In my mind’s eye I see a group of women circling around a kiddie pool. There are rubber ducks and floating boats. There is splashing and laughing and chubby toddlers spilling out of swimsuits.
Sitting close by are older, more experienced moms chatting with the younger gals engaging and listening. The sun is shining. The colors are vibrant. There is fruit cut and skin tanned and it is beautiful.
Behind them (just out of ear shot) is a grey, damp, worn down industrial shipyard. Lurching away from an old, beat up, barely functional dock pulls out a huge cargo ship. There are no windows. There is no color. Its destination is not clear, but trapped inside are the moms of teenagers who can barely catch their breath.
Leaders in women’s ministries everywhere: YOU ARE MISSING THE BOAT.
I remember my teen years well and do NOT hope to repeat them with my kids. (Do as I say, please, not as I did.) Our oldest is 26 and our middle is now a teen. It is MUCH harder today than it was a decade ago to raise sane teenagers.
There are moments when I feel I have this thing NAILED; then, without any warning, those feelings are replaced by a tight chest and sick stomach. I am nauseous at how many things there are seeking to poison our kids.
Poison their minds.
Poison their hearts.
Poison their values.
Poison their wills and want-tos.
It is not only the things looking to destroy them but the very nature of the season of life that stack the odds against us. In her book The Teenage Brain, author Frances E Jensen, MD, explains:
Before leaving adolescence behind, a boy can have thirty times as much testosterone in his body as he had before puberty began…That explains why adolescents not only are emotionally volatile but may even seek out emotionally charged experiences–everything from a book that makes her sob to a roller coaster that makes him scream. This double whammy–a jacked up, stimulus-seeking brain not yet fully capable of making mature decisions–hits teens pretty hard, and the consequences to them, and their families, can sometimes be catastrophic.
The thing is, teens today have access to far more degrading and damaging things to excite them. Sexual images are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on hand held cell phones that can be tucked away in their pockets. Medical marijuana cards and prescription pain killers have put drugs in more homes than anything I could have imagined when I was a teen. It is easy access for almost any high school student to acquire mood altering substances.
Kids from middle class, activity attending families are crumbling under the weight of the realities our kids are facing. Imagine a Friday night, kids are drunk, a boy decides a girl (who can barely even walk and will not remember) must want to have sex…so he takes it from her.
Cast into the dirt, she is not sure what happened. Zipping up his pants, he is sure he’s done nothing wrong. At home, asleep, are the parents (of yet a different teenager) who bought the alcohol that got the kids drunk and started it all…
Versions of this scenario are playing out weekend after weekend after weekend…
Where can any of these moms go for help? Church?
YES! to MOPS and Mom’s mentoring groups and so many other programs sweeping the young mom cultures around us. That work is vital and holy.
But I personally have sat and watch thousands of tears roll from the eyes of moms of teens. Kids are gone–at boarding schools and military programs–last ditch efforts to stop the spiral. Women are sharing stories of feeling like their families are being damaged by this season of life with teenagers…living daily with an invisible anvil sitting on their chests crushing hope and joy. What can we do for them?
In our own area, we have lost dozens to heroin. These were good kids from loving families.
The days of the typical addict lying in a filthy alley with a needle stuck in their arm are over. These are our friends and neighbors. We must wake up!
Let women’s ministries be a haven. May they be real and transparent full of answers and hope.
YES! Make meals for the brand new mama just home from the hospital. But are we helping the mom of the 15-year old connect around the table as well? With more than just words, can we come alongside with answers and aid? Can we use our voices to tell the kids, “The future is bright. Set your standards high. Don’t sell yourself to the lowest bidder.”
Can we look each other in the eye and say, “I will hold your hand while we hold each other and our kids accountable?”
Can we gather around tables and collaborate, acknowledging that the teenage brain is seeking high impact activities? Let’s brainstorm about healthy opportunities to fill that need in the faint hope of keeping them from finding their own ways?
Yes, they may roll their eyes. No, they probably won’t volunteer to join our quest. Let’s parent anyway.
Recently I had the privilege of helping to plan a prom for a local boy who was restricted from going to his own senior highlight because of medical complications. A whole group of parents came to put the event together. I was STUNNED by the conversations…”You know, the high school just had their prom. If we don’t make this REALLY special no one will want to come.”
“You can’t serve a sit-down dinner to high school kids. They don’t like that. They want, like, sliders and finger foods…”
Parents’ expectations of teenagers have hit an all-time low.
Our kids are going to be adults someday. Are we doing all we can to help them be productive ones?
500 teenagers got dressed up, sat down for a polite dinner, and celebrated with that boy–giving him the prom of his dreams. 125 other kids showed up in their finest to dance and join the after party…where tons of teenage favorite foods were served. The parents who doubted the kids would behave well were wrong.
This is war for our children. We are fighting low expectations and morals, along with easy access to pornography, drugs, and alcohol. Other parents and teachers are turning a blind eye saying, “Kids will be kids,” but, church, let’s not join their cry.
I often say that parenting is a crap-shoot. It is a roll of the dice, where we can guarantee no outcomes. Let’s lock arms, look each other in the eye and say, “We are going to face this head on and do all we can to stack the odds in our favor.” Let’s listen to each other’s heartaches and fear. Let’s commit to praying boldly and telling our truths. Let’s tell God’s truth to our kids and your kids and their kids.
Let’s find ways to have fun with our teenagers and with each other. Laughter can build a bridge…Let’s see great examples and paint bright futures and let high school students everywhere know that we believe in them. Let’s invest in them and tell them we want them to make good choices and make their marks on the world, leaving a trail of beauty behind them.
When the wheels come off the bus, as they certainly will, let’s sit together without judgment and give support until we can breathe again. When our kids fail, which they MUST if they are to learn, let’s remind them that mistakes don’t have to define them; that taking responsibility is ALWAYS the best way to move forward; and that tomorrow provides a new opportunity to do better.
Time is running out…we can do this.