With fall’s football season in full swing everywhere from our youth fields to the professional gridiron, it’s once again time for us to pass on to you some of the latest findings from the Concussion Legacy Foundation on the effects of exposure to repeated impacts to the head. As one who loves football, I know how easy it is to ignore what’s being learned about the effects of concussions, especially if it threatens our views on the game and even our own childrens’ involvement. The latest research has found that among a sample of one hundred and fifty two young athletes exposed to repetitive head impacts who died before the age of thirty, just over forty-one percent had neuropathological evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, or CTE. Included in the study was the brain of Meiko Locksley, the deceased son of University of Maryland Head football coach Michael Locksley, who is warning parents to use caution and wisdom, as his son started playing tackle football at age seven.
The great eighteenth century preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon way back in August of 1740 that included some words to parents, educators, and the church which ring just as true today as when he spoke them almost three hundred years ago. Edwards said this: “Children ought to love the Lord Jesus Christ above all things in the world.” Jesus said the same thing this way Mark 12:30: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Whether we are children or adults, love for God is the very thing for which we have been made. As you consider this, realize that the culture is educating your kids twenty-four seven to love and serve themselves above all else. Parents, take stock of how your example and words speak loudly to your kids about what’s most important in your life. Are you modeling the compelling lifestyle of Christian discipleship and loving Christ above all else?
As Christian parents, we must embrace the need to pray for our kids. But what should our expectations be regarding how we pray for our kids? Theologian J.G. Vos offers these helpful words: "We should expect and believe that God will answer our prayers in his own appointed time and way according to his holy will. That is, in all our praying we must be careful to maintain an attitude of submission to the sovereignty of God. We may never presume to dictate to God as to when and how our prayers are to be answered. If God in his sovereignty chooses to delay the answer to our prayers, we are not to become discouraged and give up praying; we are to exercise Christian patience, and keep on praying with 'perseverance, waiting upon him.' If God does not answer our prayers in the way we desired, we should realize that this is not an unkindness or lack of love on God's part, but because to grant our requests as we asked would not really be for God's glory and our own good."
We’re only a few weeks past the end of summer vacation, so you might find it odd that I’m already encouraging you to think about planning now to take a family vacation together next summer. This past summer our family, which now includes our children and grandchildren, celebrated our twentieth anniversary of staying year after year at the same lake cabin for a week. Everyone loved it. Teen and child psychologist Dr. Erika Velez recently posted a TikTok video encouraging parents to get their kids away on a family vacation. She said that even though kids may protest from time to time, get a bit grumpy, and cause some frustration, the evidence points to the fact that memories are being made and family bonds are being strengthened. So much so, in fact, that our kids look forward to these times away. Parents, as you fulfill your responsibility to nurture and raise your children in the Christian faith, don’t discount opportunities like family vacations as great times to make that happen!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are aware of how the transgender ideology has been sweeping through the medical, educational, and legislative communities. This has created a growing sense, especially among our kids, that assuming a gender identity other than your birth gender is not only an option to explore, but an admirable thing to pursue. Salvo magazine reports that the trend may be taking a turn in the right direction, citing bioethicist Wesley J. Smith’s list of four signals that the tide might be turning against the cult-like push for trans-positivity. Smith says that first, European countries are back-pedaling on policies that allow medical transitioning for kids. Second, detransitioners are now speaking up to tell their horrific stories. Third, some are now suing those who influenced and helped their transition. And fourth, states are passing laws to protect minors from predatory medical practices. Let’s educate our kids on God’s design and his good gift of gender.
Today, I want to tell you about some questionable adult behavior that is trending on social media. It seems that parents are now recording and posting videos where they break a raw egg on the forehead of their unsuspecting children. The short videos in this viral trend typically start with a older or younger child standing at the kitchen counter, either watching or helping the parent cook. As they wait to watch their parent crack an egg in a bowl, the parent turns and cracks the egg on the unsuspecting child or teen’s forehead. The recorded responses that you will find on these videos run the gamut from kids laughing, to acting surprised, to crying and becoming visually upset. This trend reveals the foolish and embarrassing lengths some parents will go to in order to gain online attention and followers. Parents, the Lord has entrusted our children to our care. Embarassing them, seeking attention, and compromising their trust in this way is simply bad parenting.
