5 Things to Say to Parents who Feel Helpless

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Parents often come to youth ministers when they are at the end of their ropes and have tried everything to help their children.  Since Rooted is aiming to answer real questions on issues that youth workers are facing everyday, this series will publish articles on how to answer parents who ask, “What do I do with my child?”

At some point in your youth ministry you will encounter a parent putting all their frustrations and anxious thoughts in your hands, looking to you for the answer that will solve all their problems. Be ready! Most of these times are unexpected with a phone call or a face-to-face meeting with the parent asking you how they should handle their child, who is being rebellious to the point where the parents do not know what to do. Every time is different, and as a veteran youth pastor it hits me hard every time. Here are five things to tell parents who feel hopeless:

  1. Know when to and when not to push. In my experience working with parents, I have seen some parents begin questioning everything that they are doing. In my opinion, this is a normal response in wanting to see change in the child they love so much. However, if we are not careful, we can push in other areas of a youth’s life where we never pushed before. We tend to label every part of the student’s life as potential dangers, where it might make matters worse. However, I also think it is important not to go too far in the other direction and try to soften a child’s heart by letting them loose to do whatever they want, hoping that they will listen to parents acting more like friends. Maintaining a balanced and logical foundation will keep the student understanding what things matter and where the boundaries are without being legalistic.
  2. Keep your child in church and especially in youth ministry. For some reason I have seen a lot of parents allow their child to back out of church and youth ministry because the student does not want to come to church anymore. I beg parents not to make this mistake and give in to their child’s desire to run from the church. The danger lies in assuming that the student will never have another good Sunday morning, Wednesday night or retreat, and that the situation will never change. I cannot tell you how many students I have seen completely change their outlook on their life and on God because their parents would not let them stay home from the church or the youth group. One service or retreat with the church and youth group could make all the difference in the child’s life.  I see it happen all the time.
  3. Keep gathering the firewood. The hardest truth to accept is that no human has the power to change a person’s heart. I have talked with many parents who have told me to fix their child and are upset with me when I am not successful — it just simply doesn’t work that way. However, this does not mean we do nothing. The parent and the youth pastor can continue to gather the firewood by helping stir the affections for Christ in the student’s life. I have seen some students respond to Christ through music, books or older men or women in their lives. College students have instant respect from teenagers because college students stand in the next stage of life that the teenager so desires to be in. When a college student echoes Paul’s words that nothing compares to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, the student takes notice.
  4. Pray. Praying is hard, especially when we do not see the results right away. Praying can last for years and years until we see God answer. Keep lifting up your children to the Lord, and be persistent, knowing that the real work of changing a heart is done by the Holy Spirit — only He can truly bring the dead to life.
  5. Don’t give up. You would think this would be the easiest step; however, I do see every now and then parents just letting things happen and losing the needed tough love to raise their children. Even if our children do not respond until later in life, they will remember that their parents cared enough to never give up on them. 
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