28 Feb 2017

Show your kids the way

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I recently attended a Year 9 evening at my daughter’s school to hear a seminar on teen drinking. It was a brilliant presentation by the speaker, Paul Dillon, from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, with lots of ‘take-homes’.  

According to recent research, the number of students using alcohol has dropped over recent years. In fact, as Paul demonstrated, the majority of young adults don't use drugs or alcohol at all. The tactic here was to present a version of 'normal' that counters the widespread assumption that ‘everyone is doing this, so I should too'.

There was much sensible advice about managing parties, sleepovers, and numerous other issues and I encourage you to explore the esources on their website for more. 

All well and good, and much to reassure here. But, it was also a very uncomfortable evening.

A wake-up call for parents

Despite an overall drop in alcohol usage, Paul pointed out a large jump in alcohol usage and ‘risky’ behavior in Year 10 students. The reason according to him? Poor parenting in the years prior, especially Year 9.

Here's a few additional points he gave about parenting throughout the night. Parents need to:

  • Say ‘no’ because that’s our job
  • Model desirable behaviours (apparently some studies are showing that modeling effects children from before the age of 3)
  • Be a parent and not our child’s ‘best friend’

This last point was further reinforced in an interview I read with the psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg almost immediately after the event…a strange coincidence?

In both instances, an authoritative approach to parenting was suggested as the way forward: a mix of clear boundaries accompanied by warmth, and the assurance of love and support, as opposed to simply rules or indiscriminate support.

The task in front of Christian parents

The issues concerning alcohol usage are important, but I was also reminded how applicable these matters are when applied to our children’s faith.

Both what we say and what we do matters when it comes to our children and their relationship with the Lord. I was reminded again of the importance of not only teaching but also modeling the practices of faith … prayer, reading the bible, repentance and forgiveness. This is the context within which conversations about other matters, such as alcohol consumption, can fruitfully take place. 

There are no silver bullets here. Parenting, to quote Eugene Peterson, is a long obedience in the same direction, underwritten by fervent prayer for our children to our heavenly Father. 

Few Christian parents report being encouraged in their parenting and hearing Biblical teaching about it. And yet in most churches there are still many opportunities and resources around to do this … not the least a great cloud of Christian parents who have gone before us with varying degrees of success and the accompanying war stories. 

What this means for our churches and families

Children's and youth ministers should avoid the temptation (often encouraged structurally?) to see their ministries in isolation from parents, but rather as a means to support the primary care and Christian nurture of children and youth in the context of families.

Parents should resist the temptation to simply ‘outsource’ the Christian growth and nurture of their children to the highly competent children’s and youth ministry teams in their local context. They should give thanks for this (to both the Lord and the individuals involved) but realise that all the data we have shows that parents are still the most significant factor in the Christian growth of their children.

I am concerned about the issues facing my children such as alcohol usage. I am concerned about young people and their faith in a world that appears to be increasingly discouraging it. I am challenged to consider again that one of the keys to helping my children with both issues is taking my own parenting seriously. 

And I pray for God's help to both walk and talk the Christian faith at home, striking that balance between warmth and appropriate boundaries as I relate to my children. 

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