One of my recurring nightmares about high school is that I arrive to school on the first day and can’t remember or find any of the classes that I’ve been scheduled for the year. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to have that nightmare if I had had the smartphone app known as Saturn that our kids are using these days. The Saturn app’s website says that it’s now live at sixteen thousand schools. It’s a calendar app that helps kids see their schedules, telling where to be and when to be there. It also helps them connect with classmates as they share their schedules. The site says, “High School runs on Saturn.” Now, law enforcement and concerned parents are speaking up to warn others that since the Saturn app shares lots of identifying information, including the daily whereabouts of students, many as young as twelve years old, that the app could become a playground for predators and for the distribution of harmful content. As school districts now are banning the app, parents should be aware.
One measure of cultural change that’s been coming out annually since 1998 is the Beloit College Mindset List. The list tells us what has always been true or not true for incoming college freshman. Those born in 2005 comprise this year’s incoming class of 2027. For them, a cloned human being has always been a thing. The word “sexting” has always been a part of their vocabulary. Videos are not something you rent at a store. Rather, this year’s incoming class have only lived in a world where videos are something you upload to youtube. For them, HIV has always been more or less curable. Sci-Fi and Fantasy movies have always been the top-grossing film genres in a single year. And they are growing up in a world where they will always worry about getting a job in which they can be replaced by a bot. Parents, while the world is changing at breakneck speed, God’s Word remains unchanged. Help your kids see how God speaks to the pressures, issues, and changes they encounter in today’s youth culture.
Now that all of our schools are open and back in full-swing, I thought I would tell you about what researchers have heard from high school students regarding the questions they’re asking about education, work, and their futures. A survey of fourteen to eighteen year-olds conducted back in June has found that students want their kindergarten through twelfth grade education to give them more knowledge about the skills needed to help them understand what training and career options are available after graduation beyond just college. Specifically, our high school kids are asking, “Do I need a college degree?” With student loan debt rising, more and more young people are considering going into the workforce rather than heading off to college. As parents and youth workers, we need to help our kids understand their unique God-given giftedness, and encourage them into the trades as an option. All work is valuable and all work matters to God. College is not their only option.
Several weeks ago, a 14-year-old high school freshman name Connor Halsa went on a fishing trip with his family to Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods. As Connor was patiently waiting to hook a fish his line suddenly tightened up. Something was on the hook. Connor says, “I thought I had a big fish, and I set the hook really hard.” When he reeled in his line and his cousin held out the net, they were surprised to see that Connor didn’t have a Walleye on his line. Rather, he had pulled up a soggy wallet containing two thousand dollars in cash. They also found a business card inside which led them to the wallet’s owner, a farmer from Iowa named Jim Denney, who had dropped his wallet into the lake a year ago. Connor returned the wallet and it’s contents to Denney, and when offered a reward, refused it. Connor said, “We didn’t really work hard for the money. He did, so it was his money.” Connor did the right thing. We need to teach our kids that God calls us to truth-telling as the norm.
If you’ve ever had a family game night, you are most likely familiar with the game called would you rather? You might have used questions like would you rather team up with wonder woman or captain marvel, or would you rather be forced to sing along or dance along to every single song you hear? It’s a fun game where you can learn much about other family members. I recently saw a youtube video where a teen asked his peers, would you rather give up social media or eat the same meal for the rest of your life? Good question. According to recent data from the Pew Internet and Life project, fifty-four percent of our teens say it would be hard to give up social media. Less than half, forty-six percent, say it would be somewhat easy to give up social media. As researchers continue to look at the issue of smartphone and technology addictions, we would be wise to set and enforce boundaries. We don’t want social media to become an idol that supplants their love for Jesus Christ.
As a youth culture analyst there’s one question I get asked more often than any other: “What’s the greatest problem facing teenagers today?” The one-word answer is very simple: sin. It’s the same greatest problem facing people of all ages in all times and in all places. It’s the same greatest problem I face in my own life. We live in a Genesis 3:6 world. Everything God declared as “good” came undone and is in desperate need of redemption. . . . including ourselves. Each of us has exchanged “the truth of God for a lie.” In exchange, we worship and serve created things rather than the Creator”. The root of problems in our families and homes is the sinful, selfish nature of kids and adults. Yes, we must strive to raise spiritually healthy and God-honoring children. And, we must never use the universal reality of human depravity as a reason to not pursue Godliness and excellence. We must never forget that we’re all imperfect, flawed, finite beings polluted by sin, incapable of perfection, and in desperate need of a Savior.
