Dear Small Group Leader,

I used to know everything there was to know about parenting . . . until I become one. It’s an old line, and incredibly overused. But it’s still true.

There’s nothing like the responsibility of raising a child into adulthood to bring out every fear, anxiety and neurosis in your average, capable man or woman. And there’s something about parenting a teenager that heightens that to a new level for many. We use a term in the Orange world called “end in mind” and it’s looking ahead to a child’s adult life. For the parent of a teenager, that view is on the horizon.

If you’re a Small Group Leader leading teens, let me take you on the journey inside the parent of a teenager’s head. Here are a few thoughts that some parents deal with, and I’m sure if you asked a parent, you could add to this list.

• The older my child gets, the more limited I am in leading my child spiritually.
You may think that leading my child spiritually is my job, and it is, but when every word out of my mouth makes my child’s skin crawl and eyes roll, I’m limited here. I have moments to share truth, not scheduled times. I will do it. But consider that it may not look like what you expect it to like look. And I value you that you are a consistent place, with a voice my child listens to, where God’s truth is shared.

• I don’t know what I’m doing.
I’ve been writing for teens for about 15 years, but now that I’m parenting a teen, I realize how little I know about teens. Many times I feel like I’m making this stuff up as I go. This is all new to me. I’ve never parented a teenager before, and even if I had, it doesn’t mean that it’s not different with a different child. I’m stumbling my way through this, sometimes doing it well, and sometimes not. Give me grace. Every decision that seemed so clear when I didn’t have a teen is so much more complicated when I add the emotional factor in. This is my kid. I am the dad. I carry a great weight around.

• It’s different than parenting a toddler.
While I understand the challenges of parenting a young child, I’m playing in a different league now than I did when my boys were younger. (Although sometimes they do behave like toddlers.) The stakes are higher. There is more on the line. And I’m trying to walk that fine line between parenting/giving guidance and letting my child succeed/fail on his own.

• I need you.
I need you desperately. I will continue to fight for my kid’s heart, but despite every idealistic notion I had of parenting, a teenager wants someone other than his/her parent to talk to. You can tell them the same things I tell them and it carries more weight. I can tell him, “nice shirt” or “good job” at the game, and I will, but when you say it, it means a lot too. They hear it differently.

• Keep me informed.
I like details. But there is a reason why I need information. I need to know the details of a sleepover, event or whatever else is going on because my child isn’t just an individual, but part of a family. We have plans and other people’s commitments to work around. And some weeks not much left in the wallet. My child may not be able to make it to every event. But when you keep me informed, you let me plan ahead, save up, whatever I need to do to coordinate things.

• Our lives are busy.
I love church. I think it’s important for my kids to be at church. I think it’s important for me to be at church. But I don’t think that I’m supposed to be at church seven days a week. I want my kids to have time at home with family, to play in the yard with siblings, to be involved in sports, to do homework. I see all of those places as places for their faith in Christ to develop and grow, not just inside the walls of the church.

As a Small Group Leader,  you have a hard job. As a parent, I have a hard job, too We both know those blank stares that come when you are trying to impart something important. We both know that sometimes it’s difficult to build a connection with a teen. We have a lot in common.

So don’t be afraid to reach out to us. Don’t be afraid to partner with us. We want you to win, and we hope that feeling is mutual. This isn’t a competition, this is a partnership. And one of the ways to build that partnership is to understand one another. So listen to our hearts, pray for us. We’ll do the same for you.

Tim Walker

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