An Open Letter to Parents from Youth Ministers or Investment Update

February 19, 2014 — 40 Comments

(I have not written on the blog in a while mainly because I have been working on an exciting new book that I will tell you more about in the coming weeks.  While there has been blog silence I have had some time to observe youth ministry around the country as well as in my own context and have decided to write an open letter about what I have observed.  This letter is not from all youth ministers and it is not to all parents, but I think it speaks to most)

 

Dear Parents,

We love your kids.

We love them enough to send you this letter.

Your youth are in a bad place.  We have never seen a generation of teenagers who are more stressed, full of anxiety, depressed, suicidal, over committed, over medicated, over worked and over extra-curriculared, and it is killing them, sometimes literally.  We know you want the best for them, the best grades, the best college, the best teams, performances, standardized scores, friend groups etc.  We all want the best for them.  But they are not the best at everything and they will never be the best at everything.  I was not, you were not and they will not stand atop the podium in every area they compete.  As I watch the Olympics I have thought a lot about what it takes to get to the Olympics, let alone what it takes to get to the top of that podium. It takes incredible amounts of raw talent, dedication, work, and single-mindedness about that discipline.  Unfortunately we see many parents pushing these standards and unrealistic expectations of every area of their kids lives.  They cannot do it all, they cannot handle the stress and are being crushed under the weight of the expectation. Now, please hear me, it is not just your expectation, it is the expectation of their coaches, teachers, administrators, colleges and the expectations of each other.  Expectations are good, they cause us to rise above where we, alone, would usually strive.  But they must be realistic expectations based on each student.

Your kids are probably not going to Harvard, and that is ok.

Your kids are probably not going to play a professional sport, and that is ok.

But your kids can be amazing, productive, courageous and wonderful human beings, who love, have passions and dreams; should we really want more than that?

Our culture is moving to a place where parents are told that they are not allowed to be the ones who determined the limits, balances and expectations of their kids.

When kids come home with 3+ hours of homework every night, you should not accept that, it is not reasonable.

When kids have to practice a sport all summer, every week so that you cannot take a family vacation or send them on a mission trip because the coach threatens them that they will not play, that is not acceptable.

When you have to beg your kids to get off the computer or video game, or to see their phone, you should remember there should never be any begging involved.

You should set the priorities for your children, you are the ones who determine their schedules, you are the ones who are ultimately responsible for balance in their lives while they are under your roof.  This is not only your right it is your calling and your responsibility as a parent.

You are not powerless in ANY of these situations.  Get enough parents together to talk to the administration about the amounts of homework.

Pull enough stars from the football team.

Disconnect their phone.

I guarantee you that will bring all parties to the table.

Now, I am a youth minister.  I have been in youth ministry for 16 years.  It has not always been this way, trust me.  Also know when I talk about a balanced life, I am not excluding their spirituality.  There was an article written a few months back that compared youth ministry and church to an elective or extra-curricular.  I think that is generous at best.

Most parents and students take electives and extra-curriculars much more seriously than they do regular involvement in a faith community.

Now, do not get me wrong the lip service is there.  “I want to be at youth on Sunday night but I have too much homework” “I wish my child could go on the mission trip but they have football” “I really want them to be in church but they just have too many things going on right now”

Lets stop playing the game.

If you really want them there, you can make it happen.  If a student really wants to be at church or youth group homework will not get in their way, it doesn’t get in the way of basketball, show choir or act prep classes.

Why?

Because we value those things, we love those things and we are committed to those things.

I will argue you that we are over investing in each of these things and are under investing in the long term spirituality of our youth.  If it is a priority, them make it one, if not that is ok but do not make excuses about it.  We will respect you a lot more if you do not apologize about your priorities and often try to make us feel bad that your student cannot find 1 hour a week to come to one of the 10 things we offer.

Balance also means not creating kids who spend every waking moment at church.  We are not asking you to have them there 5 times a week.  They need other communities, activities and things that balance their life.  Sports, academics, the arts etc. are all wonderful things as long as they are balanced.

