One of my greatest fears as a parent was that our children would turn their backs on Jesus when they left our home. A mocking faith-buster professor or sexy siren would steal their hearts and draw them away from their roots. It's a legitimate fear in our post-Christian culture. A 2013 study entitled Five Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church found that 6 in 10 young people who grow up in church drop out in the first decade of adult life–but there's hope. They also found that these stats held true UNLESS the young person enjoyed a close personal friendship with a mentor. God often uses mentoring to keep kids close to Him. But how can parents help? Here are three suggestions:
1. Your kid thinks you are disconnected from their world. And you probably are.
We are in the midst of an era shift that makes a generational shift look like a row boat compared to the Titanic. We have not encountered this mammoth a shift since western culture moved from an oral age (think dark ages) to a print age (think Martin Luther and the printing press). Before the print age, people depended on their memories, so they developed incredible memory capacities. Skeptics at the time bemoaned that the sky was falling due to that horrible invention, the book. Now we are moving from a print age to an digital age and skeptics are bemoaning that the sky is falling due to that horrible invention, technology. Our kids are natives in this new land; we are immigrants.
2. Your kids are more open to hearing from someone who is also a native, someone a decade or two ahead.
It's not that your kids don't love you. They just don't think you "get them" the way someone younger does. If they are teens, they know what you believe by now. You've told them numerous times, right? And they actually were listening, even if they didn't acknowledge you. Telling them again isn't all that helpful. What is extremely helpful is hearing your values backed up by someone closer to their age, a mentor just ahead.
3. Help your kids find a mentor by sending them to places where same-value mentors abound.
Mentoring today can't be programmed like it was for our generations. That's what I learned advising a doctoral student at my seminary. Her doctoral research project involved interviewing young people about their mentoring preferences and practices. What she found was eye-opening and ground-breaking. (It's all in our new book Organic Mentoring), and the results apply to teens today as well. We can't pre-pick a mentor for them. It involves chemistry and personal choice. It's not regimented or built around a pre-packaged curriculum. It's life on life but it's influence is power-packed and can often keep a young person from bailing once they leave home.
Where do you find these same-value mentors? We found ours in a dynamic youth ministry at church. WOW! Our kids loved it! The church leaders understood the necessity of an excellent youth ministry and we made sure it was a priority. Sometimes we sacrificed soccer and other school activities but youth group wasn't optional. Find one your kids love. We changed churches over the youth ministry.
We also sent our kids to a stellar Christian camp. Again they loved it, and ended up working on the kitchen crew and later as counselors. In these mentor-rich environments, our kids found mentors that walked with them through junior high, high school and stayed in touch in college. I made sure these mentors knew how much I appreciated them–including words, gifts, and occasional feet-kissing. And of course those years were bathed in a mother's prayers. God made the connections and I continue to thank Him. He loved my kids even more than I did, if that's possible, and He wants same-value godly mentors for your kids too. Help them by finding mentor-rich places and do all you can to support those places.
Today our kids are grown with families of their own and they still love the Lord. We are grateful for the grace of God in their lives. There are no guarantees. Our kids ultimate destiny is between them and God. They are people with free wills. And I have friends who were fantastic parents and their kids are still breaking their hearts. But one of the things we did right (and we did plenty wrong) was to put them in mentor-rich environments and then pray for connections. God honored those prayers and our efforts and by His grace, our kids are not one of the 6 in 10 that walk away. Now we have grandkids…so here we go again. We do what we can, but one of the best things we did was to stand back and give them space for healthy relationships with organic mentors that God used to keep them close to Him. May our Lord bless you and yours with the same favor.