When I was a kid, my life revolved around my friends. I liked what they liked, I talked how they talked, and far be it from me to easily accept it when someone would tell me who I could or could not hang around. However, as I grew, I realized that some of the friendships I had developed were actually hindering me from becoming the person I really wanted to be.
As I speak to thousands of parents and youth each year around our country I have become more and more aware of the keen intellect within our young people. Quite frankly, they are smart. Book smart? Sure. Street smart? Absolutely.
And with those “street smarts” that are developing earlier and earlier within them, comes a new language. A language which can cause frustration when they do not think their parents “understand.”
The irony of this is the fact that I sometimes hear similar frustrations from parents. “Will they ever learn?” I often hear. “What are the words I need to say to get through to them?” With such frustrations on both ends, it can be easy to throw in the towel. However, what I have come to realize is though the parent and child may think they are light years away from understanding each other, I am convinced that they and you are closer than ever before.
I was blessed to have parents, teachers and even friends who were not afraid to challenge me, and with that support I soon came to recognize the non-compromising qualities I wanted to look for in the people I surrounded myself with. However, I didn’t come to realize this through long lectures or groundings (though these may be appropriate in some cases). I came to realize this through the questions that I was challenged to answer.
I believe in most cases that when one asks the right questions, they will receive the right answers. As parents, rather than beginning such conversations with long lectures or scolding remarks, begin by asking a question that challenges them to reason out the answer you are looking for by themselves.
A good starting point might be, “What good and faithful qualities that we have instilled in you match up with the people you hang around?” Or, “What are the core beliefs you hold that you would not sacrifice for popularity?” “How do your friends make you a better person?”
Though it may take a little time, thoughtful prompting, and your prayers, your children will rise to the challenge of such questions, thinking and reasoning out the good qualities that they too will not compromise.
(Jon Leonetti, Youth Minister, Holy Trinity Parish, Des Moines)