Take a deep breath, and picture it. The moment is just around the corner for many of us: The final bell rings, blaring over the radio or phone conversation in your car. Young teens or preteens surge from the school building into the freedom of summer. Your teen opens the car door and slides inside. Judging by his response to your question, “How was your day, sweetheart?”, you may have one of three archetypes accompanying you on your summer journey.
Who’s In Your Car?
The “Everything is Awesome!” kid will not hesitate to see the vast opportunity for fun and exploration this summer. The “Uh, I don’t know, whatever?” kid will attempt to remain comatose in his room for as long as possible except for trips to the kitchen for Hot Pockets. However, the “When do I get to hang out with my friends?” kid is excited about getting outdoors, as long as it leads to the mall, the movies, or meetings with friends. How do you manage this and the other craziness of summer? Better yet, what could you both look back on as he gets out of your vehicle in a few months and walks back into school that would bring a smile to his face and yours? Consider this….
Change is inevitable! (And that’s good!)
One of our favorite passages of scripture in Student Ministry is Luke 2:41-52. It is the only time that Jesus is mentioned as a teenager, and it is capped off in v. 52 with a verse that sets the tone for the gap between childhood and adulthood:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.
Luke 2:52 NET
It is interesting to note that the word “increased” is the imperfect tense in the Greek text and implies a “progressive force” behind the action. (NET Bible notes for Luke 2:52). Simply put, this can be a tough, rough, pushy type of exercise. Because of change, what worked last summer may not quite be what your teen needs this summer. However, rather than starting from scratch, consider “upping the ante” with him in things that he really does want (regardless of if he knows how to ask for them).
I. Up the Adventure: Get a little dangerous
The challenge and benefit of feeling useful and feeling brave are very closely tied together for early teens. While family vacation may be set, consider finding an activity (even if it is a one-time event) that belongs to them and brings in an element of danger/adventure. This may very well put you out of your comfort zone. However, it will bring your relationship and bank of memories with your teen to a completely different level. Two ideas (here’s where we get a little crazy):
a.) Find an outdoor adventure that is one of a kind. Think white water rafting, camping, or road tripping to a completely unknown place to get a dessert that is rated on the Food Network.
b.) If you’re really adventurous, teach them to pull a prank (but do it with them) on a close friend or family member in such a way that in the end everyone laughs together. There is no better memory builder than lying in the grass with water guns waiting for that special neighbor to come home at 10:30 at night.
II. Up the Relationship: Be intentional and unique about time together
With change, the activities of daily living that facilitated conversation in the past may not be as effective anymore. That three-hour trip to the grocery store just doesn’t pull in the deep sharing that it once used to. As adults, it is important to be intentional in our desire to have deep relationships. Teens are entering the stage in life when this discipline must begin, as well. This will recognize their uniqueness and give them a chance to progressively connect with you in a way that honors their particular fingerprint and personality. Another two ideas:
a.) Consider a regular hang out time for just you and your teen, but add the element of fun/crazy. A weekly trek to try and rate all the burgers in your home town; or the best milkshake in a 25 mile radius of your home will create mini-road trips and adventure along the way. Need some ideas? Check out our friends at: www.flavortownusa.com.
b.) Late night runs just for food after all the siblings go to bed (and after you SHOULD be in bed) are incredible connecting times. Insiders tip: teens usually open up for deep conversation late at night.
III. Up the Responsibility: Give him something to own
Teaching teens to handle responsibility is not just about helping them grow into adulthood; it is also the challenge of helping them grow as a leader. Helping them understand their unique leadership style or fingerprint will help build a relationship as well as encourage them as they take ownership of refining themselves. One last idea: Using this personality/leadership style assessment from our good friends at www.LeaderTreks.com, give your teen something to be in charge of for the family this summer. Take the test with him. Talk about his personality’s strengths, the challenges his leadership style faces, and how he can overcome them to lead others. Then, present him with a challenge! For example:
“Son, you are an analyzer! This is so important for our family vacation this summer. Here is the map and our destination. Could you plan the route and travel times for me before we head on out? I’m going to tell the family that you’re in charge of it and back you up as you schedule our rest stops, meals and activities on the road.” Affirmed leadership is a greater investment than delegated responsibility. Succeed or fail, you have their back and debriefing their experience will make a great excuse to make another late night taco run.
Now picture when your teen gets out of the car for that next year of school. Though summer may have been rough, and you may look back at some sleepless nights, consider the deeper connection and experiences you planted for the next few years. “Mom and dad are crazy enough to get into my world” and “They really trust me (even when I may fail)” can be two of the greatest empowering memories you can give your growing teen this summer. Best wishes, happy trails, and I look forward to bumping into you on that late night taco run.
Thank you to David Ake for taking the time to contribute his thoughts on Parenting Pathway.