Our friends at the Barna Institute have released a new report on members of Gen Z and spirituality that is titled “The Open Generation”. There’s some encouraging news for those who love and lead kids regarding their interest in Christianity. Listen to these words from the report: Curiosity about Jesus is widespread in the open generation. Teens in the U.S. are far more intrigued than their global peers, with 77 percent being at least somewhat motivated to keep learning about Jesus throughout their lives. A teen’s personal commitment to follow Jesus goes hand in hand with their motivation to study him—the percentage of teens who want to learn more about Jesus rises significantly among committed Christian teens. Even among teens who are non-Christians or don't know who Jesus is, however, over half are at least somewhat motivated to keep learning about him. Parents and youth workers, don’t forsake your responsibility to nurture and lead kids into spiritual maturity.
I recently read a thought-provoking quote from the eighteenth century writer Samuel Johnson. Johnson wrote, “Language is the dress of thought; every time you talk, your mind is on parade.” Immediately after reading these words I thought about what Jesus said in Matthew twelve when he was talking about how a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” He goes on to say that good will come out of a heart that is good, and that evil comes out of a heart that is filled with evil. I have learned that I have to monitor my heart by monitoring my words. In addition, I can evaluate the spiritual health of my child’s heart by listening carefully to their words. In today’s world, it’s not just our spoken words that pull back the curtain on our hearts. What we post in social media gives insight as well. Parents, mind your own words and confess what needs to be confessed. Seek the Lord with your entire being, heart included, and lead your kids to do the same.
In our North American culture, one of the only rites of passage we have from childhood to adulthood is the day that teenager passes their driver’s test and gets their driver’s license. As parents, we take the time to ensure that our kids have learned how to drive safely and conduct themselves responsibly before we allow them to take their driver’s test, and we share numerous safe driving reminders every time they head out alone on the road as newly licensed drivers. What we have to remember is that the most impressionable and lasting drivers ed lesson they receive is our example, which they get to watch for well over ten years. What kind of driving example are you putting forth for your kids? Pastor Philip Ryken says that the most useful virtue for driving is patience. He offers this take on Ephesians 4:1-2: I urge you to drive your car worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with other motorists in love. Parents, your kids are watching you!
As Christian parents, what can we do to help our teens weather the inevitable storm of negative peer pressure in a way that brings honor and glory to their heavenly father? First, realize that negative peer pressure is a spiritual battle that all of us fight constantly. Second, pray for your kids as they face the pressure on a daily basis. Third, examine yourself to see how your example serves them as a model of how to handle negative peer pressure. Fourth, live a lifestyle of following Christ instead of the crowd. Fifth, actively help your children to realize their value and worth in God’s eyes so that they are less prone to seek the approval of others. Sixth, get your kids involved in a positive peer group where following Christ is celebrated and affirmed. And finally, help your kids understand the truth of Proverbs 13:20 – that the person who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
One of the most alarming trends in today’s youth culture is a growing sense of entitlement. It’s especially prevalent among those children and teens living on the receiving end of a silver spoon. On the other end are parents who feed their kids an endless parade of opportunities, activities, and things - all without ever having to work for any of it. These kids wind up believing that they will never have to work for anything, because, after all, they deserve it. A Harris Interactive Poll found that 90 percent of parents think that it’s important for their children to work to pay for the things they want. But the reality is that few kids had jobs. There is a disconnect between the desired end result and what the kids are actually doing. The words of theologian John Wesley are worth teaching to our children: “Work as hard as you can, to make all the money you can, to save as much as you can in order to give away all that you can.”
Today, I want to offer a word of encouragement and perspective to the parents who may be listening. I’ve made an effort to be a good parent. I’ve made many, many mistakes. I’ve struggled from time to time with my own self-centered feelings of inadequacy, sometimes falling into the trap of worrying about what other people will think about the shortcomings in my life and the life of my kids. I’ve grappled with rebellion in my kids. I’ve known sickening dread, sleepless nights, rage, bitterness, shame, frustration, the disappointment of shattered hopes, and the battle between tenderness and contempt. If you raise a teenager and are totally spared all of these experiences, there are two things you should know. First, you are in the minority. And second, it is – like all good things in life – only by the grace of God. The reality is that it’s not easy. But we can and must approach our parenting of adolescents as a glorious God-given challenge and opportunity.
