When Your Teenager Moves From Middle School to High School
The dive into high school is the last body of deeper water before legal adulthood and leaving home for work or college. How can Christ be our guide when it is time to navigate these waters with our teenagers?
I am a parent of three children who each made the passage from middle school to high school. What I wish I had done in real time, I offer to you now in instant replay analysis. Parents should start by remembering the teaching of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, in which he describes the growth of mature Christian faith. The goal is that
… we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4: 13 – 15)
Christian parents are charged to raise up their children in Christ, and the high school years are a season when our teenagers are emotionally and intellectually ready for some solid gospel food. These high school years are both a time of growing vulnerability to “every wind of doctrine,” and a budding maturity in “the knowledge of the Son of God.” The mission field of high school aged kids is not for the faint of heart, but the soil is rich. Just ask your youth minister!
First and foremost, Christian parents are leading their children on a different path from the world’s ways. Our prayer is maturity in Christ, not self-sufficiency and self-actualization by the time the world says our children have reached maturity. Jesus rebuked his disciples in the gospels of Matthew and Mark for not allowing the children to come to him, proclaiming that the only way to receiving the Kingdom of God is like a child. (Mark 10: 14 – 15)
And what are children like? They are completely dependent, penniless, without stature or status, openly needy, defenseless, and trusting. The counter-worldly truth of the Gospel teaches parents to encourage these childlike qualities in our teenagers, while we lead them into spiritual maturity to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Practically speaking, teenagers develop a taste for solid Gospel food as they grow in understanding their relationship to the world, and more importantly, their relationship to Christ. Here are just three areas where parents can be Christ’s disciple makers:
High school is a prime time to begin the lifelong process of understanding what money does, what it cannot do, and whose it really is.
Beginning their 9th grade year, our kids started to receive a sizeable allowance. It was paid to them every two weeks when my husband and I got our paychecks. In this new system they were now in charge of managing the following expenses: giving to the church, lunches for school, entertainment, meals with friends, and non-essential clothing. Everybody was in favor of this new plan. It seemed like a lot of money to our 9th grader, and we parents were no longer fielding requests for money all the time.
Our new system turned sour for each child soon after its implementation because our formerly penniless teenager suddenly had money, but lacked the wisdom needed to spend it well. They each made poor decisions, of course. These poor decisions meant they had to say no to unexpected invitations and go without because their bank accounts had been depleted days before the next paycheck. Having their own money did not provide the joy and freedom they had expected.
My husband and I should have been more intentional in using these frustrations of money management as an opportunity to point our children to the source of all money. I wish we had emphasized that we are but stewards of God’s wealth and encouraged them to take their bad decisions to the Lord in prayer, and to look to Scripture for guidance. I think our children did achieve a nascent awareness of financial responsibility at about the right time. We had begun the hard work of minimizing our role in making spending decisions for them. How much better if we had also maximized the promise and hope found in a lifelong, childlike dependence on God for sustaining us and providing for us.
I think the high school years are the time when parents should stop participating in their child’s schoolwork. Certainly, there are exceptions, but if your child is basically on track academically, he or she needs to navigate school responsibilities without you. This does not mean I quit attending teacher meetings and stopped paying attention to what they were learning, but I tried to get out of the way. I wanted my child to deal directly with his or her teachers, and to yes, suffer the consequences when they dropping the ball.
It did get messy along the way. One of my son’s teachers called me late in a grading period his sophomore year to make sure I was aware that he was about four assignments behind. When I confessed that I did not know about this, she seemed taken aback by my lack of involvement, but to my way of thinking, this was a matter between my son and his teacher. I wasn’t four assignments in her debt!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is full of grace, not assignments, deadlines, and GPA scores, but the world they live in does carry with it expectations and consequences. When parents try to protect their children from the sometimes harsh expectations of the world, we prevent them from experiencing their genuine need for Christ.
Every Wind of Doctrine
A high school aged kid is able to think on a complex level about deeply complicated matters, such as human sexuality, the paradox of the Cross, and the cost of discipleship. They are also increasingly susceptible to provocative ideas that sound good but are actually contrary to a life in Christ.. Not only are teenagers susceptible, Instagram, Reality TV, and celebrities are bombarding them with propaganda all day every day. It is therefore imperative that our kids hear solid Biblical voices also every day. This is what happens in conversations with their parents, with their pastors, and with their youth ministers.
It was not always pleasant to take on a hard topic with one of my teenagers, but it was necessary. As St. Paul instructs, we are to speak the truth in love to our children. This is also a way we can show our children how we are growing in our maturity in Christ. Full stature in Christ is not something we earn at a particular age or stage of life, but rather an experience of faith that grows and deepens over our entire lives.
This is great news for parents. St. Paul teaches that the faithful grow up together in the body of Christ. We can be our children’s companions in our shared life in Christ. It’s also great news because this companionship is for our entire lives. It is a gift that is not limited to their life with us as our dependent children.
As contrary to the world as the Gospel of Jesus is, it is the only way that truly can sustain us in this transitory life. The message of Jesus is what shores us up in the darkest storms and gives us the strength to stand strong against the winds of every doctrine. No matter how old our children are, we have the joy of coming to the body of believers together in our shared childlike dependence, while we encourage one another to grow up into the full stature of Jesus Christ.