We want you and your student to commit to 1 or 2 things a week that will feed them spiritually and give them the opportunity to engage in a community of faith, the way their faith calls them to.  Youth group junkies are not what we are trying to create, and is not why this article is written.

Finally, we want to tell you that we know it is hard.  We know these decisions are not easy and you have the enormous weight of cultural and societal expectation bearing down on you.  But know this..

We as youth ministers and clergy are here to help you.  To support you.  To join with you as we push back against this culture of excess and strive to bring sanity back to our kids and our families lives.  We want this, for us, for our communities and for you.  We want families and students and parents to have sabbath, not so you can refuel but so you can rest.  We want balance, not so you can add church on to your list of to do’s but so you can have time and bandwidth to live out your faith.  We want this, not to make you feel guilty, but to help you reclaim your kids lives, their schedule and your calendar.  Ultimately we want this because we love you, we see you suffering and we want to help.

Let’s do this together.

Pax,
Stephen Ingram (and a lot of other youth ministers who care)

 CLICK HERE FOR THE FOLLOW UP POST

 

Stephen Ingram

Posts

40 responses to An Open Letter to Parents from Youth Ministers or Investment Update

  1. Well said Stephen. Thank you.

  2. Well written, wish I said it myself…would love to send to my youth parents!!!

  3. Well said Stephen. Thanks for speaking truth and being a voice of reason.

  4. Amazing letter. I wish the parents of my youth could read this. It seems to me that the youth would like to cut down on some commitments, but their parents don’t want them to. I’ve been a youth minister for over 30 years, and this “busyness” trend is disturbing.

  5. I am sorry, but the solution is not for parents to farm out their kids to the youth ministers once or twice a week. The answer is for parents to take on the responsibility of raising their kids in the faith each day in the home. The whole farm your kids out for everything is the trouble and this letter only perpetuates the problem.

    • Philip, I don’t see that at all in this blog. I see a man saying balance is the key. I have preached that for many years. My husband & I have been married for 37 years & have been in ministry for 37 years. We saw this when we started out our ministry leading students before my husband became a senior pastor. Now, we travel & teach on prayer. I agree it is the parents first & foremost responsibility to both discipline & disciple our children. We did with our now grown daughters, but youth need to be involved with their church-youth group. We saw the beginning of this 37 years ago when parents wouldn’t let their middle school daughter attend Disciple Now because she needed to study but would let her miss Wednesday night to practice for Cheerleader tryouts. Balance is very important in ours lives & teaching it to our children. We will stand before God one day & answer for the way we led our children.

    • Actually, the “1 or 2 things a week that will feed them spiritually” could probably include such activities as families doing acts of service together. That is not “farming” them out. I think the writer was pretty balanced in his comments; in fact, if you read the end, he clearly states that youth ministry exists as “support,” not to be in charge of our kids’ lives. I get your point, though. Some parents are too afraid of saying no to their kids, or perhaps of being totally responsible for them. Too busy chasing their own desires, maybe? I don’t know. I really can’t answer for anyone but myself, but I surely do appreciate the thoughts in this letter to parents.

      • Thanks Sharon, yeah, the one or two things a week is really about them intentionally engaging their faith in their community of faith. I think this has to come both in family ministry as well as being in worship sitting between the Babies and the Blue hairs as well. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Couldn’t agree more that we should not farm it out. You might want to go back and read this article a little closer, you will find that is not what it suggests at all, actually right the opposite. Phillip, I hope you will go back and give it a second, closer look.

  6. Thanks for the post. It was a good read…I reposted it on facebook on my main page and on our parents page.

  7. Think I would like a blog by Philip Hoppe better :). Every ministry is different and each circumstance is unique however on this blog it misses what we are called to do. Make Disciples of Jesus. You want to enrich their lives and make them better? Send them to Boys and Girls club of America. You want to make disciples? Teach them the truth about heaven. Teach them to defend their faith. Teach them to share their faith. Give them weapons not excuses. Let the parents do the parenting…

    • hmmm interesting, not sure how you get that this misses the fact that families should own and support the faith of their children. Also, I am not sure you really read it either. Also, I am against giving them weapons and excuses, ha ha.

