What to do when you and your teen-aged child have drifted far apart

I’m what they call in Student Ministry a “lifer.”  Out of the 38 years I’ve spent in full-time, vocational ministry, 24 of those years were in Student Ministry.  And, for some reason unknown to me, Christ continues to allow me to minister within the Student Ministry arena.  I affectionately refer to Student Ministry as the “Wild Kingdom” of ministry.  Sometimes the “jungle” has been scary.  But, I’ve loved every minute of it.

One of the areas I’ve spent time addressing over the years is “helping restore intimacy between parents and their teen-aged child(ren).” What I mean by “intimacy” is “reconnecting on an emotional and spiritual level.”  One day we’re laughing and connecting with our kids.  Then, life happens – and one day we sort of see each other coming and going,  feeling as though we barely know one another.

I’ve told teenagers for decades:

“We parents are flawed – deeply flawed.  Really, all we are is old teenagers.  We have days just like you – good days, horrible days, and everything in between.  Sometimes we get it right.  And sometimes we get it wrong.  But this is true:  no one on this planet loves you more than your mom and dad.”

Using the theme of Jack Sparrow and The Pirates of the Caribbean, let’s draw three quick principles that will, hopefully, offer some tools for re-connecting with your teen.

  1. Use a Reliable Compass:  Is your authority for direction and truth in life reliable?  In a world where it seems like everything is competing for our attention, it’s easy to get lost.  Discovering you’re headed in the wrong direction can be scary, not to mention disastrous.  King David knew a little about the consequences of “losing our way.”  That’s why he wrote, “Your commandments (you give me in your Word) give me understanding;… Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  Let the Word of God be your Guide – your “true north.”  Not social media.  Not sound-bites from podcasts from celebrity pastors.  Keep the Word of God the centerpiece—the compass—for your home and family.
  2. Know Your Crew:  “I don’t even know you anymore.”  Ever felt like saying that (or said that) to your teen?  In today’s bordering-on-the-insane, rushed, over-scheduled culture, parents can easily become disconnected from their teen-aged children.  We wake up one day and realize the “intimacy” we once shared is long gone. And we’re not even sure when the pattern started.  It’s not because we don’t love our kids, but rather in our daily effort to survive life, we simply got distracted.  And here’s the danger: if we don’t raise our kids, someone else will i.e. friends, social media, music, etc.  I cannot emphasize enough that we do whatever it takes to help restore intimacy with our teen-aged children.  Take a few minutes to say, “Hey, let’s drop our phones for a minute.  What’s going on?  Anything got you down?  Any struggles with school?” And so on.  If you feel you and your teen have lost touch, don’t worry, and don’t load yourself down with condemnation or shame.  Heck, we’ve all been there.  The absolute best tool I’ve ever seen for helping to reconnect with our teen-aged children is “30 Days: Turning the Hearts of Parents & Teens Toward Each Other.”  My wife and I went through it with our own teen-aged children.
  3. Live the Adventure:  When Jesus said to His disciples, “Come, follow Me,” I don’t think He had in mind the kind of Christianity most believers experience today. Do your children see your relationship with Christ as an adventure resulting from a real relationship or something reduced to a list of “do’s & don’ts?”  Ask them – see what they say.  Tell them it’s ok and safe to be honest because you want to be a better representation of Jesus to them.  Jesus was accused of a lot of things, but never of being dull.  Author, Thom Shults, wrote, “We’re making our children yawn at Jesus.”  Another author, Dan Taylor:  “Mistaking this active life of faith for an institutionally-backed and culturally bound belief system is similar to reducing the Mona Lisa to a paint-by-numbers.”  Finally, Mike Yaconelli put it best:  “[Christianity is] an adventure, a cauldron of fire and passion,…[with the] presence of the Holy Spirit overflowing into [us] resulting in a volatile desire for Jesus regardless of the chaos caused by following Him.”  My favorite “teaching quote” is this:  “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”  Of course, there are always exceptions – you may already be applying everything I’ve mentioned here and still have an estranged relationship with your child.  But, don’t lose hope.  Stay the course. May we never lose the “dangerous wonder” of following the wild, untamable Lion of Judah.

Can we recover the intimacy we once enjoyed with our child.  You bet we can.  Will it be easy?  Probably not.  But, what worth fighting for is every easy?

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.”

And, in the words of Christ, “In this world you will have trouble (including teenagers that make you begin to understand why lions eat their young. :)); but take heart! I’ve overcome the world.”

For the Wild Kingdom, Nick