Connecting with teens

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Relationships with teens should celebrate differences

by Gavin Linderman

I graduated from high school early so that I could pursue my fledgling dream of touring in a band, crisscrossing the United States without parental guidance. I was broke most of the time, went without food often, made some bad choices and got caught up in a crowd that wasn’t exactly a positive influence. Yet this “conditioning” time prepared me for ministry. It was through my mistakes that I discovered who I was in Christ, not just who someone else wanted me to be.

Why did my parents let me do it? Because their top priority was trusting me to the hands of Jesus, just the way I was, even when that meant letting me fall. Mom and Dad were not hung up on personal likes or style, even when mine seemed a bit unorthodox. My parents believed that personal preference falls far behind the heart.

Working in ministry with young adults and their families, I am finding that what I experienced isn’t the norm. While my parents and I had a connection in spite of our differences, in many families there is a real relational gap. This gap is wrapped in confusion, anger, hurt, distrust and perhaps parental zeal.

Many parents ask me to please connect with their son or daughter for them. It usually sounds like this: “Gavin, our son/daughter is lost and we can’t get through to them. We just don’t understand each other. Can you please connect with him/her?” It breaks my heart to see the brokenness and sadness of a mom and a dad trying to reclaim what to them is lost.

So what do we do? For starters, we stop trying to just relate to one another and instead celebrate our differences as parents and kids. That means being relentless in combating the expectations of our kids to conform and to eagerly seize opportunities to transform. To help us get started here’s a few ideas that my church family has taught me.

1. Be each other’s biggest fans. We have to teach our kids to cheer us on just as we cheer them on.

2. Stop seeing the next generation as “next,” and see them as “now.” Like it or not, our teens and young adults are the ones influencing the world today. It’s not only our privilege but also our responsibility to invest in their lives.

3. Oneness is not sameness. Many people think that being unified as a family means being the same, but it doesn’t. You don’t treat your spouse the same way you treat your children. So celebrate the differences and refrain from expecting your kids to do the same things you did at their age.

4. Relating does not mean just tolerating. If you have the urge to dress like your kids or talk like they do in order to relate with them—fight it. You will relate best just the way you are. Instead, try to appreciate. There is a wonderful freedom that comes when we let go of the impulse to “get” it.

5. Finally, hear this from your child: “Stop trying to find the you in me and see the He in me.” If Jesus is their Lord, let him be.

I know, because I live it, that parents and young people can work together and can do great things. When this happens, parents’ connections with their kids become joy-filled and liberating as they watch God at work.

Gavin Linderman and his wife, Kendall, will be planting a new Mennonite Brethren church in the greater Phoenix area. Linderman is currently an intern with Copper Hills Church in Peoria, Ariz., working with young adults and couples.

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