      • I did read if I just didn’t agree with it. When in a small town Ministry you find that 1/2 of the youth are the only Christian in their family. I do think parents should support their kids but many are from a broken home. So instead of sending a letter to the parents I would write one to the future version of themselves. Remember to teach their kids of God’s ultimate love in the form of Christ. Pass down their faith as described in Deuteronomy 6:7. The chances of changing this generation of parents is far less than changing the next.

        • Hey Neal, I think I understand you better now, thanks for the clarification. If you are talking about cultural Christianity, that is not something that is isolated in just small towns, we experience it all over our country. The counter argument is that the VAST majority of a students spirituality and faith is not coming from a church or a youth ministry, it is coming directly from their parents, (National Study of Youth and Religion in Soul Searching;Smith and Almost Christian; Dean) So in order to engage our students spirituality and develop their faith we cannot just do it through our relationships with them as youth ministers, it must come through the parents as well. The best youth ministry is family ministry. I do like the idea of the letter to the future versions of themselves but I believe, and scholarship on the spirituality of students suggests, they best and most effective course of action is parents. This letter was also to parents because they are facing many if not more of the same pressures as their kids. In my ministry I work with Parents as much as I work with youth, they are hurting too. I wrote this letter from a lot of those conversations, to people who I deeply care about and consider friends. Have you read Soul Searching, Almost Christian or (shameless plug) Hollow Faith? All are books that dive into some of these subjects.

  8. I am a fellow youth minister with young children. I am not sure I feel like I can speak with authority on this since I haven’t had to navigate these waters with my own kids. Have you? Just curious how this looks in your own life with your children. Please share.

    • Good question, I have three kids, they are all younger than youth age but the pressures are already starting. A lot of the pressure at their age is coming from too many good opportunities. My wife and I are are trying to work and to set the pace and tone even now so that when they are older and have even more pressure there is already a precedent and pace by which they live their lives. I hope this helps!

  9. I am a mom and a minister. I agree with points made here, but really wish you had backed off on the preachy tone toward parents. Parents are get this sort of preaching from the coaches, the teachers, the media. Is it possible to take a gentler tone with parents? Where’s your compassion for them?

    • I have heard from loads of parents from this post and all have said thanks for encouragement and empowerment. Maybe you misread and misunderstood my tone, this is an article that hurts for parents and their kids and wants them to stop being held hostage by unrealistic expectations and unreasonable schedules. Sorry if you read it through any other lens than compassion.

  10. Great article. Thank you.

  11. Well said. It is what I have been thinking and you said it so well. Thank you

  12. Great thoughts. As youth ministers, we have to be faithful to disciple and evangelize…along with support, encourage, and help those entrusted to us navigate the rough waters of their teenage years. It would be great if parents fought for our youth ministries and supported them as much as they do school activities and hobbies. In being both a youth minister and parent of a college student, a teenager, and two elementary age children, I completely understand the difficult job of balancing life. My children take a stand, sometimes even more firmly than I would ask of them, for their faith and service to Jesus to be first priority and everyone or everything else gets in line behind. For a parent, it is a choice and a life lesson to instill. It can be done and children not only survive but thrive in their faith when they learn to prioritize Jesus first. They will, for the most part, live what they see modeled before them. So asking for help and cooperation from parents and reminding them it’s possible and necessary is a good thing.

  13. Hey. I loved your article and agree with it fully. Kids are very stressed out today, and it is our culture that pushes them, constantly. What are we teaching kids? That to be happy in life you need to push for the top, constantly in your life. I know plenty of adults who are “at the top”, and they don’t appear happy to me. I think we are missing the mark in our culture, and balance definitely is missing. Thanks again!

