Matt Clinton of Fellowship of Christian Athletes desires to partner with parents in pouring into their kids to help them navigate through their teenage years.
Leslie Salazar Carrillo, Im Waiting: The socio-economic spectrum that you work within is very broad. You deal with very wealthy families as well as impoverished. So, what would you say to parents, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status, as all their kids are asking, “How am I supposed to live this life?”
Matt Clinton, Fellowship of Christian Athletes: I look at my own conversations with my own kids at home. Now, my son is only five-years-old, so we’re not up to the heavy hitting topics yet. But, still, it’s critical that I build in time into my days to be available for him.
Now, I know that being available to our children isn’t breaking news. I also know that eventually, they’ll hit a stage where they think that it’s not cool to hang out with their parents. But, we need to be available.
It’s also important to find people who really, genuinely care about your kid. Especially people who are outside of your family. That’s often where “life change happens”.
As a guy who is one of those “outside the family” people, most of the time, all I’m doing is parroting exactly what the parents are saying.
But, since it’s not mom or dad saying these things, it seems to make a huge difference.
Couple with the innate problems and pressures that teens face, I think that in today’s culture, there are so many distractions, options and influences out there that their heads just spin!
I mean, as just one example, it seems like many kids today are more concerned about who is following them on Instagram or how many retweets they receive than anything else.
So, one large part of the battle is to try to figure out what our kids’ priorities are.
But, across the board, kids want attention and they will seek it out and get it somewhere. This begs the question of “What kind of attention can we give them and how intentional can we be?”
Now, I’ve spent most of my adult life helping to raise other people’s kids. And I’m very passionate about that. But, ultimately, if I’m so wrapped up in other people’s kids that when I come home I have nothing to offer my own children, then I’m useless.
So, I’m learning on my own, too, that we need to be intentional, even when and especially when it’s not easy. The hard truth is that kids just want time and attention.
Leslie: We’ve found that kids often say things like, “I just wish my parents would understand…” or, “I wish my parents would only…”
Have you witnessed this, too?
Matt: Oh yeah, that’s extremely common.
I mean, I live in a world of teenagers, and I can’t understand all of them all the time or the pressure they’re under. And, there is a small number of parents out there who really understand their teens, and they know them far better than I ever could.
But, more than trying to understand every single “why do they do that” or “what are they thinking”, I think parents would be well-served to try to understand the pressure that their kids are under.
If nothing else, find the time to walk on a high school campus. You will be stunned at what teens talk about, what they do and what you would see. I mean, supposedly there are dress codes and zero tolerance rules, but you might be appalled to hear and see the things that even “good kids” wear, say and do when they think adults are not watching.
So, I encourage adults (parents, speakers, donors… almost anyone) to come with me to an FCA meeting and be encouraged by the dedication and growth of the Christian leaders who we work with. But, I also tell them to pay careful attention to the three minute walk through the halls.
THAT’S where we learn what it is that our kids are dealing with each day. Even the kids who are the best kids of all time and are following Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind… this is still what they are up against each and every day.
Leslie: Amen! I tell parents to remember back to when they were in high school and reflect on the unique pressures you faced. Pressures at school, pressures at home, pressures in the classroom and on the ball field, pressures to fit in, pressures to find your own identity… everything that you faced while just trying to get through your day.
Now, those pressures are common to nearly every generation of teenagers. But, you need to realize that today’s teens are the first post-9/11 generation. They’ve never known a time when we weren’t under the treat of terrorism. They’ve never known an era when schools weren’t shot up. They’ve never lived in an era when people of all ages aren’t told that their identity is based on their sexuality…
THAT’S the unique pressure THEY live in today.
Yet, like all teens, the frontal lobe of their brains, which governs problem solving, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior, is not fully developed. So, they are physically unable to handle all these incredible pressures. And, this is not the some high school experience that any parents out there grew up with.
For one, the boundaries that were understood across the board simply do not exist anymore. Even the guys and girls who are trying to be good are being bombarded by naked photos of their classmates being sent to them via text, Snapchat, or by other means. In fact, for many kids today, sexting is simply a part of dating. As a cultural group, they’ve convinced themselves that it’s safe since they’re not actually having intercourse. They figure since they can’t get pregnant or catch and STD, and they hope that no one will ever know about it, then it’s safe. But, the truth is that it’s not. And yet they still engage in it.
Matt: Yeah… I get it, but I really don’t get it. I mean, I understand their faulty logic, but I just don’t understand why they would engage in sexting and all these other things when they know the real risks.
And, I know that there are a lot of kids out there who, in their heart, don’t want to do these things. But they feel the pressure that if they don’t, they’ll be left behind and won’t be accepted.
Our kids are presented with this every day. And, there are new tools so they can go incognito made and released every day.
They – the developers and today’s teens – are always are one step ahead of us.
Leslie: Typically, as soon as kids realize that their parents have some messaging or photosharing technology figured out, they move on… if not way before their parents have a clue. Kids don’t use Facebook. If they do, it’s just as a front to make it look like they’re behaving.
Who has the kind of time that it takes to keep up with Snapchat, or Whisper, or WhatsApp, or whatever is next?
Matt: Well, today’s teens make the time. They make it a priority. Look, We all have 168 hours per week. But we each choose differently how to spend those 168 hours.
I ask kids to chart their time in any given week. We constantly discover that they spend a lot in pursuit of acceptance and identity. It’s an ongoing battle. It may or may not be a winnable battle, but its one that we need to be aware of. Social media cannot be an idol or cause anxiety.
Leslie: Kids need to realize that 95% of real life is NOT on social media. Therefore, your value isn’t coming from your likes, but because you were created to have value! Even with all your imperfections – and we all have them – you are still valuable! You have value because you were created in God’s image… and that has more value than any of us could ever imagine.
Parents play such an important role in how their kids understand their own value. Tune in next week to learn how YOU can partner with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Matt Clinton.