What’s Your Parenting Style?

When our girls were young teens I came across a study about parenting styles. The study indicated that parenting styles are determined by a balance of control and support. A very simplistic explanation of control and support is that control is about the direction, standards, expectations and discipline that we place on our kids. Support is about love, nurture, encouragement and emotional engagement that we provide for our kids. We all parent with a mixture of these two elements. 

Low Control and Low Support = Uninvolved Parent

High Control and Low Support = Authoritarian Parent

Low Control and High Support = Permissive Parent

High Control and High Support = Authoritative Parent

The question which is the best style with teens? Studies indicate that teens who have Authoritative parents tended to do the best academically, socially and emotionally. I was shocked that the second best outcome came from the Permissive parent.

Adolescence is a time of huge change for both kids and parents. A faulty belief parents accept in the teen years; our kids don’t really need us anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Students crave a relationship with their parents where they feel their support is as high as the control they exercise. As our students mature, the way we express our support will probably have to change. It seemed to me that during adolescence they tested the boundaries more vigorously than they did as children. There were many discussions surrounding why we set the boundaries we did. It also felt like I had to work a lot harder to express my support / emotional connection than I did when they were kids. It was during adolescence that I instituted a bi-weekly date with dad so I could at least try to express support. It seemed the better I did at support (connecting with them emotionally) the easier it was to exercise control (set healthy boundaries).

When our kids get into their teens they still need our control / boundaries and our support / emotional connection.

Live Out Loud

Camp Qwanoes had 404 Jr. High campers at the week I spoke this summer. They always have a large variety of students at their camp and there are always kids who desperately need the hope and healing Jesus offers. As the week went on I could see God softening student’s hearts. About mid-week I gave an opportunity for students to surrender their lives to Jesus. At the end of my talk I invited students to pray a prayer a line at a time after me. I started “Dear God”. When I paused, a slightly hesitant chorus of Jr. High students repeated out loud “Dear God”. I have never had a group of students spontaneously pray to accept Jesus’ forgiveness out loud. I was a little taken aback and even said “you don’t need to pray out loud, but if you want to, that’s cool.” I continued “I know I have done things that are wrong, and that makes me a sinner”. The chorus grew a little bolder and louder!

It continued growing with each phrase! By the time I said “amen” tears were sneaking down my cheeks and the place broke into applause and hoots for those who had just publically become Jesus’ kids. In all, that week 48 students prayed to accept Jesus and are finding hope and healing!

In Mark 4 Jesus told a parable that indicated that not all who make the commitment to walk with Jesus will follow through with that commitment. BUT a number of them will, and their lives have been changed forever. I know many people who met Jesus at a summer camp and are still following Him today. Some of those people are Pastors, having a significant influence on others.

It is possible that God has planted the seeds of a spiritual revolution in the hearts of a bunch of Jr. High students whose hearts He got ahold of at summer camp this year!

Your students are interested in having a relationship with you!

Believe it or not your adolescent students care about what you think and want to have a relationship with you! I can’t count the number of times in my 30+ years of youth ministry I have heard students say “my parents would kill me!”


In George Barna’s book Real Teens he published some very interesting stats.

  • 57% of teens feel very close and 90% of teens feel fairly close to mom  “When we asked teen to identify the one aspect they would like to change about their relationships with their mothers, one out of every three young people listed some aspect of improved communications. The most common improvements listed were having more open and honest talks, developing better understanding, and having less fighting and arguing when they interact.” (page 67)
  • 40% of teen feel very close and 75% of teens feel fairly close to dad. When teens were asked to describe the single most critical change they would make to their relationships with their fathers, the most startling response was that on-third said they would not make any changes. The most common substantive changes suggested were the need to spend more time together (19%) wanting better communication (13%) discussing personal issues (7%) and spending less time arguing and fighting 6%).  (page 71)

Barna goes on to say that boys especially they have a heightened need for their fathers attention and influence up until about age 16. That desire rapidly diminishes: “The signal to fathers is clear: If you have not connected in a resonant way with your teen by age 16, such a connection probably will not happen.” (page 72)

“One of the greatest commendations awarded to teens’ parents is that, of the 14 sources of influence we evaluated, parents were the only ones listed by most teens as having “a lot” of influence on how they think and act.” 78% of students Barna surveyed indicated that their parents have a lot of impact on the way they think and act.  “No other individual or people group came close to having that degree of perceived influence.” (page 72)

That is all GREAT news! Your students are interested in having a relationship with you, but during adolescents that relationship has to change because they are changing.

Over the years I have seen parents damage their relationship with their students by making a couple of discipline mistakes that can cause damage.

#1 Discipline with emotional consequences rather than real life / natural consequences.

