Parents are the youthworker’s greatest ally. There is a mythology out there that “youth ministry would be much easier without their parents.” It is time to dispel this myth. Yes, parents can be frustrating but they are our colleagues: they are in youth ministry every minute of every day. Thus, this friendly word will help us to understand parents of youth and how to advocate for the type of parenting that will benefit the Church’s ministry to youth. Let’s start with a simple acronym to get us in the mode of thinking about parents and parenting: C. A. R. E. (Okay, it’s a little cheesy, stick with me . . .)
C is competence. Children want parents to be competent, to have integrity. Competence, in parenting, means maintaining boundaries and confidence in caring for children. Child and adolescent development is all about creation and maintenance of boundaries. For families boundaries are key to health or dis-ease. “Healthy” families create bourdaries and encourage the maintenance of those boundaries so that they can navigate the challenges, stresses and changes. Competent care means being your child’s parent, not friend. It means asking difficult questions and delivering hard answers. That is where assurance comes in.
A is assurance. Children want parents to give them words of grace when things are amiss. Adolescence sends one’s whole body into upheaval, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Simple words of assurance could mean the difference in how a young person interprets their day, an event or life situations. Assurance builds trust in the child’s perception of how the parent interacts in the child’s life. Assurance is much more than a compliment; it is a way of building a bridge to a young person that cannot be swayed. That is where reconciliation comes in.
R is reconciliation. Children want parents to assist them in their life consequences, even when they push against it. Remember development is about pushing the boundaries. Part of growing up is realizing that the boundaries serve a greater purpose and that they are set up to ultimately care for those living within those boundaries. So, parents who model what is expected of their children have a better chance of connecting with the young people in their households. When parents smoke and encourage their children not to smoke, the modeling breaks down. It is the classic case of parents expecting children to do as they say, not as they do. Ultimately, children who see their parents modeling healthy adult behavior perform healthy behavior themselves. This is where empathy comes in.
E is empathy. Children want parents to know the context of a their existence. It is difficult growing up. Parents often times overlay their own childhood experiences on their children. “Well, when I was a child, I did this or that . . .” What parents quickly discover is that the landscape has changed since they were kids: new language, new situations and new challenges. Knowing a young person’s landscape does a lot to connect parent and child. Empathy means to walk a while in another’s shoes. Children, especially adolescents, seem to push parents out of their lives, but in their struggle to understand, they want to be understood.
The big picture is that a good parent re-presents God’s presence in our lives as children of God. Parents learn to CARE so that your children can CARE as well. Youthworkers CARE for the parents in your ministry and you will ultimately be CAREd for.
Rev. Andy Stoker , PhD
(214) 220-2727 ext 222
1928 Ross Ave.
Dallas Texas 75201