12 in ’12 Tuesday – Launching

12 in ’12 is a series of posts talking about life in youth ministry with a 12 year old in the family this year.

Our twelve year old, Emily, has entered Middle School, which puts her into the youth category as far as our church’s ministry is structured. Actually, we are pretty flexible with our 6th graders, and most of them have some involvement in both the youth ministry and children’s ministry. As a first born, Emily’s always thought of herself as a few years older than reality says she is, so she’s been eager to get to be a part of the student group that I oversee.

As her father, I probably see her a couple years younger than reality says she is! This can cause some tension as she strains to exercise a growing amount of independence, so I’m trying to think of this in rubber band terms. She’s stretching out, I’m holding on, and when I let go, she’s going to fly. My job, as both a youth pastor and a dad, is to make sure that flight is a healthy one in a couple ways:

1. She needs to land where God’s intended her to go. Right now, as I hold on, I can still assert some influence. I can still “aim” her in the right direction. Once the launch sequence has reached its end and the tension is released to be kinetic – her flight path is largely decided. I need to make sure she’s learning how to handle the tools she’ll need to make course corrections on her own. Mostly, that means asking the question, “Does she know how to recognize God’s voice and is she willing to do what He says?” and doing everything I can to make sure the answer is “Yes.”

2. I need to also make sure the tension created as she’s pulling away isn’t so great that the rubber band snaps. I see so many parents hold on so tightly that when launch day comes, the excitement fizzles quickly and their kids are shackled by the doubts and fears their parents have unwittingly planted by refusing to let them make any choices of their own. Sadly, these flights look more like a balloon with all the air let out, often ending up in a stretched out shell of what could have been, lying around on the basement floor.

So how is a parent (or youth pastor) supposed to manage this tension? Here are a few critical questions to help:

  • Am I helping my kids understand God’s Word? If they can’t recognize His voice there, they’re not likely to recognize it in their day to day living either.
  • Can they see that I am following? If I’m telling my kids to listen and follow, they need to be able to tell that I’m doing what I’m doing because it’s what God wants done. (i.e. I didn’t stop and help the guy that was stuck just because I’m such a nice guy – but because God wanted him to be helped and I was there.)
  • Have I established clear boundaries within which my kids feel confident in making decisions? My 5 year old wants to go ride her bike. She may ride as she pleases, as long as she stays in the driveway. My 12 year old’s bike ride boundaries have extended far beyond the driveway, along with her capacity to make good decisions about where to go and where to not go. Most kids don’t misbehave because they’re bad – it’s because they don’t know where the boundaries are. Clear boundaries early in life really help kids later on.
  • Do I realize whose kids these really are? This may be the toughest question of all. Last night we caught a couple minutes of The Bachelor waiting for the next show to come on. (Horrible show, by the way – why would anyone think that situation would work out to be anything other than the emotional train wreck that it is? I digress…) Emily was sitting next to me on the couch and I found myself getting defensive on her behalf. “If you ever let a guy treat you the way he’s treating those girls, I will hunt him down…” actually came out of my mouth. But as much as I love and want to protect my kids, someone else’s image is stamped much deeper in their lives than mine is. Our Father has a capacity to love and protect His own far greater than mine will ever be. We need to trust God with His kids.

How else have you seen parents preparing their kids for launch?

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