Sometimes our students do stuff that is so frustrating that we lose it. We can end up raising our voices, calling names and or withdrawing our affection from them. When we do those kinds of things we are trying to modify their behaviour by using emotional consequences. In many ways it would be like a cop pulling us over for speeding and verbally letting us have it with both barrels. It is amazing to me how calm they are when they give out speeding tickets. Their approach is “I caught you speeding, you know there is a penalty, here it is.” They give out the consequence without the least upset or angst. As parents, when our students cross a barrier, we must discipline them so they learn to moderate their behaviour. If we can do it calmly and without withdrawing our affection, even though they may be mad as a hornet with us, we can still preserve the relationship.

#2 Discipline with surprise or over the top consequences rather than measured & predetermined consequences.

I had the experience of breaking some rules on a bus ride out to a camp with some kids this past fall. I now have a record with the Regina school division… it’s a long story. The penalty phase of my encounter was to have some of my property confiscated! I felt like a hardened criminal. (The students and teachers I was with thought it was hilarious.) The point is this: I didn’t know I was breaking any rules. Had I known there was a rule, I would not have broken it. The consequences were both a surprise and over the top. Some times our students do things that are clearly out of bounds and require that we step in. If they honestly didn’t know that what they were doing was off side, we need to discuss the problem and talk about what will happen in the future. That is fair warning. I know of some parents who ask “If you were me what would you do as a consequence for this? (Sometimes their kids are way tougher on themselves than their parents would be, and the parents can moderate the punishment. We need to make sure the consequences are known ahead of time and are within reasonable limits.

We need to guide our students while protecting the relationship with them that they are longing for.

Who’s in Your Herd?

There are some places on this planet that should be safe. A mother’s womb should be a safe place. A child’s bed should be a safe place. Families should be safe and so should churches. Unfortunately many are not. So many of the tragic stories I hear at women’s retreats are tales of violation of one or more of these sanctuaries. The natural response of the human heart to repeated betrayals of trust is to withdraw from relationship, the scene of so many crimes of the heart. There is something tragic about a group women, many of whom are in a self-imposed exile, converging to try to grow in their relationship with God from their place of isolation.

I once spoke to the combined women’s groups of two Churches. Everyone looked pretty “put together” but my experience has taught me that appearances can be deceiving. Saturday night I spoke on God’s desire for us to be plugged into relationship with Him AND His body. That in fact, we can’t be all He wants us to be unless we are. We also become targets for our enemy, who, like a predator in the wild, targets those who drift from the herd. I concluded my talk by showing a video, filmed on a South African Safari. It shows a baby Water Buffalo wandering from the herd and being attacked by a pride of lions who are later joined by a crocodile. The tug of war is on, but the pride of lions win the prize. Then amazingly, the herd of water buffalo returns. They surround and fight off the lions. Almost unbelievably, the calf survives and is saved and enveloped by the security of the herd. After showing the video, I gave the women some time to choose someone to share their secret struggles with. I was so encouraged to see many groups of two or three women taking walks together, talking and praying together; becoming that safe place for one another that we all need to reach our God-given potential. Seeing so many women choose community over isolation, taking the risk of trusting again so that they can grow to be like Christ in community with one another was mountaintop moment for me.

By the way, who has your back? Who’s in your herd?

Help I’m a Youth Pastor!

I remember the day I started as a Youth Pastor. Let’s just say it was a number of years ago. I thought it was all pretty simple. All I had to do was love students and help them be like Jesus, right? I may have been naive but it didn’t take me long to discover the road to student spiritual maturity was not a straight one. I did a lot of stuff but the truth of the matter was I had no idea where I was going. I needed some kind of a map, some kind of a strategy that could help me set the direction our youth ministry take. I talked with many of my peers and they seemed to be just as lost as I was. No one seemed to have a strategy they could clearly articulate that seemed to make sense and cover all the bases.

The interesting thing is that as I talk with youth pastors (many of them really sincere, dedicated, talented, and passionate people) they are just as lost now as I was then. I have been at this for almost 30 years. I have tried a lot of things, some have worked and some have failed miserably. Over the years, however, I have discovered that it is possible to build a healthy, well balanced, and sustainable youth ministry that sees students become disciples who make disciples.

The security of any building is found in its foundation. A strong foundation makes for a strong and healthy building. There are six things that healthy youth ministries all have in common. When one or more of the foundational elements is missing or weak the whole ministry will begin to wobble. But when they are in place and strong there is a foundation that can support amazing ministry.

Have you ever noticed that there are a wide variety of students out there. There are your typical church kids, disinterested church kids, pagan church kids, non church kids, antagonistic kids, and even passionate “I want to turn the world upside down for Jesus” church kids.  A well balanced ministry is one that has ministry elements that reach kids at whatever level of spiritual interest they are at. In many churches, all of their programming is targeted at helping the typical church kid grow. Helping kids grow is great but it tends to leave out the kids on either end of the spiritual spectrum. The non-church and disinterested kids are not interested in growing so why would they come? The really turned on kids are already convinced and they want more than another growth level activity. But what would happen if our ministries had elements that interest students at whatever level of spiritual interest they have?  What would happen if we had ministry elements that reached the unreached, helped the Christian kids grow, and equipped those who want more to shepherd and lead their peers? You would have a well balanced ministry!

