This is the time of year where most of the people in my ministry, parents and teens alike, are focused on heading back to school. A lot of my conversations with teens revolve around preparing for the start of a new year, and laying a foundation for healthy, balanced growth. Here are a few things I like to share, divided up by grade/age group.
Put the big rocks first. If you feel the faith development of your child is a priority, make it a priority. Often, that means putting church on the calendar first before extra curricular activities. It may mean saying no to other activities that are more ‘fun’ or ‘college-friendly’. Your kids will find a way to have fun; over-scheduling their lives is not the way to achieve that goal. Also, many colleges like seeing a well-balanced applicant, and “this teen has consistently been a great leader in our youth ministry” looks awesome on a college application. Either way, sending your kid off to college with a solid faith should be priority number one.
Heading into Jr High may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Right now is a great time to decide how you are going to make and keep friendships. Be kind to people, watch out for those who are being made fun of, and don’t worry too much about being ‘different’ (embrace it!). If you need any help on how to treat people, now is a good time to read up on how Jesus treated those around him.
Jr High kiddos:
You’ve got a ton of energy, and the instinct will be to move first and think things through later. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to do or say, and ask yourself, “is this right?”. You should have a pretty good handle on that by now. And for those situations that you don’t know, or have made a mistake, own up quickly and take the chance to learn. The consequences for learning these tough lessons without serious ramifications is going to run out soon. Start praying on your own, without a prompt from your parents or YM. Taking the time to pray is often the exact type of slowing down that you’ll need to make wise decisions. And if you need help, ask.
It’s okay to be a little overwhelmed by High School. The workload is tougher, the expectations are higher, and there’s this whole figuring-out-who-I-am thing going on the whole time. Take time to play, and take time to be still. Our culture has a set of expectations for high school that are propped up by Hollywood. Very few of them are true, and you don’t have to fit into their stereotypes. Your true identity is found in your faith, so give your faith some exercise… daily. The basis of your friendships will likely change from proximity to deeply shared beliefs. Develop your beliefs, speak about them, and learn how to share them with others without demeaning others. Read Romans a few times and let it challenge you and help you figure out who you are.
10th and 11th graders:
Your parents love you. Remember that.
You’ve figured out that High School is so much more than what you learn in class. Congratulations. You’ve probably also started to narrow down your interests to a few things, which is great. Dive into your hobbies and passions, they may be the key to finding a career that you’ll love later on in life. Yes, decisions you’re making now may affect the rest of your life. Try not to stress out about that too much, focus on making good decisions today. Jesus himself said that every day has enough worries of its own, and there’s a good chance that you’re right in the middle of that statement. The cool thing is, when you focus on making wise decisions on a daily basis, the days start to add up to a lifetime of wisdom. Draw that wisdom from God and you’ll navigate whatever the next few years throw at you.
Treat homework like a job. The more homework you do now, that more that will pay off, financially and from a discipline standpoint. I once estimated how many hours I spent doing homework, and how much money I received in college scholarships, and figured that I made about $15/hour. That was back in the 90’s. And not taking into consideration how much I would have saved paying off interest on student loans. The bottom line: put your work in now, it pays off later. But don’t break yourself in the name of good grades. Good habits > good grades. That means spending time on your faith too. It also means going outside and playing every once in a while. That’s right, it’s still okay to be a kid once in a while.
Congrats on being at the top of the food chain! (don’t laugh college kids, they’ll know soon enough). This will be the year that will bring the most temptations to check out of church. Don’t. Your presence and maturity can be a huge blessing to the younger crew, even on the toughest of days. You know your right from wrong, and it’s time to lead others. Wether that’s serving in the children’s wing, or just providing a good example for those a few years behind you, you have a unique opportunity to bless others.
Don’t get caught up in the pressures of your Senior year. Academically, you should know that the work load is going to be difficult. You’ve probably also figured out how to balance that work load with the rest of life. There’s this amazing word ‘no’ that you’ll have to use with your friends every once in a while. Fear of missing out is real, but don’t fall victim to FOMO. Nobody can say yes to every opportunity that comes their way and survive. No, not even the busiest of your friends can do it all.
Start up on the search for college as soon as you can. Figure out how you’re going to search for colleges. (Here’s my post on how to tackle this beast.) Set aside time with your parents (they’re the ones that still feed you when you check in at home every once in a while) to talk college, or whatever plans you have for after high school. Treat your college search like a job and make progress weekly, so you’re not overwhelmed when all of your Senior projects are due the same time as your applications.
Find a church home. Plug in. Serve. Say yes to what you can, and don’t regret saying no to things that you can’t do. Make friends with people who bless your life, and avoid those who only add drama. Take the time to re-adjust who you are. You’ve got the opportunity to start over and learn from your high school mistakes. Do it.
Don’t get any tattoos. As much as you’ve changed since you were 12… that much change is about to happen in the next few years. And then it’ll happen again around the time you graduate. Seriously, this is the worse time in your life to get a tattoo. If your idea survives the next few years, get it then.
You may notice that your parents may not seem as smart as they once were. You’re wrong. They’re about to become geniuses. Be sure to thank them every time you come home with truckloads of laundry, and sleep for days on end.
Take advantage of the opportunities that will come your way. The world loves to help someone who is actively working hard to make their life better. That ends once you graduate and you’re another person looking for a job.
Most importantly, remember your faith, and put it into action. That whole serving part I mentioned before… it’s the best way to grow your faith. Putting your faith into action is putting flesh onto your beliefs, and will make the words of Jesus pop off the pages like never before. You’re at the cross section of life where energy and opportunity intersect, and God has amazing things for you to do in His name.
One love, one heart.