I vividly remember during my 10th grade year sitting down with a friend and listening to him bash people who drink in high school. He said it was stupid and pointless and not to mention illegal; “I don’t need alcohol to have fun,” he said. He made it clear to everyone in our circle of friends exactly what he thought about it. So imagine our surprise when a year later, this same guy was drinking and going to parties.
Everyone wondered the same thing – what changed for someone so against drinking to then become a part of it? He said he didn’t think it was a big deal, that it was just for fun, and that people change their minds.
As I approach my senior year in high school, I’ve seen a lot of people “change their minds.” And I’m sure I’ll see many more, because we are no longer children. When adults say, “don’t drink, don’t have sex, and believe Jesus is Lord,” nodding our heads and saying “ok” is not so simple anymore.
As these topics and others become increasingly pressing, they become increasingly uncomfortable. Few adults want to address these issues, especially not in a pointed or intentional way, and especially not with teenagers.
Rather, these subjects are often mentioned briefly in a list of things we should or shouldn’t do, and that’s it.
Instead of presenting a list of rules, we need the adults in our lives to tell us why we should care, and why God cares.
I am not an adult, so I’ve never tried to guide or raise a teenager, however I’m quite sure it’s not easy. But as a teenager myself who has received much guidance – solicited and unsolicited – I think I can shed at least some light.
1. What you think is important – your opinion carries weight – but what the Bible says is truth.
It is fairly well known that I love a good deep conversation. So topics like drinking, gay marriage, and many others have never been out of bounds with my friends – or sometimes even mere acquaintances. One thing that often strikes me is that most people (my age especially) have no idea what the Bible says about these issues. They know what they’ve heard in church and from their parents, but not really what God says.
I do not say this in a holier-than-thou way. There is plenty I don’t know about the Bible. However, I have two people in my life who have urged me to know everything I can. One is my Dad, a doctor who doubles as a closet theologian. He teaches a Sunday school class, but runs his lessons by my sister and me first, pouring biblical knowledge into us. He expects us to know scripture, although he graciously gives us answers when he asks questions we don’t know. My dad does small things like making us recite the armor of God on the way to church. His influence has planted the seeds of my interest in the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit after all (Dad, if you’re reading this, please be proud of my armor of God reference there – I might roll my eyes at the cult-like chanting in the car, but I do know it).
My other Biblical influence is my incredible mentor (my last youth minister’s wife) who knows a whole stinking lot about the Bible. That’s not a very precise description, but it’s true. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to her for advice on something and come away without a scripture reference. It makes a difference.
Guidance backed by scripture carries more weight.
I have come to my mentor for advice on many things, but there was one particularly hard struggle she walked me through. After I initially opened up to her, and we finished bawling together, one of the first things she asked me was, “What scripture are you clinging to?” (My answer was and still is 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 and Zephaniah 3:17. There are others, but those have been my theme through this season).
She then proceeded to provide even more scripture for me to cling to, and of course always prayed hedges of protection (Psalm 91) over my heart.
Those verses are exactly what she calls them – something to “cling” to. A reason not to choose what my sinful heart urged me was “fine this one time,” and a reason to believe that healing was possible. Not because that’s what people told me, but because scripture says that the God of the universe has grace sufficient for my weakness, and loves me so much that He is both in my midst and exulting over me with loud singing (side note: this has got to be just about the most fantastic thing ever).
My friend, who I love no matter what, had changed his mind about drinking because his opinion was influenced by the ever-changing opinion of the people around him. My resolve – for being healed, for not drinking, for the other hard choices being a teenager brings – is rooted in unchanging scripture, because these two people gave me concrete evidence of what the Lord has promised and commanded. And my hope when I inevitably fail to keep His commandments lies in the scriptural promise of God’s forgiveness and unfailing love.
This is more powerful to me than the fear of punishment from my parents. If I wanted to, I could probably drink without my parents knowing. Teenagers are good at being sneaky. Whether your child can get away with it or not, fear can’t be the major factor in not drinking (or any other behavior) because, as I see all the time, fear often fades with age. Oppositely, the word of the Lord lasts forever.
2. Be willing and available to have the awkward conversations. My personal “thorn in the side,” still haunts me sometimes. I did not come to my mentor so that she could fix everything and make it all picture perfect. I came to her, and continue to, because I needed someone who would simply walk through it with me.
I wouldn’t be who I am without the guidance of some very special adults in my life. I wouldn’t have had guidance at all if these adults simply decided they didn’t want to sit and talk to a teenager about charged or uncomfortable topics.
Uncomfortable is good.
Ask us what we think about hard topics and be ready to listen first, then guide. My parents, my mentor, the two awesome youth ministers I’ve had, and my two outstanding Sunday school teachers have all asked me questions that make me want to crawl out of my skin. “Why do you believe in God? Are you going to heaven? If Jesus saw your life, what do you think He’d tell you? What do you think about evolution? What do you think about Paul saying slaves obey your earthly masters or women be submissive?” and there are more where that came from. All of these questions, though uncomfortable, have prompted immense growth, and the conversations they led to have bred respect and trust.
You don’t always have to ask us questions though; we have plenty of our own. Just be someone who we can talk to without fear of judgement. Someone once said to me, “Has it ever occurred to you that I love you even more because I know your sin and shortcomings?” We need to hear things like that.
Above all, be real. I’m a big believer that vulnerability breeds vulnerability, so be willing to share the awkward things about your life too. Show us you aren’t perfect, that you have doubts and are broken. It doesn’t make you a bad authority figure to have problems, it makes you relatable. It also means you need a savior, which is a great way to point the conversation to Jesus. Said tactic works, which I know both because it has been used on me and because I steal it from time to time.
There are many decisions we face every day (especially when we leave for college) that the adults in our lives can’t be around for. However, what we’ve been taught about the Bible goes with us always, and we have a Holy Spirit who reminds us of the truth we know in situations when we are uncertain or tempted.
We’re still going to fall short, but when Jesus is our hope, there is endless mercy.