After 10 years of working with teenagers, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to grab a student’s parents by the shoulders and scream,
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?
DO YOU NOT REALIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING!?!?”
While I have no teenagers of my own, I’ve watched 100s of other people’s teenagers launch into adulthood. I’ve heard other people’s teenagers share the stories they won’t share with their parents, and it doesn’t take long for patterns to emerge.
4 THINGS EVERY PARENT OF A TEEN NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND
#1 The Internet is a Dangerous Place & Your Child is Doing Far More on the Internet & With Technology Than You Realize
Today’s teenagers have grown up in the world of the internet and smart phones. They were raised on the internet. They never owned a DiscMan. All they’ve ever known is the iPod and smart phone. Today’s youngest teenagers have virtually no memories from before the era of the smart phone.
I’ve been working with teenagers for over ten years now, and I’ve always been fairly technologically savvy. Still, with each passing year, I feel further and further behind. As the internet expands, new social networks pop up, and countless new apps appear daily; it’s almost impossible to keep up.
If you think your child’s primary social network is Facebook, either you or your child are four years behind the curve.
- 25% of teenagers admit to sexting (sexual texting). This involves either sending sexual texts or images.
- Depending on the study, children are first exposed to internet pornography between the ages of 8 and 11 on average. Therefore, by the time your child is a teenager, they have likely been exposed to internet pornography.
Two Apps to Be Aware Of:
Snapchat – This app allows you to send a message which is deleted between 1 to 10 seconds after it is seen. This app has caused all kinds of controversy for the obvious reasons. Most students use the app primarily as a method of chatting. Others use it to bully others, sext, or send their best friend a picture of what they just left in the toilet (I’m serious about that last one too).
Whisper – Whisper is a social network where people can share pictures and receive responses while remaining totally anonymous. Students can share things which they would otherwise be afraid to share for fear of repercussions. While using Whisper, you can find people posting within a several mile radius. Because all posters are anonymous, it allows girls of all ages to post nude or semi-nude pictures seeking compliments from people of all ages.
Thoughts from someone who works with teenagers:
- Your child is not the exception! Some of my best students have admitted to some of the worst things.
- When I learn a high school boy doesn’t have any internet accountability, I assume he struggles with porn.
- Even students who themselves don’t partake in sexting will be sent either sexts or naked pictures and videos of their peers, whether they want them or not.
- Some of your kids are cyber-bullies. As a parent, you have the right to monitor what they are doing online, and have the responsibility to stop them from being a bully.
- Some of your kids are raunchy online and/or doing their best to convince the world they’re a full-time stoner. As a parent, you have the right and responsibility to monitor their online behavior, and to stop their current self from sabotaging their future self’s reputation. I have warned a number of students directly that what they are posting online WILL prevent them from getting a job in the future…unless they want to be a drug dealer.
- Sending naked or partially naked pictures isn’t the activity of fringe or troubled students. I’ve had some of my most plugged in students at church ADMIT to sexting fully nude pictures of themselves to strangers. Just because you have a really good kid doesn’t mean they haven’t done some really dumb things.
We all did dumb things when we were teenagers. The internet and technology make it incredibly easy to share ours or others’ stupidity. Your child is NOT immune to teenage immaturity.
I would advise ALL parents to install some form of internet monitoring software on your child’s computer, phone, and tablet. And I would still recommend keeping a close personal eye on what they are doing online.
#2 You Shouldn’t Trust Your Teenager!
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Before you accuse me of being a paranoid control freak, let me clarify: I’m not suggesting parents shouldn’t trust their child at all, but I am suggesting that you use the same common sense you use in the rest of your life and parenting. Trust is a major theme in virtually every TV show or movie about teenagers but, without fail, it plays out in the worst way possible. I have no idea how many movies and TV episodes I’ve seen where a teenager who was about to do something untrustworthy yells at their parent, “Why don’t you trust me?!?”
Well, they’re most likely not blindly trusting you based on one of two principles:
- Trust is earned
- Parenting is a process of slowly extending the boundaries of your child’s freedom
Besides either my mother or my in-laws, the most common babysitter we use for my 2 year old son is a 14 year old girl from my student ministry. After having known her for 6 years, I trust her to keep my 2 year old son relatively safe and alive. She has EARNED a reputation as TRUSTWORTHY. If she made bad choices in her personal life, or while watching my child, she would LOSE some of the trust she previously earned, and I would not trust her with my child. It’s not because I’m paranoid or a control freak. It’s because I use common sense.
The longer your teenager demonstrates trustworthy behavior in an area, the more you should trust them. Likewise, if your teenager has a long history of breaking rules and behaving in a suspicious manner, you should be suspicious.
If they can’t demonstrate responsible behavior within their current boundaries, why would you extend them greater freedom? If they demonstrate suspicious behavior within the freedom you grant them, why would you trust them with more?
- Trustworthy behavior is rewarded with greater freedom.
- Suspicious behavior has the consequence of less freedom and greater monitoring.
This isn’t paranoid behavior. It’s common sense everywhere else in society.
Thoughts from someone who works with teenagers:
- Some of my best students have shared some of the most insane stories of sneaking out.
- I’ve heard stories of hook ups.
- I’ve heard stories of pregnancy.
- I’ve heard stories of drug use.
- I’ve heard stories of people loading guns in expectation of a drug dealer coming over…
These are all stories from my years with teenagers in a church setting.
Do not be naive.
Do not assume your child is the exception.
#3 The Amount of Time Invested in an Activity Needs to Match the Length of Time It Will Be in Their Life
The teenagers years are filled with competing interests:
- School trips
- Boy Scouts
- Fellowship of Christian Athletes
- A Job
There are so many great opportunities for your teenager. It’s only natural that you wouldn’t want your teenager to miss out on anything. There are so many good opportunities. How do you choose what’s best?
Instead of focusing on which opportunities they will miss RIGHT NOW, think about who you want them to be for a LIFETIME.
You need to decide what you value for your child for a lifetime, and make larger decisions based off of those values. Otherwise, the flashiest promoter or most urgent announcement will guide your child’s schedule.
Sports, school, and a job will always be more URGENT than church if you don’t place it as a top priority.
If your child’s football career is going to end in December of their senior year, don’t let football determine their schedule during high school.
Whatever your prioritize, they will value!
What does THEIR schedule say about what YOU value?
What does THEIR schedule say about what THEY value?
If you don’t value church involvement while they’re living with you, why would you expect them to value church attendance when they move out?
#4 They’re Going to Leave…Make Good Use of the Time You Have
One of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is do the math to discover how many weeks you have until they graduate high school, then find a way to visually demonstrate the passing of time. I’ve heard one group of people propose putting a jar of marbles (the number of marbles is equal to the number of weeks until they graduate) on your night stand for each child that you have. Each Sunday remove one marble from the jar. When your jar has 700 marbles those weekly removals aren’t such a big deal. When you get down to the final year, each marble is heart-breaking.
If you want something less theatrical, The Legacy App tracks the time for you. You enter your child’s birthdate, and it will give you a weekly reminder of just how much time you have.
- It’s so easy to become passive as a parent.
- It’s so easy to become reactive as a parent.
- Urgency creates pro-active parenting.
- Love your kids.
- Parent your kids.
Sean Chandler is a blogger, speaker, YouTuber, and 10-year student ministry veteran. He has written for numerous ministry publications, including Youth Specialties, RelevantMagazine.com, and FaithIt.com. You can read his thoughts on life, sin, and grace on his personal blog, www.seanchandlerlive.com. For his movie reviews, check out youtube.com/seanchandlertalksabout/.