“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV)
“When kids get to sixth grade, parents begin to drop off the face of the earth. It’s hard to get volunteers,” was one of the first statements I heard when I worked as a youth director over fifteen years ago. About a year ago while volunteering as a Sunday school helper, I heard it again. I’m not sure why this is the case. I don’t doubt there are a plethora of reasons, each individualized, but I do have something to say about it:
Parents, you are missing out! The teen years are amazing!
I admit the staying engaged and volunteering in my teens’ activities is different than it was when they were little tikes. For example, I don’t lead them through crafts pouring the glue for them or read to them while they sit in my lap anymore. (That would be awkward!) Now I do a lot of passing out of food, admiring artistic creations, listening to spoken thoughts and staring wide-eyed over crazy stunts. Stunts that require me to step in to ask questions similar to, “Are you really sure you want to take the bicycle down that hill in the snow and ice?” with an added necessary precaution, such as, “Then at least wear a helmet.”
I just want to take a moment to share some of the wonderful things I’ve learned from volunteering and staying engaged in teen life.
- Teenagers have opinions. Like mine, some are useful and some are damaging. Most are created from their own life experiences or as in some cases, lack of life experiences (ie. knowledge learned from You-tube.) Usually, if teens are given the opportunity to share their thoughts, they are willing to at least listen to mine. Which is more than I can say for many adults.
- When leading teens, most are ok with me not having all the answers; plus, they usually have patience with me when I have to say, “I don’t know” and ask if I can get back with them later. However, if I am fudging an answer just to sound knowledgeable because I’m an adult- they know and will not hesitate to call me out for my foolishness. I guess one could say…
- Teens desire truthfulness. They want people to be real with them. Honest.
- When teens have answers that I don’t, they are usually eager to share. They don’t hold back.
- Teenagers have some creative and brilliant ideas. From programming to game playing, artwork to setting up tables and cleaning dishes, teens are gifted with God given talents and original organizational tactics. Some are skills, many are trial and error experiments. If teens are given the opportunity to be part of the planning process, they are more likely to engage in activities with eagerness.
- Teenagers like to have fun. Enough said.
- Teenagers don’t like to be talked down too. (Um… me either!) God blessed them with brains. They will use them if they are allowed to or they will dish back what has been dished to them.
- Their boldness may come off as foolish from time to time, but sometimes it pays off. I’ve seen teenagers raise awareness and funds for everything from Thanksgiving turkeys for low income families to helping pay off medical bills for their best friend’s sick sister. Their tactics vary, but typically involve the following:
- People (usually friends, social media, family)
- Believe they will succeed
- Boldness laced with courage to jump into their conviction
- I’ve seen teens work as hard, and harder, than adults when they are behind a project.
- Teenagers, like the rest of humanity, are individuals. Each one is a person with feelings, expectations, a life story and unique personality. One can’t be judged by another’s behavior.
Yes, teens can be defiant, rowdy and uncooperative….so can any other age group from 2 to 102. Teenagers are learning who they are and who God is creating them to be.
Parents, this is not the time to step out of the picture.
It is the time to adapt how you participate.
When my children were small I did everything for them. As they grew, I taught them to do for themselves. Now that they do many things for themselves, I’m not to leave them to survive on their own, but instead to be a guide, a living example and a helper walking with them into adulthood where they learn to become mentors and leaders for those who come after them.
Volunteering in teen lives does look different than when they were younger but it is still just as valuable and rewarding. While I don’t receive the sweet little “run and hugs” with arms wide open and cute giggles that came from two year olds, I do get, “Thanks, Mom, for volunteering (and helping me clean up when my prank on Josh backfired.)” I also get more time to be a part of the lives God blessed me with…and that is reward enough.