So many times I run across parents who ask, “Help! What do I do?” And then they ask the pertinent question about their tween or teen. Usually it has to do with the three areas I wrote about in Middle School Madness, Part One. Usually the questions have to do with worries about their middle schooler’s physical, social, or educational vulnerabilities.
More often than not, answers to all of their questions lie in the fourth area of vulnerability. Spiritual vulnerability.
For kids who have grown up in a Christian home, most enter middle school still riding on the coattails of their parent’s faith. It’s time for them to stand on their own spiritual feet. It’s time to have the talk. I’m not talking about the sex talk, although it’s time for that, too. I’m talking about the faith talk.
But that’s not the end. Making sure your child’s faith is their own is a big step, and one worth celebrating, but it’s just the beginning. Now that your child has owned their faith, it needs to grow, and that takes work. It takes work on the child’s part, but it takes parental work, too.
Take advantage of every opportunity your child has to cross paths with people who will pour into them, spiritually. Whatever it is that your church offers to middle school kids, do it. Trust me. You need the backup. For instance at my church, in addition to Sunday morning worship, there’s Wednesday night youth services, small groups (bible study), retreats, mission trips, serve opportunities, and a humongous student conference. The more points of contact your kids can have with those who will feed their faith, the better.
Too many times we allow influences other than spiritual ones to take precedence in our children’s lives. (Fair warning: I’m about to step on some toes.) We knowingly sign them up for some activity that is scheduled during a regular church event.
Now, I know it’s hard. I know. There’s pressure. And not only pressure for our kids; there’s parental pressure to buy into all this activity. Our kids love baseball, or football, or dance, or whatever. And they really have talent. They could be a contender. Let me tell you some truth. They’re not a contender. For the vast majority of kids, they’re just not going to play Pro ball. They aren’t going to be a prima ballerina.
Take a breath… and admit I’m right.
I’m not saying your kid isn’t special, or that they shouldn’t enjoy what they enjoy, but in this life we have to make choices about what matters most, and we have to teach our kids to make those good choices, too. What are we telling our kids when we intentionally sign them up to participate in an activity that precludes them from being involved in a regular church activity?
We are saying that what they will get from the activity will impact them in a more positive way than what they will get from the church activity. I’m telling you honestly, if that is really true, you need to find another church.
For the rest of us, the truth is we might be buying into the lie that says we have to conform to what society tells us our kids should be doing. Communities and schools all over this country have decided to plan activities that keep our kids from being able to be involved in both church and extracurricular activities. If enough parents said no to this ridiculousness, it would go away. It would. But parents are afraid if they say no, then Johnny will sit on the bench for the next game, and wouldn’t that just be terrible?
So Johnny sits on the bench for a game. Johnny tells his teammates about his life changing experience on Wednesday night at church, and how cooling his heels on the bench is a small price to pay for the life change he experienced there. Come next Wednesday night, maybe one or two other players decide they want to check out what’s going on at Johnny’s church, so they miss practice, too. A few more weeks like that, and there’ll be more kids on the bench than on the field.
Can I share a story of a young middle school girl I know? What a difference a year makes. Last fall, she was struggling, spiritually. This girl’s parents did it all. They helped their daughter make her faith her own. They pushed, pulled, and dragged her to every youth activity until the tables turned and she started pulling them to church activities. This young lady is well on her way to being a huge influence for the Kingdom of God. And guess what? At the end of July, when we hosted our student conference at the Birmingham Civic Center, this twelve-year-old girl stood on stage and told five thousand students how she was going to go back to school and bring Jesus to her classmates.
I hear she’s a pretty fair volleyball player, too. Just not during church time.
These are choices we parents have to make. We are still in control. We are, and if we aren’t, it’s time we were again. We don’t want our kids to follow the crowd, and yet many times we do as parents. It’s time we started deciding once again what is best for our kids. It’s time we start looking past this sport or dance season and look to our child’s future, their eternity. Only what matters for eternity really matters anyway. Are we teaching our kids to follow societal norms, or are we teaching them to chase after God? When your kid’s spiritual vulnerabilities begin to solidify in healthy ways, you’ll find that the rest of their vulnerabilities will also solidify in healthy ways. Test me and see if I’m right. If I’m wrong, I’ll give you your money back.