Yesterday I received an all too common question from a concerned mom whose son just began attending youth group at her church… and it wasn’t a good experience!
My son is finally old enough for youth group at our church. We were so excited for him to finally be a part of it.
He went on the youth retreat the other weekend and came home telling me that all the other church boys were "really bad". He told me that they cussed and talked a lot about sex. He even went so far as telling me that they are a bad influence even though they are fun! Ugggh!
Now I know that this is unfortunately our culture and I know a lot of people cuss and talk about sex; but I guess I was bummed that it is happening in the youth group at our church! Is this normal to happen? Am I just unrealistic?
Have you ever heard this before? Can you suggest how I should deal with this?
Yes, sadly this situation is all too common. Youth group kids are far from perfect. They live in a world where Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer are role models, and no surprise... they often end up talking like them. (Coincidentally, the parents of these church kids always tell me, "My kids aren't thinking about this stuff!")
So how should you respond? More importantly, how can we equip our kids to choose good friends… even when the pickings seem slim?
The temptation is to overreact, call up the youth pastor and let him or her know exactly what kind of heathens exist in the youth group!
The temptation is to overreact, tell your kid he can’t go to said youth group, and make him stay home and watch God’s Not Dead every week instead.
The temptation is to just overreact!
Don’t overreact. I know because I have a PhD in overreacting… and it only makes matters worse.
In fact, here are three practices that will help you be proactive instead of over-reactive.
3 Ways to Proactively Equip Our Kids to Choose Good Friends (instead of reactively objecting to their bad friends)
- Be proactive about giving your kids opportunities to hear truth in a world so full of lies (Ephesians 4:14-15).
At times we are tempted, as parents, to believe, "I can shelter my kids from all this stuff!" We can’t. If we let our kids out of the house… ever… they are probably going to hear dirty jokes, and see racy images. This typically happens at a “friend’s house.” (And sadly, some of our homes are that friend’s house! Yikes!) What’s the alternative? Never let our kids out of the house? This reaction is a little shortsighted. After all, some day they will have to exit the house. Are you preparing them for that day?
Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying that you should give up and let your kid navigate wherever they want. Not at all. I’m just saying that no matter how hard we try to protect our kids from the distractions of this world, our kids will be exposed to some of them (just wrote about that in detail in this article). The question is, are we teaching them the truth so they will recognize the lies when they are on their own? (I unpack what this looks like here.)
Sometimes believers get so caught up in what we stand against, we forget to teach our kids what we stand for. So find opportunities to not only talk about the truth of God's love and grace, but demonstrate it on a daily basis. One way to do that is...
Be proactive about equipping your kids to be a light in a dark world (Matt 5:16).
In a world full of darkness, Christians are called to be a light. Expose our kids to stories of Jesus in the Gospels so they see how he offered hope to the hopeless. Help our kids see what it looks like to be like Jesus in our homes, schools and neighborhoods. (We talked about that in our new music discussion here.)
This doesn't mean abandoning Christian influences and immersing ourselves in this culture. In fact...
Be proactive about inspiring our kids to surround themselves with people who will encourage them and keep them accountable (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Even Jesus surrounded himself with believers as he reached out to unbelievers. Check it out for yourself. In most the stories where Jesus mingled with the sinners, it will mention, “then he turned to his disciples and said…” Jesus wasn’t hanging out by himself in strip bars trying to save the lost. He was in a circle of believers, befriending the lost. We need to teach our kids that balance: befriending the lost, but keeping a tight circle of friends who encourage them toward their relationship with Christ. Hebrews Chapter 3 lays it out clearly:
12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. (Hebrews 3:12-13, NLT)
Proactive is always better than reactive.
So don’t be discouraged when you discover the reality that church kids need Jesus just as much as the rest of the world… and as much as we do!
That’s probably a good place to start. We need Jesus. If you grasp that... and your kids grasp that… the rest will follow.
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