Parent Conference: What People Say

The following are more thoughts from youth pastors and parents on how to be relevant to teenagers and students that I used for the Engage Parent Conference last Saturday.

Youth Pastors:
I think relevancy is just a product of open communication. I think many parents really neglect their job as parents and don’t fight to know their kids or work creatively to pursue their kids. They simply don’t know them. If you don’t know someone’s struggles, likes, stresses, failures, etc. than you cease to be relevant in their life…. Parents must be unwilling to let that happen. Most are content just living in the same house with the entitlement that they will know their kids and their kids will have to talk to them but that is far from the truth.” -Mark

I think that relevance has nothing to do with being cool or trendy or even knowing what’s popular. But, it has everything to do with knowing what people care about and what they love. It all boils down to relationships, which take time and effort.

Relevance is very personal, what might be relevant to one guy is not relevant to another in the same grade and same school. One person can’t be relevant to all and there’s not one thing that’s relevant to all. The most relevant people in my life are the ones that take the time to listen, to care and to get to know what I love. It takes asking good questions and it takes better listening. Some of the most relevant people in my life are people from a different generation who have very different interests, but they care about me.” -Dave

Relationships are the key to relevance. A key to this is “care” and “communication”. Those things are required for people to really know people and remain relevant. In my experience, some parents try to convince me that they are working on being relevant (“and it’s just so hard”)…but it’s really a shallow excuse for not doing the dirty work to truly be relevant in their teens’ lives – by accepting them for exactly who they have been created to be, and loving them despite failures, disappointments or unmet expectations. The relevance isn’t based on “coolness” or “fitting a particular mold” necessarily, but rather an unquestionable, ridiculous love and acceptance.

Even the parents who ARE doing the hard work or LIVING OUT their true love and acceptance of their teens aren’t guaranteed a squishy peachy response – most teens need SOME space from their parents at times, and no matter how desperately parents want to be the coolest thing in their kid’s life, they just won’t be. Often this boils down to insecurities in the parents’ lives. They think “of all the people in the world, my children will always love me because of what I’ve done for them”…and when they don’t “feel” that kind of response, they hover and push to try and force it. I wonder how God feels when we try to “earn” His love when He already loves us more than we can imagine…” -Doug

The hardest thing for me to learn in staying connected with my teen is how to listen without judging. My kids know where I stand on most things – but the fact that I would hear them our meant a lot to them. I also learned not to threaten anything I can’t carry out- kids will always push you to that point to call your bluff. So don’t threaten that you will kill them unless you intend to carry it out! But if you do threaten to take away their car, going out privileges, etc, be ready & willing to carry it through, because they will push you there every time (until you do it a few times, then they may think it through some more). Listening is still the key. You need to learn to listen in a nonthreatening way. And REALLY listen. Sometimes they really are saying the very thing you want to hear, just not in the words & terms you would use. It takes them awhile to process what they are trying to say- something you can help them with by asking nonthreatening questions.” –Karen

Don’t be a pansy. Kids respect you if you stick to your guns. Listen to them, don’t just hear what they say. Love & support them through their problems, don’t criticize if they don’t necessarily do it “your way”. Understand that mistakes are opportunities to teach and, most important, DON’T be inflexible! Be willing to learn what’s happening with their generation. Don’t be so stuck in your habits that you become jaded towards anything different.” –Tim

Keep one on one time for each and try to keep things equal. Spend time just listening and not judging. Carefully chose the words for your reply when answering and keep it at their level of comprehension. Explain yourself fully and make sure they understand what you have discussed by having them to repeat it back in their words.” -Elmo

Learn to pick your fights. Is it really earth-changing if they don’t cut their hair, etc. Also don’t ask “How was school?” Ask them what their best part of the day was and what was their worst. Watch MTV and VH1. See what they are hearing about in school. It is an education. They are supposed to make mistakes but let them know where the line in the sand is, and don’t back down when they cross it. Let their friends hang out at your house, you get to know them on a deeper level and they will learn about you. Teach them about the Bible. Take them to church, Don’t let them “sleep in” on Sunday. Let them see you vulnerable. Show them how to love by how you love your wife. Tackle them and tickle them – even when they are older. Tell them every night, “Good night, I love you.” –Mike

Don’t be afraid to set standards in your house hold no matter if they seem strict or not. Be consistent in your follow thru of those standards. Admit mistakes. We have really made it a practice to be transparent to our children when we have failed and sinned. They need to see that we don’t think that we are perfect because we certainly aren’t!!! We ask forgiveness and use it as a valuable lesson to all! Along with getting to know the kids in your teens life, try to get to know their parents — at least of the very close friends. Then, if there are issues you can have some support in dealing with it.” –Diana

BONUS: Student Question – How can you tell/how do you know that someone cares about you?

Some on who cares about me is always concerned about my well being and has a driven desire to go out of their way to do little things to make me happy.

When people care about me, they are genuinely interested in my behaviors and situation. They make themselves available to me when I need them, and they go out of their way to behave in manners which demonstrate love, thoughtfulness, and affection.

When someone pushes me to be the best I can be whether that is calling me out on things I do or encouraging me when I’m down. Also, someone who doesn’t hold my mistakes against me no matter how plentiful they are.

When they WANT to see me and hang out. And when they do little things to make me happy without me asking.

I can tell by if they listen to me, and are willing to help and be there for me when I am in desperate need of a friend, or are just there when I need a good laugh!

When someone is willing to really listen to what you have to say and not judge on what you have to say or your opinion on something. Their there for you no matter how many stupid little arguments you’ve gotten in and are always willing to help you even with the smallest thing. You know that if you needed them in an emergency and they can drop what there doing to be there for you. The friend that you know that no matter how mad they may get at you wont talk behind your back and do the littlest things to make you happy just in the spur of the moment. When they know the times that you want advice for something or just need a shoulder to cry on and no matter what mistake you make they don’t ridicule you for it. I think most important though someone who truly cares for you will let you be yourself in public without the embarrassment or trying to make them into someone there not.

For me, its not always about whether or not a person *has* to listen to me- mostly because I may not know what to say. Someone who truly cares sees through my mask and can see the real pain I’m hiding inside. That person will sit next to me and though I may not say a word, they stay and nod their head like they can read my thoughts. This person isn’t afraid to tell you the reality, cause if they really care they know getting my hopes up is more deadly then reality. But they help soften the blows of the everyday.

Good stuff! Thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion. The entire weekend was a hit and I couldn’t have done it without the advice of those who have gone before me.

To parenting!



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