Category Archives: Idols

8 Things Parents Can Do Now To Shape The Teens Years Ahead

I can’t tell you how often I hear from parents of elementary age children or younger (babies even) how fearful they are for the teen years ahead. I get it. In today’s selfie world of cell phones and social media what we experienced growing up is intensified for our teens. So it is daunting to consider what they may be faced with and how to help them navigate through it.  But it is also a huge opportunity.

An opportunity is how I chose to view it way back when I was a young mom and first read Paul Tripp’s book Age of Opportunity. At that time my husband was a family pastor leading a group of parents of teens through the book and I joined in. I’ve read it several times since then, but from the get-go what I carried away is I can either dread the years ahead or approach them as an opportunity to significantly shape their lives.

Instead of living in fear and dreading what might be, this idea of opportunity has enabled me to press on through the turbulent times with a grander perspective in mind. I think of my daughter’s battle with an eating disorder and while I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through it I see God’s goodness in it to shape and grow her (and me). It was an opportunity; to see it that way was not easy.

As believers we are called to shift our eyes from the here and now to the hope of what’s to come. It’s no different with parenting. We must look beyond the peace, fun or ease we long for today, and set our treasure on something far greater for them and us. So whether you are standing at the cusp of middle school or still in the diaper days, don’t wait to adopt this opportunity mindset. There are many practical everyday things parents of younger kids can do to lay the groundwork for the teen years ahead.

Of course, our tendency is to think if we just follow the right steps everything will work out how we want, but that is just not true. We can do everything right, or nothing right – ultimately God is the one ruling and reigning over the lives of our children, and ours. So I hesitantly give you eight things to be mindful of now, but hope you will put your trust in him and not in your own “work” as a parent.

  1. Create categories for understanding their heart. Talk about sin as idolatry- whatever rules their hearts is what they functionally look to for “life” instead of God. Even if your child is too young to understand, remember teaching precedes understanding. If they already know the terminology and have been trained to think deeper about what is going on in their hearts, the conversations will naturally go deeper as they grow older.
  2. Live redemptively in your home. This means owning up to your own sin instead of hiding it, dismissing it or justifying it. Let your kids hear you confess and ask for forgiveness. Tell them how unlike Jesus you are, which is why we need him. When they know mom and dad need a Savior, it will help them see their own need to live dependently on Jesus.
  3. Shepherd hearts rather than police behavior. If you’re only concerned about having an outwardly well-behaved kid and punish/address the external behavior without going under the surface to see what is driving the behavior, you will simply put band-aids on the real issue. By the time they become teens they may master the art of “appearing” godly, but their heart may be far from him. So you’ve got to deal with the root sin (the idolatry) of what is controlling their heart to lead them in deeper dependence on Jesus.
  4. Seek to understand and love them for who they are rather than conform them to who you want them to be. Sometimes when our children have different personalities or interests than ours we try to push upon them the way we do things, or our hobbies. Without meaning to this can make them feel shame for not measuring up to your standard or for being more like their sibling. If they do have similar interests, do not make them feel like they are in competition to your previous successes. Their performance is not why you love them, but if they grow up thinking it is the idol of performance and perfection can drive them to despair as teenagers.
  5. Learn to say NO! Your child does not need everything he/she asks for. They also don’t need to do what everyone else is doing, or to be constantly entertained. Teach your children discipline. Allow them unscheduled time to be creative. And impress upon them an attitude of gratitude. You do not want entitled teenagers. But if you don’t ever tell them no, they will grow up to expect to be catered to.
  6. Slow down. Your kids will want to be older than they are, but they will get there sooner than you want (and sooner than they actually want too as our college daughter discovered). There is no need to overload the activities and enter the competitive sports world too young. They will burn out. You will be too busy. And you will miss out on time you will never regain. You control the schedule; don’t let their schedule rule you because once you start it is really hard to go back.
  7. Prioritize family time. This seems obvious, but as kids get older the more friends and activities do take over. Easily every family member can be going in all different directions. So work now to make home a safe haven and a fun place they want to be with you and their siblings. It is the family relationships that carry on with them for all of life. Again it’s okay (and necessary at times) to buck what everyone else is doing to protect your time for family and church.
  8. Identify with them. If you want your kids to talk (really talk) when they are teenagers, you’ve got to start now.  Pay attention. Ask probing questions. Put your device down. Cut short the lecture. Most importantly when they share their sin, don’t act shocked. Reassure them of your love, identify with them in their struggles and be willing to walk the hard road with them. And always remind them who Jesus is for them is who they are.

