Written for the Simply Youth Ministry website:
As a youth ministry volunteer and mother of four I’ve taken many students to different places in my car, but this time was different. Instead of the ASB and drill-team girls I usually chauffeured, I was stuck in my sedan with four girls who were the opposite of sugar, and spice, and everything nice. Yay me.
After a quarter of the way into the trip, while they talked about getting tattoos for their children and how dumb their parents were for making them wear shoes, the girl sitting next to me in the front seat reached for her purse and said, “Can we smoke in your car?” My first thought was “What the?. . . no!” My second thought was, “If I tell them yes, I will be the coolest adult they will ever encounter.” Instead, I said, “If I let you smoke in my car, I’ll get fired.” The answer left my principles intact while at the same time allowed the girls not to feel stupid or to take the offensive. This kept the line of communication open between us, which was extremely important. I wanted to connect with them.
I discovered through trial and error that if I tried to be best friends with students, I would have a ton of text messages in my Inbox, but I wouldn’t be an effective volunteer. If I had chosen to allow the girls to smoke in my car, they may have thought I was fun and cool, but their respect for me would be in question. Eventually, they would have succeeded in taking advantage of my leniency.
The same is true as a parent. While teens are quick to tell their friends that they want more freedom and wished that they could do whatever they wanted, they desperately seek an environment linked to structure and regulation. Boundaries give teenagers security, although getting a teen to admit that would require large doses of truth serum backed by the threat of cell phone removal.
Our responsibilities as leaders and parents are to give our children a sense of being loved unconditionally, to give them a sense of security, and to train them up in the way of God, which may require plastering a “Please no smoking” sign to your dash board.