom always had Butter Pecan ice cream in the house because she liked it. It is now Keith’s favorite flavor as well. It wasn’t that she told him he should like it, but it’s that he saw her eat it, it was always available, it was what she ordered whenever they’d go out. When Keith was ready to try butter pecan ice cream, it was available – he knew where to get it. In the same way, parents should keep the “butter pecan” of the gospel accessible and ready in the house. It doesn’t mean every time you do something with it, you offer them a “scoop,” however seeing you engage with it regularly is so valuable. Just like evangelism that happens naturally can be more effective than contrived, so it is with our kids spiritually.
What are some ways parents can help students set good boundaries or even identify what areas they need to have good boundaries in?
Area for boundaries:

  • Cellphone use – when your child gets a phone and then a contract on how it’s used – whether regarding apps, or use in while driving, or where it’s kept at night, etc.
  • Athletics (especially involving travel) – even talking with the coaches upfront about boundaries – such as not missing Sundays or youth group.
  • Dating
  • Use of the car – what are they paying for or not paying for?
  • Engaging friend circles
  • Finances – this is one that a lot of people miss, but it’s important. Understanding how to manage money and the concept of generosity. Even starting kids off with “give,” “save,” and “spend” jars helps that process from a young age.

Our jobs as Christian parents is the create godly adults, not necessary well-behaved people. Our job is to lead. And it takes hard work and research and intentionality.
A lot of times, well-intentioned Christian parents are good at teaching their kids what the Bible says. However, there’s a difference between teaching them what the Bible says and the wisdom principles of how it applies to their lives. There’s a difference between saying, “Christians should give to their church,” or “Christians should tithe” and your child actually understanding the idea of generosity, eternal investment, and having the financial freedom to help people in need. Teaching wisdom, discipleship, and critical thinking takes work, but it’s so much more valuable than just teaching “the rules.”
It’s pretty easy to predict how a teenager will do in college based on how they live their live in high school.
Things like phones and cars are not rights, but privileges that must be handled carefully because if used in the wrong way, are dangerous.
High schoolers really want to understand the heart of the command and the why behind something instead of just the command itself. God’s boundaries in life are good and are for your best interest; they are made so you can flourish and for the goodness of other people.
A question Keith sometimes asks himself while preparing a sermon is this:

  • What would I want my son to understand about the biblical principle? (What’s the discipleship nugget I want to teach?)

It’s easier to tell your kid to read the book of James than to talk about why it is God would say not to do something – it’s a tougher conversation to have. But worth it.

What advice would you give to parents whose children are struggling with great loss or anxiety in the midst of all this?

Parents, self-care is critical because in order to pour out and give back, you need to be healthy first. Basic things like feeding yourself spiritually, eating well, working out, getting outside in the sun, getting sleep.
Walking through the concept of loss and lament with your children – stop dismissing things that are significant to your children about what they’ve lost – listen to really understand it.

  • Identify/say out loud what you lost
  • How do you feel?
  • What is true? God is my portion. Lam. 3:19-24

Even though it’s hard homeschooling even when you’re not a teacher, and trying to get work done, it’s also important to not let your kids be idle and sit around and play video games all day or watch TV. Encouraging them to get outside and take a walk or go for a bike ride or doing these things together as a family is key. Also encouraging them to stay involved in church (however our churches are doing it). As parents, the ball of discipleship has been passed back to us (which is where it always should have been) and we need to own it.
We also need to be empathetic to our kids – not just in their lament, but in their confusion, frustration, and boredom. We need to acknowledge what isn’t normal and process it together.
Work hard to find the wins we can have as a family- whether it’s playing games around the dinner table or yes, you can stay up late tonight just because.

What are some questions you can ask your teenager to open up some good dialogue with them?

For teenagers that are pretty distance from God or against God or not involved with church:

  • Who do you look up to and why? You will learn who they want to be like and what inspires them.
  • What motivates you? What do you enjoy? What do you love?

There will often times be a clear gospel connection.
For teenagers who go to church or have been, but are tuned out:

  • No judgement, what do you hate about church? What do you not like about God?

There’s also power in having adults around that your students respect and who are godly examples. Even though they might say the same thing as you, your teenager actually hears it coming from another person. They have a different type of influence.
In marriage, every time you want to talk about something isn’t necessarily the right time to talk about it. The same is true for having conversations with your kids. Sometimes individuals aren’t ready to talk about something just yet and a different, later time is better.
What are some significant passages of Scripture you’ve used with students?

  • Romans 12: 1-2
  • Genesis 12 – Abram went to a place that God told him, without knowing where he was going
  • Ecclesiastes 12, especially vs. 13 – in the end, it comes down to fearing God

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