Remember none of this is a prescription, but comes from what I’ve learned. And one thing I’ve learned is we are all in the same boat, growing in grace together.

Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World is now available and though the primary audience is teen girls I believe it will benefit moms of younger kids to read too. 
For a great book to help shape categories for little ones to understand their hearts, check out an old favorite of ours: Big Truths for Little Kids.

ABC’s 20/20 “Digital Addiction” Review

Who are we without our cell phones?  I know I’m as guilty of cell phone addiction as my teenagers at times! Like for many, my phone is my calendar, to do list, reminder, notes, contacts, music, photos and a plethora of other apps, including of course social media. And while it is convenient, I admit, my phone often distracts me from fully-focused face time interaction!

In addition to cell phones and social media, an abundance of other electronics – in particular obsessive gaming among adult men – are contributing to our disconnected, disengaged selfie-society. To this end,  ABC’s 20/20 aired a “Digitial Addiction” special highlighting the seriousness of technology’s effect on individuals and families.  Reporter Elizabeth Vargas followed three families’ intervention stories with their family member so addicted to a device it was destroying their daily lives. Through interviews and video diaries, we the viewers were given the behind the scenes look at the individuals’ obsessive behaviors.

Considering my own research on technology use among teens, I’m rarely surprised by statistics on the topic. However, I was quite surprised by the dad so addicted to his video games that he had checked out from his family.  It actually gave me a scary glimpse of possible future realities for a generation of kids whose day-long and into the night playing is something we passively accept. For this dad, it was his unwinding time; his de-stressor. Well, that’s fine in its proper place, but he was leaving his wife to solely tend to their four young children all evening, every evening before she retreated off to bed alone.

In another family the teenage son’s gaming addiction kept him holed up in his room. He got angry and was disrespectful to his parents whenever they asked him to get off.  This in itself signaled another alarming trend with detrimental future consequences, and that is: entitlement. The 20/20 special didn’t hit on entitlement, but in not telling our kids “no” or laying down/enforcing rules we have allowed them to take the reigns of control that leads to a path of being controlled by their idols. (As I’ve fequently written, when anything is elevated to a place in our lives that rules or controls us, it is an idol.)

The third featured family was dealing with a teenage daughter’s phone addiction that included sexting strangers.  While sending inappropriate pictures is happening waaaay more frequently than most of us realize, the constant checking her phone, fear of missing out, staying on her phone well into the night and anxiety without her phone that could describe amost any teenager today. So it struck me  that what was dubbed as “extreme”  behavior has actually been accepted as normal.

None of these individuals realized (or cared) how self-centered and disconnected from their families they had become. So to help them re-engage relationally and sever dependence, a device detox was ordered. Many times this is absolutely necessary. My own daughter at times has deleted her social media. And quite frankly I think it’s needed for more parents to enforce limitations and restrictions on devices for their good and the good of the family.

But at the same time for true heart change, we must address the root behind the ruling idols and addictions. On the surface a cell phone or play station (money or material possessions) may appear to be the problem, but eliminating it from our lives doesn’t change the underneath desires that point to what really rules a heart.

To get there we need to ask probing questions. For instance…

  • Why did the girl have to have her  phone? Because of her fear of missing out and not wanting to feel disconnected.
  • Why was she so afraid of missing out? Perhaps it was a fear of looking bad, experiencing rejection, or not getting the attention she craved.
  • Could it be the reason she wanted attention – to make a name for herself – was in order to feel her worth? What she needed was to hear who Jesus is for her. In him she is perfectly accepted, valued and loved.

For the two consumed with the video games, one sought to escape from life, not wanting to deal with the chaos and responsibility of his household; basically an unwillingness to die to himself. He was looking for “life” in his own pleasure. For the other, he turned to his games as an escape to a virtual world, perhaps out of fear of engaging in real world relationships, or being known.

So we can take away social media or a game console (again, at times necessary), but whatever it is at the core will likely resurface in a new or more extreme way later if we don’t deal with the heart – whatever the ruling desires driving the behavior.  Otherwise, we will only be putting bandaids on the real issues.

Uncovering the sin beneath the sin is not easy, but it is good.  It takes seeing our sin as the idolatry it is in order to see our deep need of the One who rescues us from slavery and sets us free. Only living dependent on him (and nothing else) will we find the true life we seek.

Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World comes out Monday! To receive it next week, click: here. Link to 20/20 Digital Addiction special here.

What Teen Boys Battle Just like the Girls (and Adults too!)

