This is a four-part blog series. Each consecutive day this week will feature Conversation one, Conversation two, Conversation three and Conversation four in both print and video. These excerpts were taken from a chapter written by Axis in Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s upcoming book, The Art of Parenting.
I’d been stumped. We had just finished a rather energetic discussion about the limits a teen’s parents were placing on her phone when she quipped, “The stricter the parent, the sneakier the child.” What a zinger! (Maybe this is why we love working with the next generation so much. They are clever and thoughtful and keep us sharp.) We loved this comment, and we have had a lot of discussions about it at Axis. It’s like a magic trick with words. At first her statement feels true, then it feels false, then you eventually realize there are some hidden assumptions behind her declaration.
Theology of goodness
Here’s the sleight of hand. This teen was assuming, unbeknownst to her, that her parents didn’t have her best interest at heart and, ultimately, that God didn’t have her best interest at heart. So instead of pointing our index fingers at our daughters and saying, “You’re being sneaky,” we need to ask a deeper question. Do you believe that God’s path is good? Do you believe that it leads to life, flourishing, joy, and meaning? G. K. Chesterton posits, “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”
And if their index fingers are pointed back at us, and they say with hot tears on their cheeks, “You are being too strict!” it might be good to self-reflect: Do my kids know I have their best interests at heart? Do they know I am safe, quick to forgive, and eager to reconcile? And here’s the real mind-grenade (thanks to Bob Lepine, cohost of FamilyLife Today, for that term) to reflect upon: Are you raising a sin concealer or a sin confessor? The only way to know the answer to this question is to ask yourself, Do I model confession and forgiveness to my children? This all contributes to the fourth conversation that you need to reinforce consistently: You can tell me anything.
The “I’m Not Shocked” Face
You need to consistently tell your children that you love them, that you want what’s best for them, and that they can tell you anything. If you don’t, it will be virtually impossible to have tough conversations with them in which they are honest. There will be some awkward conversations you’ll wish you could avoid, but if they don’t hear the truth from you, who’s going to tell them? Here’s a parenting secret from a couple of genius parents: Use your “I’m not shocked” face whenever you hear something shocking from your child and whenever you need to talk with them about something tough.
Ready to practice your “I’m not shocked” face? Here are some awkward topics you need to consistently bring up with your smartphone-wielding preteens and teens:
- Pornography. We hate to say this, but your children will more than likely see porn, and the average age of exposure keeps getting younger. They need to know that they can talk with you about this, they need to know what to do when they come across it, and they need you to help them define a beautiful view of sexuality.
- Sexting. What may surprise you is that sexting has become a normal part of dating. If you have a daughter, there’s a good chance she will be solicited for nude pictures. What really shocked us is that many girls who are not asked for nudes want boys to ask them. (Are you practicing your “I’m not shocked” face?!) Ultimately, they want to be wanted, and this is how culture is telling them to measure their value. Encourage your children to never send suggestive pictures of themselves, to never pass along suggestive images, and to tell you immediately when they receive them. Let them know that they can blame you in order to scare their friends into not sending them nudes.
- Sneaky apps. Folks, it’s getting worse before it gets better. There are some apps that are designed specifically to deceive parents. Notoriously, the Calculator% app looks like a calculator and works like a calculator, but entering a secret numerical password reveals a hidden folder in which children can hide pictures from their parents. Yep, now’s another good time to practice your “I’m not shocked” face.
- Fake social media accounts. Don’t be surprised if your son or daughter has multiple accounts on the same social media platform. One is for parents (and grandma, too!), and the other is a place to have unmonitored conversations with friends. Ask your children if they have a Finstagram (i.e., a fake Instagram).
- Friends’ phones. Finally, you’ve had enough of (fill in the blank) app. Your son has crossed the line too many times, so you’re going to take his phone away for a long, long time. Or maybe you’re frustrated that your time machine won’t take you back to the 1950s, so you vow to never let your kid have a smartphone. There’s one small problem with both of these situations: Your child will still have access to a phone, either by borrowing a friend’s current phone or by receiving an old phone from a friend who upgrades. On a friend’s phone, your kid can manage social media (Snapstreaks, duh!) and have access to porn, sexts, and all the depths of the internet.
Overwhelmed? Sure, you can go to Goodwill and buy a rotary phone and a VCR, but we encourage you to take a different path in which you courageously pursue your children’s hearts. Frequently remind them of your unshakable love and that you’ve got their backs. Since day one you’ve had their best interests at heart, and no matter what they’re up against, they can come to you for a listening ear, for support, and even to confess their mistakes. Remember to have this conversation: You can tell me anything.
The Most Important Conversation
One of the saddest byproducts of the corrosion of culture is the breakdown of the family. For example, a woman in her early thirties told us, “I’ve had only one real conversation with my dad.” One. Real. Conversation. Are you serious?! When she said this, we were dumbfounded. If the rising generation is having only one real conversation with their parents, no wonder the gospel is being lost in translation! There is a beautiful twist to this story. This woman was not finished. After saying she has had only one real conversation with her dad, she paused, and with a sweet smile said, “We’ve never stopped having that one conversation.”
Wow! She has had a thirty-year conversation with her dad. From the looks of it, her dad is planning on having that “one conversation” with her the rest of their lives. Your child may have an eighteen-month conversation with a youth pastor, a four-year conversation with a favorite coach, or even a ten-year conversation with your pastor. But with you, the parent, he or she can have a sixty-year conversation. No one will ever be more influential than you. It’s sociologically true, it’s historically true, it’s intuitive, and, of course, it’s biblical.
So be a missionary to your kid. By the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, seek to reach into their world, just like Jesus did for all of humanity. This may mean limiting your freedom for a season to join them in a technology fast, or it may mean giving up your phone privacy to lead by example and show that you have nothing to hide. It could also mean downloading Snapchat (or whatever their go-to app is) simply to understand what they love about it. One thing is certain: According to two great parents we know, you need to plan on spending thirty minutes a week studying your teens’ world so that you can better connect with them. Being a missionary will always mean empathizing and being curious enough to try to understand their reality—a reality where bullying not only happens in person, but also online 24/7; where male/female has never been a given, but an ambiguous spectrum; where their identity feels like it’s dependent on “likes”; and where sexting is an expected part of dating. You have what it takes, and we believe in you! Hold fast to your heart connection with your child and hold fast to the “one conversation.”
David Eaton co-founded Axis 11 years ago. He is married to Lindsey, has a 5-year-old daughter, Shiloh Abigail; a 2-year-old son, Zion Daniel; and a newborn, Vale Calvary. David plays drums and uke, roasts his own coffee, and he is always collecting great questions that will start great conversations. The Eatons live in Colorado where David is also a part-time youth pastor for about 20 teens at his home church.
The magic of Axis is CultureTranslation: interpreting student trends for parents while translating timeless theology, philosophy, and essential questions of life for their teens. Axis believes in the power of life-on-life discipleship between caring adults and the next generation!