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An Urgent Plea to Parents of High School Students (or those about to be)

March 22, 2017

Parents are a group of weary people.  We carry an unbelievable burden.  God has never given me a more difficult task than parenting.  Every which way a parent turns they are burdened with guilt that if they were a good parent they would do “this” more and “that” less.  The last thing I want to do with this blog is plug in to parent guilt.  I’m not writing this because I think you are bad parent.  I’m writing it because our kids are stepping on a spiritual landmine and something has to be done about it.

I am abundantly troubled to watch massive spiritual casualties among high school students.  I’ve watched the replay over and over again in which middle school students with vibrant faith lose their way, get mired in spiritual apathy, or moral disintegration sometime in the transition to high school.  Something is happening between middle school and high school to many of our students that has to be noticed by the church and by Christian parents.

Why is this happening at this age?

  1. They have new options of how to spend their time.
  2. They are faced with moral situations that they aren’t yet able to handle.
  3. They are at a developmental stage in which they are seeking independence from parents.

I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years and I am begging you as a parent to notice this pitfall.  I’m urging you, pleading with you, and begging you to listen to one simple challenge from me.  The independence your high school student is experiencing means they need you MORE, not LESS, as a spiritual anchor and guide.  We tend to think they are at an age in which their spiritual journey is their own.  Their independence means parents need to take their hands off the wheel, right?  Wrong!  High school students are at a hybrid time in their life where they have access to adult options but do not yet have the wisdom or discernment to handle those options.  At the same time they haven’t had enough life experience with its wounds and exhaustion to know just how much they need a relationship with Jesus to just survive.  Parents, don’t take your hands off the spiritual wheel!  Greater independence requires grater discernment, which requires a greater need for a loving and wise guide through these minefields.  So don’t stop leading them spiritually.  Don’t stop putting them in situations where they are invested in spiritually.

Parent, your high school student needs you to be a Christ following source of grace and wisdom more than ever!

Let me unpack this:

  1. We’re not talking indoctrination. Your kids can’t live off your faith.  Faith can’t be forced.  They have to own it apart from you.  I’m not talking more discipline.  I’m talking more spiritual investment, guidance, and roots in Christian community.  I’m talking being more intentional with their spiritual growth.  More discipline might be needed but that’s not my point here.  As I parent, too often I have reacted to my kids poor choices by trying to make up for a lack of spiritual investment in a quick and fierce manner.  That won’t work.
  2. However, parents are meant to set a culture for their family.  That means that you decide where your family spends its time and how you are going to operate.  When no spiritual priorities and expectations are set, there is a clear lack of Christian leadership in the home.  The kids can easily lead the home in the light of a lack of clearly stated parental priorities.  Trust that what you pour into your children spiritually won’t depart from them.  Don’t take your hand off the wheel.  Your independent teenager needs you more than ever!!!
  3. Parents, it all starts with your fellowship with Jesus.  Are you in God’s word?  Are you a worshiper who sings to Jesus with passion?  Do you live with a calling toward mission?  Are you being shaped through Christian community?  Your faith matters.  It is nearly impossible for followers (kids) to go where their leaders (parents) are unwilling to go.
  4. High school students rarely thrive spiritually apart from Christian community.  It’s common knowledge that during adolescence our peers become more important than our parents to us.  With that said, Parents, you should fight hell and high water to get your kids rooted in student ministry.  I am utterly amazed to watch high schoolers disconnect from student ministry with seemingly little urgency from parents.  Stop what you are doing right now and decide to do all you can to get your student plugged in to their student youth group!
  5. Be steady and stay gracious when faced with resistance.  What do you do when they have no interest in spiritual things?  Do they have a choice whether to go to Christmas or Thanksgiving with the family?  Do they have a choice about how late to stay out?  You set limits all the time.  This is no different.  It’s best to establish your family as committed to being regular and rooted in a faith community so that it isn’t a question whether you are going to church or participating in student ministry.  It’s expected.  It’s part of your family culture.  If regular worship attendance is “iffy” for your family then don’t be surprised if it is “iffy” for your student.  What kind of parental investment do you make so that your kids can be successful in sports, academics, dance/cheer, or other activities.  What if you invested in their spiritual growth with the same passion and commitment?  At the same time when they resist don’t react, but be steady and consistent.  Being a parent means doing what’s right, not what’s popular.
  6. Disciple with a long term plan in mind.  Often, the seeds we plant now don’t produce fruit for a while.  Only an insane person would plant a seed and expect a fruit-producing-plant the next day.  We are making spiritual investments in our high school students not because it is working in their life now, but because we only have about 18 years to pour into them and we are going to make the most of it.  Parent out of gospel conviction, not out of what gets immediate results.  It’s common to hear a mature adult believer talk about past rebellion and about those who refused to give up on their faith.  Your child’s story isn’t over.  God isn’t done.  Believe that what you do now can make a huge difference in the years to come.
  7. All that’s at stake is their life and their eternity.  What good will it do if your kids gain the whole world but their own soul is ruined and lost for eternity?  Make their spiritual journey a priority!!!

I’m urging you to pray, stay vitally connected in conversation, and set a tone of spiritual commitment with your high school students.  Don’t make the mistake of believing that independence makes you less necessary.  It makes you more necessary.  High schoolers need a gracious but steady “home-base” to come back to that is helping guard them from pitfalls, live with wisdom, and set their eyes on Christ as a worthy prize as they explore the world.

There are no guarantees.  You might pour the truth and love of Jesus into your kids and they might reject it.  That would be bad.  But at least you would know that you did your part.  What would be worse is to watch them reject Jesus or spiral in life destruction knowing that when you had the most influence, Jesus was neglected.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephen Jones permalink
    March 22, 2017 4:16 pm

    Thank you!

    Stephen Jones

  2. Mayaandhope permalink
    March 22, 2017 6:38 pm

    Amen . . . .

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