In 2015 I conducted an online anonymous teen survey that spread nationwide. I created the survey after learning how social media had negatively contributed to my own daughter’s sense of worth and belief that if she was struggling so many other teenagers must be too. I was right. This data collected is the backbone of my new book.

The original survey went to both girls and boys, but after talking to my publisher about the heart-breaking and eye-opening information filling my inbox we decided to hone in on just the girls. But it absolutely does not mean teen boys are not also struggling. They are… maybe even more unnoticed.

Everything I wrote in Face Time is everything boys need to hear too. I know that from the survey results, and more personally because I have two teenage boys.  Therefore, I felt like I needed to write this post to say that while Face Time is for girls it does not mean boys are immune to struggles with identity and worth. In fact, the content of Part I of Face Time is as applicable to a teen boy, as a teen girl or an adult man or woman. This is because no matter who we are, our hearts are the same!

By God’s design we long for approval, acceptance and love. But we were made to know and feel our worth perfectly in his absolute approval, irrevocable acceptance and loyal love.  But we think his approval, acceptance and love is not enough. So instead of resting secure in who Jesus is for us, we try to secure our worth by gaining the approval, acceptance, attention and love of others.

We do this by looking to our appearance, performance, achievements and status as the qualifier for how well, or how poorly we fair. For a teen boy it may play out like this…

  • He feels inadequate not playing on the “A” team or varsity so he tries to prove his worth and gain the acceptance of others by bragging about how good he really is. The may be coupled with how unfair tryouts were and by talking smack about the guy in the position he covets. By tearing the other guy down he seeks to elevate himself so others accept him; think more highly of him.
  • He is insecure about some aspect of his appearance, so he overcompensates by acting as the class clown. But by drawing attention to himself and receiving laughs what he seeks is to know his worth. To know he’s okay despite his perceived flaws.
  • He is excluded from a social gathering, and retreats into himself, secretly feeling like a nobody. He may blame the others (and there is no doubt kids can be mean), but his own idol is looking to the approval or inclusion of others as the basis of his worth.
  • He gives into peer pressure -starts drinking, smoking pot, having sex – in an effort to look/be cool or to fit in.  Appearing cool, or rebellious, gains him the approval, friends and popularity he craves, which is where he looks to find his identity and worth.
  • He asks for nude pictures from a girl and then shares them in the locker room. Because of the so-called respect he gets from the guys, he too feels cool. At the girl’s expense, his own status and felt worth is increased. On the flip-side her reason for sharing the pictures also stem from a longing for approval and love, which is unpacked further in Face Time.

As parents we can’t take everything at face value. We have to get to the heart (the root) of why they do what they do, and see it for what it is – the idol that’s ruling them.  Whatever it is they (or we) turn to for identity and worth, to fill us, to give us security apart from God is an idol. Uncovering these idols and seeing them as sin is hard, but necessary and good.

Until our kids (and again, us) see how deeply entrenched our sin is – that it’s not just bad external behavior, but our inner desires, motives and idolatry – we miss seeing how deep our need of Jesus’ worth and work for us really is. Therefore, our view of Jesus rises and falls on how much (or little) we need him.

I don’t know about you, but more than my sons’ happiness and success, I want them to become men who know they need Jesus, live under his smile and desire to please him not out of duty, but delightTo get there, my job must be to help them peel back the layers of why they do what they do to see what rules them. And then point them to Jesus.

It is his perfect performance – not theirs – that their true identity must be rooted in.  When it is:  They won’t have to try to assert, defend or prove themselves, work to impress others or try harder to measure up. They won’t have to live threatened by others’ accomplishments or less than in comparison. And while they will experience disappointment, hurt feelings and rejection (just as teen girls do) my prayer is it won’t define them or rock their core because they will know their secure identity and worth in Christ.

For us as parents, being rooted in Christ means we can live free of tying our worth to our kids successes and/or failures and worrying what other people think. We can live loved – fully accepted, knowing we have the absolute approval of the King. And when we do, may his love and acceptance of us drive us to be compassionate toward others in their sin.  For our kids too, let’s encourage them to reach out to love (not ostracize and judge) those seeking an identity in all the wrong places. Because when we know our own sinful heart tendencies and God’s goodness to us despite it, we should be people of grace and mercy who speak to the hope and security found only in Christ.

If you woud like to further unpack the content of this blog for yourself and to help speak into your kids's hearts, Face Time may be the book for you (even if you don't have a teen daughter). To preorder click: here.