But it also has to be sustainable. I am not a runner but I do know the difference between a sprint and a marathon. Youth ministry is not a sprint, it is a marathon! If we are going to make disciples who make disciples we need to have a ministry that is sustainable for the youth pastor, volunteers, and students over the long haul.

Having a ministry that is healthy, well balanced, and sustainable is possible and can make ministry highly effective and deeply rewarding.

I am passionate about helping youth pastors and youth leaders build healthy, well balanced and sustainable youth ministries that produce disciples who make disciples.


What a difference God has made in only a year!

A few years ago I started a consulting contract at Westside Kings Church in Calgary. I was tasked with building a healthy, well balanced and sustainable youth ministry and building a team to make that happen. At that time I could identify about 30 – 35 students and 3.5 volunteers.

Recently,  I spoke at a retreat with the students from Westside Kings Church. We had an awesome weekend. This past weekend we had 64 students and 12 leaders at the retreat. God did some great stuff in students hearts and some broken relationships were mended. A number of students who have been on the edge of the group were sucked right into the middle and the sense of community and unity grew by leaps and bounds. The cabin discussion times were great and God challenged some students to go beyond just being Sunday Christians and instead become sold out Jesus followers. Some students are beginning to face some areas of deep brokenness and addictions in their lives. The volunteers are absolutely fantastic. They were fully engaged with the students and are carrying on building relationships with the students that have the potential to be life changing for both the leader and the students. It was a fantastic, beyond all we could ask or think weekend.

Here is part of an email one parent wrote after the retreat:

We just want to send a big thank you to you and the leaders who made the road trip something that our daughter and son looked forward to as well as came back from changed. You are challenging them to be more as followers of Jesus Christ and I think they see their world differently for this reason. This community is important to them and I think they feel a connection to be a part of it more than any other.

The work at Westside Kings is not complete by a long shot but God has allowed us to see amazing growth in both numbers and in spiritual depth in the students. They are building a great foundation to a healthy, well balanced and sustainable youth ministry planted in that church.

Extreme Makeover: Camp Edition

Summer camps are unique places where God does amazing work in students’ lives. It is always interesting to watch how the week unfolds and how God works in students’ hearts.

Most urban Canadian students tend to be pressurized and distracted. They are pressurized by school, sports, part-time jobs, and parental demands. (Can you imagine? Some parents expect their kids to clean their rooms, do their homework, and even sit down with the family for meals!) They live with lots of distractions, many of them electronic: iPods, TV, Facebook, video games, and cell phones. Just yesterday I was speaking with a dad who told me that his daughter is sending 9000 text messages a month! Do the math. That is 300 texts a day. If she sleeps 8 hours a night that is 18.75 texts an hour or one every 3.2 minutes. Talk about distracted!

Weekend retreats can accomplish so much in a student’s life because they take breaks from those pressures and distractions for a couple of days. Students are given space to decompress, have fun, and think about important matters of their souls. The awesome thing about summer camp is students experience that release for a whole week and as the week goes by you can almost see God at work.

This summer was no exception! The first week of the summer I spoke at Camp Qwanoes on Vancouver Island. It is one of the premier camps in Canada and I have had the privilege of speaking at that camp for the past ten summers. Every year that I go back I run into students who were present one of the previous years. Some take the time to let me know what God did in their lives the last week we were together. This year it was Sarah*. I remembered her as a deeply depressed young lady. She’d worn a long sleeve hoodie which she kept pulled over her jet black hair, hiding her face. She walked with her head down and if she spoke with you she rarely would look up to make eye contact. Half-way through the week I made a point of connecting with her. As we talked I asked some gentle, but difficult-to-evade questions. She admitted that she wore the hoodie to cover up the scars and wounds she had up and down her arms from cutting, so people would leave her alone. She was like an abused puppy, and it made me weep for her. But Sarah* accepted Jesus the last day of camp!

I was stunned when I saw Sarah this year. She looked radically different. The hoodie was gone. She was wearing a short sleeve shirt. Her hair was no longer dyed jet black. She walked with her head held high and she was looking people in the eye when they spoke to her! It was an amazing transformation from the inside out! She was back at camp in the leader training program! Her year had not been perfect but Jesus had been healing her heart.

Sarah is a great example of what we are about at Straight Talk. We believe when a person’s heart is changed by encountering the living Jesus, their whole life is changed too. Thank you for giving so that we can continue to be a part of God changing hearts and lives!

*Name has been changed