For the last forty-eight years, researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan have been monitoring drug trends among teenagers, and reporting their findings annually in the Monitoring the Future Survey. The most recent survey indicates that in 2022, levels of adolescent cannabis use and nicotine vaping held steady. Among our high school seniors, thirty one percent admitted to cannabis use in the prior twelve months. Twenty seven percent of high school seniors reported vaping nicotine. Even though these numbers remained steady, they are still high and much work needs to be done. The survey reported that alcohol use was on the rise among high school seniors, with fifty two percent reporting using alcohol in the prior twelve months. Parents, our need to instill in our kids physical, moral, and spiritual boundaries related to substance abuse remains strong. What are you doing to prepare your kids worship God through healthy decision-making?
God has made us for relationships, and the primary human relationships for which we’ve been made are those with our family. It’s no secret that one of the primary trends undermining the health of our families has been the loss of a family meal time. Researchers recently listed seven benefits of eating together as a family. First, everyone has better eating habits. One reason is that eating together keeps us from a fast food diet. Second, it helps the mental health of our kids, lowering their risk of developing eating disorders, drug and alcohol use, aggressiveness, sadness, and suicidal ideation. Third, it curtails weight struggles in adulthood, by lowering the risk of obesity. Fourth, children feel supported and more secure in themselves. Fifth, table conversations improve overall communication skills. Sixth, kids develop resilience to bullying. And seventh, family closeness is built. Parents, eat together, and why not add the benefit of sitting together to read God’s Word.
A recent article in Teen Vogue’s online magazine is titled “influencer parents and the kids who had their childhood made into content.” As the title indicates, the article talks about the parents who leveraged social media by putting everything about their children’s lives online for the world to see, not just photos of childhood achievements, but all the intimate details of their lives. This includes videos of them crying, to footage of them being disciplined. All of these have been shared like a young life is some kind of reality show, and it’s all been done without the child’s permission. Now, these children are coming of age and their digital footprint is not only there, but they are lamenting and even angry over what their parents have done to invade their privacy, while trying to gain an online following for themselves. Parents, while the temptations are surely real, maintain a Christ-like humility. Neither you or your kids need to be front and center on social media. Just endeavor to parent well.
With the use of cannabis on the rise and increasingly accepted in our culture, it’s important that we reckon with the fact that its use does have an effect on one’s cognitive and psychological processing. A variety of recent studies found that in relation to cognitive processes, cannabis users showed significantly lower performance on memory tests than those who are non-users or occasional users. These results were consistent, even when the subject being tested was clean on the day of testing. Users were also reported to have a tendency to engage in making riskier decisions, with this tendency even being evident in mild users of cannabis. Other effects of cannabis use include a greater incidence of psychotic episodes, an inability to feel pleasure, and schizophrenia. Cannabis use does have an effect on the brain’s chemistry and circuitry. Parents, if your kids are using cannabis, get them the help they need. And point them to the freedom that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The word pornography is rooted in the Greek word porneia, which means to practice prostitution, sexual immorality, or fornication. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul frequently used this word in reference to any kind of sinful and illegitimate sexual activity. Our friends at the HarvestUSA ministry offer this helpful definition of pornography that’s written from a biblical perspective: Pornography is anything that the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts or corrupts the human heart into desiring sexual pleasure in sinful ways. Parents, we need to teach our kids that God has made sex for our good and his glory, but that we can only experience it in these ways when we stay within his purpose and his plan. Paul tells us that we are to flee from sexual immorality, or porneia. Talk to your kids about pornography, along with the dangers that come with indulging our good gift of sexuality in sinful ways.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” The Gospel is about God in His mercy and grace doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus came to rescue us from all of our sin, brokenness, and disordered desires. The Gospel creates an entirely new view of self that is not based on competing with and comparing ourselves to others. Rather, it is about salvation by grace that allows us to find our sense of worth in who we are in and through Jesus Christ. In the Gospel we find the freedom to stop indulging in practicing glory seeking for ourselves. Ultimately, vainglory is a path of destruction just it was for our first parents in Genesis 3. In their desire to “become like God,” they cut themselves off from God. Thank God that He has given us a way out of our self-serving bondage through Jesus Christ. In grateful response to God’s grace, we are to live to His glory and His glory alone.
