What I'd like to talk about today is the youth, or teenagers that we surround our lives with, as my husband and I are Youth Leaders, working on becoming Youth Pastors. I truly don't mean to come across as insensitive, accusatory, or angry; but I have some issues that I hope can help at least one parent out there.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not professing to be the "perfect parent" or authority, because I am not - nobody is. But when there are clear signs of neglect when it comes to the youth of today, I feel it necessary to bring it out into the open, so that maybe somehow, I can help a parent gain control and their relationship back with their teenager. Many people focus on the teenager when in fact they need to look at the home life of these kids.
Honestly, I had issues with my stepson and that relationship today is still in progress, but a lot of that stems from his relationship with his birth mother. He then had fears of getting too close to me and actually focused a lot of his anger onto me - since I was the "mom" in the home. I, on the other hand, tried way too hard to have the perfect home and be the perfect mother, so he considered me "too strict". You see, I could never have children of my own, so I know I tried a little too hard. I guess coming from a home that had no rules, anything that required rules would fall into that category for a kid. It's definitely hard to train a soon to be teenager than it is a 3 year old - the habits are already formed. I see that now. And no matter how hard you try sometimes, kids that are pushed aside by their natural parents will act out in ways that many people don't understand or expect to see. And a lot of times, it doesn't matter how much the stepparent or new family loves on that kid - they still face low self esteem and will have deep rooted anger.
Today, I am using my past experiences, hurts and trials in order to help the teenagers I am around. I can see both sides of the fence, whereas before I really wasn't looking at it other than from my perspective. As parents, we sometimes forget about our own teen years, or simply can't relate because we may have grown up with two loving parents, like I did.
Being Youth Leaders means that we have many kids who come to us with a variety of issues and I can say firsthand, that the one common denominator for many of these "kids" is that they have no parental figure in their life. This doesn't mean they are living on their own, because many of them live with at least one parent. But, we have seen parents or a parent that is never around. The "absent" parent is rarely ever in contact with these kids who are now teenagers. And this hurts them, no matter what anyone or their parents may say or think. Or when the parent(s) are around, they push their kids to go to church and youth events, but never take a true interest in them doing it. We try to get these kids involved in acting, music, singing, media, etc. and also so they can possibly have something to go home and share with their parent(s), but then for the most part, it doesn't happen. These parents themselves don't go to church and go off to places they can't or won't take their kids. There simply isn't any unity in family at all. And sometimes these parents feel that their kids are 17-18 years old and will soon be in college, so they figure on letting them get use to being on their own. I can honestly say parents - this isn't working for them or you.
Many of the parents expect their kids to be picked up and dropped off by us who volunteer our time or continually call us to see where their kids are. Or when we drive miles around to pick up kids and find there are 3 cars parked in the driveway when we go get these kids, but the parent(s) were too into doing other things that they couldn't go drop off their own child. I can't begin to tell you of the distraught mom that calls at 6:30 in the morning or after 11:00 at night for "us" to talk to her teenager. And we do talk to these kids to see what's going on, but we also try to talk to the parent in as a respectful manner as possible and let them know it's "their" responsibility. Many times we feel more like teenage sitters and that's just unfair to these kids. But we love them all and try our hardest to help when we can.
I'd like to point out that just because there are Youth Leaders for these kids, it doesn't mean we (or other leaders) should be expected to know these teenagers whereabouts 24/7. We do make ourselves available but we are their spritual advisors and teachers - not their parents. We don't live with these kids and if we could, we'd bring them into our own home to live, where I know they'd eat at least 2 full meals a day, have clean clothes and a place to sleep. Not to mention adult interaction and example.
But our duty is to help guide them in what God's word says and try to boost their confidence level because many of these kids just don't feel loved by their own parents. And it still falls onto the parents to take some sort of active role in these kid's lives. Trust me, these kids have deep rooted self esteem issues and when they don't go home to an empty house, their parent(s) gets upset with them. These kids really can't win and actually nobody wins in a situation like this. I have seen parents turn off all forms of communication from no tv, no cable, no Internet, no human interaction at all and just left to sit there alone in a big empty house. Or worse yet, they "take away" the priveledge of these kids by not allowing them to go to youth group. Now that twist is bothersome for me because these kids will get "punished" by not attending youth, where they could come and learn to respect their parents. Trust me, I don't know of a Youth Leader out there who doesn't try and teach their group of teenagers respect - no matter how rough things may be at home. But like anything else, this is a learned behaviour and it's also a two-way street. The parents also need to respect their teenager. Not only that, there are parents who take away a cell phone and then call us to complain they can't find their teen! Are you confused? We are!
I am not focusing on the working parent who is supporting their kid(s), and who spends time with their kid(s), but I'm talking about the parent who works a job and then just never comes home, except to sleep. They leave these kids to feed themselves, keep the house clean, do their homework, etc. And what makes it more upsetting is when we find out a parent goes on vacation for a week and sends the kid(s) to a relative. Then they wonder why they can never talk to their teenager any more and turn to us. So, what a parent has just done is tell their own child that they aren't important enough to come home to take care of or even take on a vacation with them. And the parent wonders why their kid is never home when they actually "do" come home to spend some time with them. Yes, this happens often and not just in the area where we are now, but in other areas we have lived. I feel it's a widespread issue.
Parents, if you DO have a relationship with your teenager and take true interest in what they do - THANK YOU! Parenting is hard, but so is being a teenager in today's society. I never really use to believe this, but when you compare life when we were kids and what is around our kids today - it really is a battle that no teen should have to face. Too many of them give up and just stop trying, commit suicide, fall into the wrong groups because they feel accepted and the list goes on. But parents, if you do have a disrecpectful teenager, can you honestly look at your surroundings and see what may have happened? It never is too late to mend that relationship; but you both need to learn trust all over again and that's a hard thing sometimes.
And for all adults out there - Just try to not be so hard on these kids or next time you see a teenager that is in your church, youth group or even participating in a car wash - let them know how much you appreciate their dedication and participation. You never know if you are the only adult in their life to actually care or show appreciation. After all, these teens are our future leaders of tomorrow. Let's help to make their lights shine a little brighter.