It has been 3 months since the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and we still face very real challenges in the culture of young people. Like never before, we have seen acts of anger, frustration, and fear. As a youth ministry leader, I see very real pain in the lives of teenagers on a daily basis. I firmly believe we can start changing this, but it has to start at home.
To all the parents of teenagers, I first want to encourage you: you are still the number one influence in your child’s life! What you say and how you live matters to your child(ren), even if they don’t tell you that (and they likely haven’t told you that). Knowing the influence you have in your teenagers’ life is the first step to leading them well.
Now, I want to challenge you to take a second step (it may be a big step) into the world your teenager is living in. It’s a world where social status and online reputations are king. It’s a world where how you’re viewed is often more important than who you really are. It’s a world that craves authenticity, but where few are willing to be authentic enough to let anyone see the real them.
In the midst of this craziness, how do we present our kids with a different way of living? How do we respond to tragedies in a way that honors God and builds up our family? How do we challenge our teenager to step out of their comfort zone while encouraging and comforting them?
You are still the number one influence in your child’s life!
I want to present three ways you can guide your teenager in the midst of this backwards society:
Compassion is caught more than it is taught. Jesus was the prime example of this. He had a knack for seeing the person in the crowd who needed Him most and His heart broke for them. We need to run to the lonely and brokenhearted.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a man who had 100 sheep. One got lost, so he left the other 99 to go after the one. Jesus was the ultimate example of this kind of compassion. He often withdrew from the high class citizens and spent meaningful time with the outcasts and the sinners.
In most cases, the kids who commit heinous crimes are outcasts. They are often ridiculed and rejected by everyone. As we disciple our children, and encourage them to be like Christ, we have to ask ourselves the question, How would Jesus pursue someone like this? Then ask if we are the model of compassion we want our kids to follow.
Who in your life do you have a hard time showing compassion towards? Maybe that’s the person you need to "leave the 99" for. And trust me, when you do, your kids will notice. And guess what? They just might do the same. I believe that there are students all over South Florida that feel cast out and alone. They are just waiting for someone, anyone, to notice them, to ask how they’re doing, to hang out with them on a weekend. Compassion lived out on a daily basis can change the landscape of South Florida.
Beware of the Social Media Trap
My wife and I had a conversation recently about social media and the impact it has had on our lives. We asked the question: What negative things has social media brought about in my life? Distractions, lack of focus, easy cop out from face to face conversations, constant comparison with other people that is consistently killing our joy... the list went on and on. Then we asked: What positive things has social media done for us? [Crickets] We couldn’t think of one thing. Seriously. Not one.
This conversation got me thinking . . . Why do I spend so much of my time and energy in a fake reality? Why do I care so much what other people think of me? Why am I even on social media? So, I deactivated my accounts. No more Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I decided I was done. And guess what? I don’t miss it one bit.
So how does all this apply to the school shooting that happened in February? Well, the more you compare yourself with other people (or the online version of other people), the more joy gets sucked out of your life. Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength! Not our online persona. Constantly comparing ourselves with others causes anger and resentment that can lead to more dangerous thoughts and actions towards others.
I know that our culture tells young people that they need social media. Don’t get me wrong! I believe social media can be used for good. But I also believe that it brings more hurt and pain than gratification. It’s a trap. It’s not worth it.
So what’s the challenge? Maybe you take a break from social media for yourself to see what God shows you. Maybe you encourage your kid to take a break from social media for a while and debrief afterwards to see how it went. Whatever works for you and your family! I promise you won’t regret taking a break, even if it’s just for a little while.
Invite Hard Questions
Now more than ever before, teenagers are looking for answers. They don’t just want to just be told that Jesus is the hope of the world; they want to know why. They don’t just want to just be told that church is important; they want to know why! If you’re a parent of a teenager, you don’t need me to tell you that they ask some hard questions.
Often, our tendency is to retreat when hard questions get asked. It’s not that we don’t want to help, we’re just embarrassed that we don’t know the answer (I’ve been there many times). But if we are going to have honest conversations with our kids, we have to invite the hard questions. Your teenager needs to know that your home is a safe place to ask questions.
Will you know all the answers? Absolutely not. Saying “I don’t know” is not a bad thing. Saying “let’s find the answer together” could be the powerful words that begin an awesome hunt to find biblical truth. Whatever the question, invite your teenager to ask it and celebrate the journey of revelation and discovery!
I’ve encountered so many young people over the past couple months that are asking great questions about life, God, politics, etc. in the aftermath of this tragedy. They are looking for a safe place to ask these questions. And let’s be honest, if they can’t ask them at home, they’ll find somewhere else to ask them. And you probably won’t like the answers they’ll get other places. So make your home a safe place where hard questions are welcome!
Your teenager needs to know that your home is a safe place to ask questions.
This Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy has caused a lot of pain. So many lives have been affected and will continue to be affected for years to come. As a parent of a teenager, you have a tough road ahead. The world we live in is changing. Compassion is seen as weakness, online presence is the gold standard, and hard questions are asked everywhere but at home. In the midst of all of this, be different. Be the parent that models compassion. Be the parent that warns their kid about the dangers of social media. Be the parent that creates a safe place to ask tough questions. I want to be the kind of parent that responds to tragedy in a way that leads my family closer to Jesus, and I pray you do too.
Javan Shashaty serves as the overseer of the High School Ministry at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Javan graduated from CCA in 2012 and graduated from Liberty University in 2015. He has been married for 3 years to his wife Melissa and they have a 10 month old son named Elijah.