  14. Very good article. I would say that our family is exactly who you are writing about. We do value sports and extra activities and spend a great deal of time doing those things. I would only ask that you wouldn’t assume that we aren’t also investing in our family’s spiritual growth…just in different ways. We see the sports field as a mission field. We visit other churches when we travel for sports. Our children pray and share their faith with children who do not live spiritual lives. I always think back to Tim Tebow when this subject arises. I know for a fact he was not always sitting in the pew at First Baptist Jacksonville. I know for a fact that he missed a good number of youth events at his church. I would hate to think he would have chosen not to pursue football with his God given abilities and missed out on sharing his faith with the entire world. Are my kids destined to play at a high level? I have no idea but I assure you we look for all kinds of ways to grow spiritually in this family. It’s a full time job but isn’t that what being a Christian is all about? I totally understand the article and it is spot on! I just think we aren’t all destined to be exactly alike in our schedules and lives.

    • Thanks Marci, I am not sure whether this article is written for you or not, that would be for you to decide. It sounds like you make it a priority to keep your practices and help your kids understand that their faith is very much an everyday part of their lives. One of the things to remember about this letter is that it is not just talking about sports, it is more of a culture where there are entirely too many demands on our students and families and unattainable levels of excellence is placed on each area of their lives. From what you have written here it does not sound like that is what you guys are doing. Thanks for helping with this clarification, good stuff here!

  15. While I agree with most of what’s being conveyed in this post (especially in terms of the enormous pressures teenagers face today), what’s often ignored when talking about a holistic approach to faith/spiritual formation in the home is the simple fact that the nuclear family has drastically changed over the past 20-30 years, and continues to do so. The assignment of prioritization might provide a nice band-aid, but certainly not a long term solution to the widespread decline in congregational attendance and participation (in all realms of ministry), which, if I’m reading your post correctly, would be the direct result of over-scheduled and disinterested teenagers (and parents).

    Maybe the problem isn’t that teenagers (and adults alike) aren’t simply choosing to be present for spiritual formation opportunities at church, youth group, etc. Maybe the problem is that we actually expect teenagers (and adults alike) to choose our often burned out and irrelevant models of ministry over making better grades, being a better athlete, or simply spending more time with their friends.

    • I totally agree that churches must work hard and provide excellent well thought out and executed programs (if you are interested more, I actually work as a consultant for an amazing company that does this all over the nation) but this article is not about how to get students to youth group. It is about achieving balance in their lives, in which a faith community is an important part.

  16. I agree 100% thanks

  17. Lots of good points. School is full of pressure these days. Kids are encouraged to start “building their resume” in high school now. Georgia 8th graders are mandated to plan out their entire high school 4-year schedule, choosing a vocational/technology track that will help them prepare for their chosen career. I am not kidding. The schools pressure the parents as much as the students.

    All the schools care about are their statistics–the CRCT, average SAT scores, how many in AP classes, etc. They almost brag about how much homework is required for the AP and Honors classes. “Rigor” is the buzzword. Some schools here start administering the PSAT in 8th grade. (It’s not even counted until 11th grade for National Merit Scholarships!)

    Very hard to buck the trend. (I pulled my eldest out of school one year due to all these problems and homeschooled.) I am a proud “slacker mom” who does not have her kids on any sports teams. It’s tough because obviously the “best” parents have their kids in a half dozen activities. It’s an ongoing, uphill battle to keep life manageable.

  18. Chrystal Smith March 7, 2014 at 11:20 am

    “…a generation of teenagers who are more stressed, full of anxiety, depressed, suicidal, over committed, over medicated, over worked and over extra-curriculared, and it is killing them, sometimes literally.” I think kids believe living this lifestyle is the only way they can get anyone’s attention, especially their parents, and it’s almost competitive when they engage their peers.

    I believe your letter is incredibly relevant and will definitely incorporate it into dialogue with parents and youth in my ministry.

  19. I would add one more thing….PARENTS, stop living your unfulfilled life as a teenager vicariously through your child. YOUR dreams and aspirations may not be theirs…and that’s ok.

Leave a Reply