Preparing Your Tweens and Early Teens for High School (Rooted 2023 Workshop Preview)

One of my favorite books to read to my children was one I remember from my own childhood, The Monster at the End of This Book, written by none other than Lovable, Furry Old Grover (I do love his work). 

On the very first page, Grover asks: “What did that say? Did that say there will be a MONSTER at the end of this book?” He then spends the rest of the book doing all in his power to keep you from turning the page, because he’s so afraid of the monster thats coming at the end of the book. He puts up a brick wall, he uses ropes, two by fours…but it’s no match for the children turning the pages. When you finally get to the end of the book, it turns out the monster at the end was just…Grover himself. And he’s charmingly embarrassed. 

There is something that can make parents get as freaked out as Grover, and that’s sending their kids to high school. “High school is big and scary! High schools are full of sin and debauchery, and there will be no one there to protect my kids!” Having graduated four of my own children from the local public high school, I have good news to tell you: the monsters aren’t that bad! You don’t have to be afraid. 

But what you should be is prepared. If you have a middle school student who’s heading to high school soon, here are two important things to know about before they make that leap.

#1: Your Child Belongs To God 

The first thing to remember is that your kids belong to God. You are their stewards.

Psalm 127:3 says that “children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.” But they’re not just any kind of gift. They’re autonomous beings; not toys or puppets. You have been given the opportunity to shape them, but not to control or own them.

We can sometimes think that raising children is like programming a robot: if we put the right code in there, it will do what we say. But as image-bearers and beloved creatures of God, they belong to him first, not you. 

You of course have a responsibility to discipline them, and to disciple them in the way of Jesus, but God has a call on their life independent of yours, and their journey will not be your journey.

In fact, the sooner you can begin letting go of the illusion that your kids are yours to control, the happier you’ll be. God loves them more than you. 

We can so easily believe the parenting lie that, if we parent our kids juuuuust the right way, they will turn out well. They’ll be strong Christians, they won’t be messed up, they won’t need therapy, all of their relationships and their own marriages will be healthy. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be the best parents you can be, but you can’t buy into this idea that it’s ultimately up to you.

Any youth pastor who’s been around for more than a couple of years will experience the disequilibrium that comes when you see two categories of families you didn’t expect. One is the families who, from the outside, did everything right, and yet, their kids reject faith. The other is families who didn’t do a thing right and their kids grew up to have a robust faith. There simply is no perfect formula.

Don’t think that it’s only up to you; that the choices you make determine what happens to your kids in the future. You do the best you can and then you entrust them to God.  

#2: Communication is Key

Secondly, the older they get, the more open communication becomes essential. 

Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “Impress the commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In the early years, parents appropriately do a lot of talking to their kids about the Scriptures. But as they get older that should transition into guiding them to living a life from a biblical worldview. Not just “the Bible says” but “you’ve heard about the Bible, now how do you live that Bible out?” Share with them the why not just the what, and listen more.

As young people enter adolescence, they’re much less interested in hearing you preach. They want to see your faith lived out, and they want to know why you believe what you believe. They also need to know that you want to listen to them, not just talk at them. 

You want your kids to talk to you, to tell you what’s going on in their lives because they want to, not because you’re making them. But in order to do that, you have to be a good listener. And probably the hardest time to be a good listener is when they say things that freak you out. They might tell you about ways they’ve fallen short of your expectations, or if they’re exploring heterodox beliefs. It’s very hard to remain calm in a situation like that, but it’s very important that you do.

This also means you should be careful not to say disparaging or judgmental remarks about other teenagers, which could make them think: “Got it, if I ever do anything like that, they’ll disapprove of me. I’ll be sure to hide that.” Instead, start learning to ask questions. Like: “What do you think about that? Why do you think that person acted that way?”

This next phase of parenting is so much more about being a good listener, and letting them know you’ll always offer a non-judgmental listening ear.

There’s something poetic about the fact that Grover IS the monster at the end of the book. It’s not that high school for your kids will be free from challenges. Those challenges are ahead. But in the same way that the monster was Grover, the biggest challenge to your kids’ experience in high school might be…you. If you ramp up your control, and your unrealistic demands, and your desire for perfect behavior, you might end up unwittingly being the monster.

But take heart! Jesus himself defeated the monster of sin so that you could become the righteousness of God. And he will give you all that you need.

While this article only covers two, Syler will be sharing nine things to remember as you prepare your teenager for High School at his workshop “Bootcamp for Parents of Teens and Tweens” at our 2023 Rooted Conference in Nashville, TN. We hope to see you there! 

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has been the student ministries pastor at Christ Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, since 1998. He writes a column for YouthWorker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and is the co-author of two books. Syler and his wife, Heidi, have four kids.

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