Schools out and it’s time for summer vacation—or is it? Teenagers everywhere will struggle to balance jobs, a full schedule of athletic and other activities, camp, volunteer work, missions trips, and music lessons. None of these activities are in and of themselves to be frowned upon. In fact, they’re all good things for our teens to be involved in. . . as long as there’s still time to relax a bit and do things together as a family. But the summer busyness sometimes gets so extreme that cell phones might be the only way for their parents to track them down in the midst of their chaotic schedules.
The primary goal of all this madness is all too often parent-driven, as we try to better our children and improve their ability to be “successful” in their futures. Unfortunately, the end result of this parental pressure and pushiness is not what was always intended. Some kids stress out. Others start to believe that their parents’ love for them depends on their performance (sometimes kids read the signals correctly). As the stress builds, the parent-child relationship weakens and often breaks as a result of rebellion. Forcing children to bear an unrealistic burden can also lead to depression and/or suicide. Perhaps the worst result is that our kids will fail to learn the true meaning of “success.”
One summer, as I sat around the campfire with a dozen or so high school students I had known for years, the kids began to share openly about their struggles at home. One of them was a 15-year-old who had never really opened up with any of us about anything, but always seemed to have it together. She was a smart kid who ranked number one in her high school class. Her parents both had multiple advanced degrees. I’d assumed that her previous silence was due to the fact that she was always thinking and a bit shy. But then, as the fire crackled, years of emotional heartache poured out as she shared her frustration with feeling like she would never be able to measure up to the academic and vocational expectations her parents had placed on her over the course of her life. We were amazed at her openness, yet saddened by the reason for it. The stress of parental pressure and pushiness had become too much for her to handle.
Developmental expert Cliff Schimmels offers parents some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: “The one prayer I pray most frequently as a parent and a teacher is that the Lord will give me the wisdom to know how much to expect of my children. If I expect too little of them, they may waste their creative gifts. If I expect too much of them, I may destroy them with an unrealistic burden.”
Now that three of my own children have grown out of their teenage years, I’ve had a chance to reflect back on how they were raised. I’ve thought about things I might have done differently if I had known then what I know now. Some of those changes would have come in the area of how we encouraged and allowed them to spend their time, particularly over summer vacation. All of my kids have had interests and skills in athletics. Our kids have literally spent thousands of hours practicing and playing a variety of organized sports including football, baseball, softball, field hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer. We’ve spent thousands of hours coaching and watching. At one point, overlapping seasons put Lisa and I in a situation where we had a day in which three of our kids had to be shuttled to eight different places in order to fulfill the responsibilities of the teams they were on. While we were always careful to not push our kids into negotiable things that they didn’t want to do, we should have been more diligent about saying “no” to some of the things they wanted to do. There was a point where there was just too much going on. It cost us family dinners, gas money, and loads of time. . . . time that seemed to have flown by because it was so full of activity.
In hindsight, I think I should have said “no” to the summer busyness in our family more often. Sometimes a well-placed “no” is great big “yes” to family time, a summer vacation that’s truly restful, and a wonderful opportunity to spend a few months teaching your kids about the true meaning of “success.” What is success? True success in life is faithfulness to God and obedience to his commands. What do you and I want our children to become? Our desire for our children should be the same as our heavenly Father’s desire for them: that they become like Christ in all things. What must you and I do to make this happen? We must know the truth as it is contained in God’s Word, talk about it with our teens, live it with our teens, model it for our teens, experience it with our teens, and prayerfully trust God to change our teen’s hearts and minds.
Dr. Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. To learn more about today’s youth culture, visit them on the web at www.cpyu.org.