Connecting with Teens in their Caves
By Caleb Breakey
Adolescence hits teenagers one way or another. Puberty is a foregone conclusion. But why must we lose a level of connection with teens during these times? It doesn’t have to be that way. All we need is the right equipment to brave the cave of growing up.
Your kids feel distant. They avoid certain conversations. Don't give you the same eye contact they once did. It's as if they're stumbling in a cave and you're yelling, "Come back."
Then again, these are not kids anymore. They're teenagers. Somehow you know this means something significant. But you're tempted to ignore the thought.
Please don't. These teens need you desperately.
Now is the time to make a critical decision: Keep yelling, or rush into the cave.
Of course, if this were a normal cave you'd already be scouring the depths of dark tunnels. But it's not. This is the cave of growing up. The thing your parents probably called adolescence or puberty*.
Staying outside will cost much, while plunging inside will save an abundance. You cannot neglect this decision.
Navigating the blackness requires serious vulnerability and truth. It isn’t easy. But if you're ready to dive, the basic equipment you'll need is here.
Take it and sprint!
Equipment for the Cave: Batteries and Flashlight
You can't see without light. And teens can’t see YOU if you’re not carrying one.
• Battery 1: Growing up happens to everyone. So instead of being upset that the kids went into the cave (negative), know that every kid does (positive). There's no stopping it.
• Battery 2: Nobody navigates perfectly -- no, not one (ring a bell?). So instead of being frustrated that the kids got lost (negative), know that they're using a compass, not a map (positive).
• Battery 3: Not all teens want their parents in the cave. Not at first, anyway. This is crucial to realize because most of us feel gypped when we try to help someone and get scolded in return. That's why you must chase after them not with an attitude of I'm going to save the day (negative), but I'm going to do whatever it takes (positive) to help them reach the end. This could mean taking a longer route. Finding the exit in a way you're not used to. Or maybe just sitting with them in the dark for a time.
You've got light, and that’s all that matters.
Equipment for the Cave: Proper Clothing
Regular clothing (old assumptions) will never do. Put on a helmet, coveralls, and boots (no assumptions).
Every decision we make is guided by our assumptions. Many of these assumptions, especially those related to our teen years, must be thrown off. They are old clothing that will catch us hypothermia sooner than our teens.
Old assumptions may help you ask certain questions, but they are more likely going to produce an air of know-it-all--which is kryptonite to kids and should be to us as well.
This generation is so far removed from ours. They face similar struggles, but in completely different ways.
So take the clothes of no assumptions.
Equipment for the Cave: Medical Kit
Once you reach them, you're going to need medical supplies.
When you finally find your teens in the cave, how can you help them? And how can you make sure they'll take the help?
This is where vulnerability and truth come in. Your sheer openness and hold-nothing-back dialogue is like a medical kit swung around your shoulder. It will help you mends their wounds.
When was the last time you wrote a Facebook status or comment and edited yourself because you didn't want people to see that thought or that side of you? In other words, the real you?
This kind of self-censoring cannot happen. Teens see hypocrisy (Mark 7:6) like Popeye sees spinach. They need to see the real you -- especially in the cave.
If that means bringing up hard topics like your experiences with sex, drugs, drinking, pornography or other struggles growing up, so be it. It's the equivalent of a Fortune 500 CEO taking his janitor out for mini-golf and a burger. It’s 99 cents. It’s real.
Whether teens are “ready” for such openness isn’t the issue. The world, flesh and devil are no respecter of “ready.” It’s the people who guide teens through the cave that makes all the difference. Make that person you. Not your teens’ friends or parents or anyone else.
It doesn't matter if they've been standoffish. It doesn't matter if they don't trust or respect you like they used to. The important part is doing as the father of the prodigal son.
Run to them. Now.
Teens need parents in the cave with them like never before. Consider the difference of these two passages in 2 Kings that show the extreme opposites of a parent’s influence on a child.
And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them: And he forsook the Lord God of his fathers, and walked not in the way of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:21-22)
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or the left. (2 Kings 22:2)
Obviously, no child will walk through the cave unscathed. The world, flesh and devil are like bats that will find a way to get in a bite or two -- or fifty.
The key to helping teens, then, is not to take the blood-suckers’ bites for them. But to show them how Jesus is standing right in front of them, taking bite after bite on their behalf.
Our efforts to fend off bats doesn’t help in the long run. It’s teens’ dependence on the King that changes their lives forever.
* Avoid these words when talking with teens. They sound way too old school and don’t connect with them. Kind of like a hymn compared to a Casting Crowns song. Use "growing up" instead.
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Watch for Caleb's new Youth Insider blog on CBN.com.
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Caleb is always busy operating www.CalebBreakey.com -- a site designed to encourage and equip the often ignored, yet immensely talented field of young writers. A former award-winning journalist, Caleb has studied writing at the feet of Left Behind author Jerry B. Jenkins and wordsmiths Ted Dekker and Brock and Bodie Thoene. He teaches at popular gatherings such as the Blue Ridge, Oregon, Colorado, and CLASS Christian writers conferences.
© 2011 Caleb Breakey. Used with permission.
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