Wanna Really Help Kids? Help Their Parents
4 Ways You Can Help Today’s Parents
by Jonathan McKee
Any guess as to who has the biggest influence on teens today?
How about Mom and Dad?
In my youth leader training workshops, I often begin with a quiz. In the last couple years I used this as one of the quiz questions:
What makes young people the most happy?
Then I gave a selection of answers to choose from:
- Spending time with friends
- Spending time with family
- Spending time with significant other
- Playing sports
- Receiving colorful Christmas sweaters from Aunt Judy
Which answer would you choose?
The answer comes from an Associated Press study of young people between the ages of 13 and 24. In this survey, one of the questions they asked young people was, “What makes you happy?”
The answer knocked everyone out of their chairs.
In my seminar participants almost always choose spending time with friends or a significant other. Good guesses. Those actually were the second and third most popular answers.
The number one answer? Spending time with family.
But perhaps you’re thinking this is a fluke thing. Maybe the study’s just old. Do Mom and Dad actually make an impact today?
Dr. Ross Campbell, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at University of Tennessee College of Medicine, wrote an amazing book titled, How to Really Love Your Child. I can’t emphasize it better than him:
Many parents feel no matter how good a job they do, their efforts have little overall effect upon their child. Just the opposite is true. Every study I’ve read indicates that the home wins hands down in every case. The influence of parents far outweighs everything else. The home holds the upper hand in determining how happy, secure, and stable a child is: how a child gets along with adults, peers, and different children, how confident a youngster is in himself and his abilities: how affectionate he is or how aloof: how he responds to unfamiliar situations. Yes, the home, despite many distractions for a child, has the greatest influence on him or her.
The home wins, hands down.
Is Dr. Campbell alone?
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse published a repeated study about the importance of ‘family dinners.’ Why would a group of scholars doing research on drugs and alcohol abuse write a report about families getting together around the dinner table? I’ll let them explain:
What we have learned is that parental engagement in children’s lives is fundamental to keeping children away from tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and that parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose not to use substances.
But forget all these studies for a minute. Let me ask you, a youth worker on the front lines, from your observation, how about when you observe the exact opposite? How much of an effect do you see in a kid’s life when Mom and Dad are not there?
- Describe the mental health of the girl in your youth group whose daddy isn’t there for her, building into her self-esteem, affirming her for her creativity, cheering her on at her softball games, and telling her she’s beautiful when she’s walking out the door to school?
- How would you describe the young man whose mom emasculates him daily in front of his friends?
- How much does Mom and Dad’s divorce effect their kids?
I think you get my point.
Mom and Dad’s influence are huge.
Yes, entertainment media and friends have a huge effect on young people, but often those influences only gain leverage when parents lose leverage.
So would you like to help the kids in your ministry? Help their parents!
Here’s a few ways you can help:
1. Put help in their hands
If you ever see a good article helping parents understand and raise their kids better, get it into their hands. Frequent sites like TheSource4Parents.com and SUBSCRIBE to their free Parenting Help articles. Look at some of these recent articles and ask yourselves, “Would these be a help to the parents in our ministry?”
All those articles are free and easy to share with parents, just like our PARENT TIPS podcast. . .also free. These podcasts are just 12 minutes and have touched on some very helpful parenting topics already like “4 unintended results of shaming” or “responding to our kids’ doubts.”
Don’t be afraid to recommend helpful books as well, either current parenting books or books for young people that parents can use to open up a dialogue on important topics like screen time or social media.
Put help in their hands. But also…
2. Keep the communication channels open
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated communication about my kids from their youth pastor, teachers and small group leaders. No, not just some bulk email, but specifics about my kid.
“I’m taking our small group to ice cream this week and we’re putting our phones in the middle of the table—first one to touch it has to pay the tip! We’re going to talk about the draw of social media.”
How cool that I know my daughter talked about social media that night and I can continue the conversation, asking, “So who was the first to grab their phone?”
I still remember years ago when our middle school pastor walked up to me and said, “Your daughter Alyssa is such a joy. . .” then he went into specifics about Alyssa. This young man (in his twenties) and his wife didn’t have kids of their own, but they constantly talked with us about our kids and asked if they could be any help. This created an open dialogue—truly a two way street—where I know I could approach him anytime about my kids.
3. Offer fun events for families
At least once a year offer a “family night” during youth group or on a weekend where the whole family is invited. Play fun games where parents and kids compete against each other or that give kids a glimpse into a fun side of their parent. Show kids that you value parents and show parents how much you value their kids!
4. Provide educational events
The church is one of the best places to provide training and encouragement for today’s parents, so host a teaching series helping Mom and Dad parent today’s kids. If you don’t want to do it yourself, bring in a speaker who teaches parent workshops regularly and equips them with helpful tips.
When you help parents, you help the people who are truly making the biggest daily impact in the lives of today’s young people.
What are you doing to help parents in your church?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.