Many members of Generation Z are either delaying getting their driver’s license, or not getting a driver’s license at all. Generation Z includes all those born between 1997 and 2012. When most of us think back to our own teenage years, we couldn’t wait to get our driver’s license, as it represented a move from dependence to independence, and it served as a marker that we were moving closer to adulthood. But things have changed. In 1997, forty-three percent of sixteen-year-olds and sixty-two percent of seventeen year-olds had driver’s licenses. In 2020 those numbers had fallen to twenty-five percent and forty-five percent. Why is this happening? Kids are concerned about the higher cost of driving, and driving’s impact on the environment. Ride-sharing, e-scooters, and e-bikes are transportation alternatives. But there’s one additional reason kids are choosing not to drive: fear and anxiety. This reminds us of our need to address anxiety through the peace, presence, and promises of Jesus Christ.
Parents, we can’t buy into the widespread cultural cynicism regarding children and teenagers as difficulties or burdens. The psalmist writes, “Don’t you see that kids are God’s best gift? The fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows are the kids of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of kids.” Children are not liabilities; they’re rewards from God, given to us as a sign of God’s favor. God values them highly and so must we. Because it’s so easy for us as adults to fall prey to the selfish pressures and expectations of life in today’s world, we can just as easily see our children and teens as inconveniences and nuisances that suck the life out of us, keeping us from doing the things we want to do and from realizing what we think is our full potential. How selfish are we?!? When you face difficult times with your kids – and you will – always remember that the children God gave you as gifts gifts. . . even during the teenage years.
Anorexia Nervosa is a medical term which means “nervous loss of appetite.” In recent years, anorexia has been on the rise, fueled in many ways by society’s pressure to be thin and to be perfect, an ever present reality thanks to both social media and marketing. While anorexia is more prevalent in our girls, a growing number of males are struggling with it as a result of body image concerns. It’s usually reported that ten percent of anorexics are males. A recent study in Australia found that about thirteen percent of adolescent males struggle with some kind of eating disorder. For males, the concern that most often drives them into body dysmorphia is a perceived lack of muscle. Here in the U.S., it was found that about thirty percent of adolescent boys attempt to gain weight and increase muscle mass. Parents, we need to counter the culture’s influence by constantly reminding our kids that God is most concerned with our hearts.
What is your greatest desire for your children? Most parents summarize their desire with the word “success.” But what is success? For many, it’s a secure job, the accumulation of things, and personal safety. But the Jesus who calls us to “take up your cross and follow me” defines success differently. When asked by the teacher of the law about which commandment is most important, Jesus defined success. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” True success in life is faithfulness to God and obedience to his commands. Our desire for our kids should be that they become like Christ in all things. We must know the truth as it’s contained in God’s Word, talk about it, live it, model it, experience it, and prayerfully trust God to change our kid’s hearts and minds.
With anxiety off the charts as a growing epidemic among children and teens, I want to offer a strategy you can employ to prevent anxiety in the kids you know and love. Perhaps the most effective strategy is to teach them to preach the Gospel to themselves. Teach them to speak to their hearts, telling their hearts to follow the Gospel rather than allowing their hearts to speak to them. You see, our feelings are not trustworthy. They can lead us astray. They are especially dangerous during times of emotional highs and lows. While the mantra of today’s culture is “follow and trust your heart,” the mantra for the Christian should be “follow and trust the Gospel.” I have found the words of this old hymn to be helpful: “God is God, he sees and hears, all our troubles, all our tears. Soul forget not, ‘mid your pains, God o’er all forever reigns. Fear not Death nor Satan’s thrusts, God defends who in Him trusts. Soul, remember in your pains, God o’er all forever reigns!”
Everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth has been made by God for a relationship with God. Because our rebellion and sin has severed that relationship, there remains a deep yearning inside each human being to have that relationship restored. Whether our teenagers know what to call it or not, Blaise Pascal described this universal hole in the soul as a god-shaped vacume. Alistar McGrath describes Pascal’s model as “a God-shaped emptiness within us, which only God can fill. We may try to fill it in other ways and with other things. Yet one of the few certainties of life is that nothing in this world satisfies our longing for something that is ultimately beyond this world.” While it may at times seem like it isn’t so, your teenager is no different than anyone else. His great need is to have this God-shaped emptiness filled by God. Even when they don’t recognize it as such, we can rest in the assurance that their hunger is for heaven, and our calling is to point them to the Cross.