Putting parents at the centre

3 December 2019

How can we promote parents as the primary spiritual disciplers of their young people when we hardly see them?

I remember when my daughter started high school, and it was as if a massive wall went up. She was one side, I was the other. No longer could I pop in and check out a question with her teacher; there was no ‘school gate’ community to keep me informed; I didn’t even understand the curriculum or timetable anymore! And I found that incredibly frustrating. I was still her mum, I still wanted to be part of helping her learn well. What I actually wanted was not to be treated as someone who needed to be tolerated and seen once or twice a year at parents’ evenings, but as someone who was a powerful influence on my child and key to her school success.

There can often be an unwritten understanding in churches that once children hit the youth group, their parents’ involvement stops at the door. The focus is on the kids, and youth teams work incredibly hard and creatively to enable the young people in their care to deepen their relationships with God, whilst navigating the complex challenges of becoming an adult. But once we recognise that God’s intention is that parents are the primary spiritual disciplers of their children and that nothing we do at church can match the influence parents have, we need to consider what that might mean for our youth ministries. If our most important role as youth ministers is to be the prime encouragers of parents, this has profound implications for how we shape what we do with the young people in our care, and their parents.

The following may help you work out what that looks like for you.

Share the vision

Your first step may be to share this vision with your team and your parents, so that everyone involved understands what this new approach is and why it is important, and can get on board with it! Things to think about:

  • Do your church leaders share this vision? If not, how can you share it with them?
  • How can you share this new way of thinking with your team? What skills and tools might they need to understand?
  • How do the parents understand their role in discipling their young person? How can you share this vision with them?

Invest in parents

You may be rushed off your feet just doing the youth work, but it is worth prioritising getting to know parents and allowing time to chat or have coffee with them. Unless you do that, you are unlikely to be in a position to support them well. Think about times and ways you could do that; for example:

  • At the beginning and end of youth club, how could you (or someone else) be available to parents for a chat and catch up without having to rush off on duty?
  • How could you create opportunities to get to know parents socially?
  • How could you open up conversations with parents about how they and their kids are doing spiritually and if there’s anything you can do to help them disciple their kids in a particular area?
  • How can you help parents understand the culture their children are living in? Could you point them to information about the latest developments in the online world, or research relevant to their kids and technology, or teens and mental health, for example?

Big up the parents!

We know from the research that parents are incredibly important in young people’s faith development, and as youth leaders we are in a great position to help strengthen that parent/child bond that can often feel fragile during the teen years. Without ignoring their frustrations or moans about their parents, how can you find ways to help young people see their parents through others’ eyes? Positive reflections on a parent’s character or skills are powerful and can help build relationship.

  • How can you create opportunities for your young people to recognise their parents are a great source of advice, or have stories of their own faith journeys that are fascinating and helpful? For example, when discussing a tricky topic, ask what advice or stories they might have heard from their parents, or even task them to ask. Sharing stories of times your own parents were able to guide you may also help them see their parents as wise and loving people who can help them navigate these issues well.
    Could you create experiences for parents and kids to play and work together, so that they get to build connection? These could be as simple as a games night all the way up to a trip to the local laser quest, or planning and going on an overseas mission trip. Within these you may be able to build in space for profound conversations and opportunities to open up about life together.
  • Praise kids to their parents: be quick to reflect back positives about young people to their parents and can help parents see the beauty in their children that’s often smothered by the chaos and angst of raising a teen!

Communicate well

It can feel even harder to keep lines of communication with parents open as kids get older. But by ensuring good communication you can keep parents in the loop, allow them to talk to their kids about what they’ve done and learned, and raise concerns they may have with you before the event. Think about:

  • How do you let your parents know what topics you’ll be covering this term? Do you know if the information gets to them? Is it easy for them to get in touch with you?
  • Are there times when it might be beneficial to give them advanced warning of particular topics or more information than usual?
  • What avenues of communication do you currently have, and what might you want to add?
  • Do parents feel able to drop in for a chat or ask a question? 

Help parents adapt their skills

Whether your parents have done a Parenting for Faith course or not, spiritually parenting a teen can feel a whole new ball game, and we can help them learn how to grow and adapt for this new season. The following may be a helpful starting place:

  • How do you know what help your parents may want or where they are struggling? How could you find out?
  • What skills or tools might they need?
  • Could you run a Parenting for Faith course just for parents of teens?
  • Are there wise people in church who might be able to walk alongside your parents for this part of their journey?
  • How could you create opportunities for parents to come together to learn from others and each other?

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Image by Ortrun Lenz from Pixabay