Parents

The Razor's Edge

Fifty-one percent of respondents to [christianparenting.net](http://www.christianparenting.net/)'s recent informal online poll said they've either known someone who self-mutilates, did so themselves as a teen, or have a child who has been a "cutter." While the results of the poll aren't scientific, they do demonstrate parents' need to be aware of this chilling trend. For a closer look at the problem of teen mutilation, read this article called [The Razor's Edge](http://www.christianitytoday.com/cpt/2004/004/9.34.html).

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Teens and Drugs - The Warning Signs

*by Walt Mueller*

It's a school district proud of its quiet neighborhoods, good families, high academic standards, and bright students. A $40,000 student survey opened their eyes to the fact that in 1995, district teenagers were using alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and a variety of other drugs at rates equal to and above the national average. But even though they now know that substance abuse is a problem "that's happening here...", some parents continue to turn their heads in ignorance as they mutter, "...but not to my kid!"

Ignorance denies the fact that **every teenager in this country will have to make a personal decision about drugs and alcohol**. The abundance or lack of parental interest and involvement plays a huge role in that decision. Informed parents erect preventive substance abuse warning signs for their children, and take care to heed the warning signs sent by their kids.

Seventeen year-old Jennifer speaks with confidence when she says that "drugs and alcohol are not an issue for me. Sure they're all around me. But I've made up my mind to not give in." When asked about why she can be so certain of herself in an adolescent culture that glorifies alcohol and drug abuse, she quickly places all the positive "blame" on her parents. From the time Jennifer was young, they actively addressed the issue without turning their heads in another direction.

**Take a look in the mirror**. I was raised in a home where abstinence was practiced, not because drinking was wrong, but because my parents knew the power of example. With the number of teen alcohol and drug problems I've seen over the years, continuing in their footsteps has been an easy choice. While some people have told me that I should be modeling "responsible drinking", I think I am. Parents who drink raise kids who drink. Those who rely on over the counter and prescription drugs as relief for every little ailment send a loud message to their children. What kind of lifestyle are you modeling for your kids?

**Establish standards and rules**. Contrary to what some people think, alcohol and drug use is relatively low among adolescents whose parents have set strict rules about chemical use. A study by the Search Institute found the factor that most distinguished chemical users from nonusers was the response to the question, "How upset would your parents be if you came home from a party and your parents found out you had been drinking?" For those who indicated that their parents would be very upset, chemical abuse was limited. For those with parents who didn't care, chemical abuse was much more pronounced. Take a stand. Set boundaries and spell out the punishments for drinking, smoking and using drugs. When the pressure is on, your rules might be the "out" for a teen who's riding the fence of decision.

**Encourage involvement with a peer group that doesn't support drug and alcohol use**. With substance abuse strongly related to what one's friends do, it makes sense to encourage friendships with other teens who have decided to say "no". Jennifer says that her church youth group is the place she goes to "be myself without having to worry about what other kids think." She credits her parents with instilling in her a desire to be with Christian friends. It doesn't hurt that they go out of their way to make it easy by opening up their home to her friends or putting lots of miles on the car from frequent trips to church activities.

**Don't be an enabler**. When his weekend party behavior finally caught up to him after an arrest for driving under the influence, Jason's parents were flabbergasted. They had no idea he was drinking. They shouldn't have been surprised. Like many parents, their good intentions of unlimited weekend use of the car, gas money, late curfew, and frequent unsupervised use of the house increased the chances that Jason would make poor choices. Don't make it easy for your teen to drink. Don't give your teen alcohol or allow parties in your home where alcohol is served.

**Give them the facts**. Almost half of America's teenagers get their information about drugs and alcohol from unreliable sources. More than four million learn from their friends. Another five million say they "just picked up" what they know. Drug education should start in the home when children are young. Informed parents openly communicate accurate information about the dangers and effects of various drugs. Teach your children to discern false messages in advertisements that glamorize alcohol consumption. And finally, tell them about the legal issues related to underage drinking and using illegal drugs.

**Teach a biblical theology of substance abuse**. Our bottom-line goal should be to lead our children into an understanding of how to glorify God through their alcohol and drug attitudes and behaviors. Teach them their responsibility to obey laws (Romans 13:1-3, 6-7) and avoid drunkenness (Proverbs 23:20-21; I Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:18; and I Thessalonians 5:5-8). Teenagers also need parents who will keep ears and eyes open for the presence of problems that lead kids to drink. Study the Bible with your children as you lead them to discover God's answers to these spiritual problems.

While it is important for moms and dads to do all they can to warn their children about the trap of teen substance abuse, there are situations where a son or daughter will make foolish choices that lead quickly down the path of addiction. Phil and Brenda Fisher were good parents who raised their son Steve in a Christian home. Shortly after his fifteenth birthday, Steve didn't seem to be himself. Phil assumed that Steve was struggling with the normal changes of adolescence. Steve continually shrugged off his father's attempts to get him to open up and talk about what was happening in his life. Because they knew that Steve, like all other teenagers, wasn't immune from the pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol, they made themselves aware of the warning signs. After confronting Steve with hard facts, he admitted to a growing dependence on marijuana. They were able to get Steve help and love him back to health. Ignorance to the warning signs would have been disastrous.

Like the Fishers, every parent should be aware of four types of teen substance abuse warning signs (see a detailed list below). A combination of several signs warrants immediate attention. Confront your teen and take action before addiction occurs.

**Behavioral signs**. While unexplained and sudden changes in behavior are typical during adolescence, an increase in negative behaviors can be a clear indicator of substance abuse. The Fisher's obvious behavioral clue was the change in Steve's attitude towards school. Normally a good student, Steve's grades dropped dramatically. His history teacher called to say that Steve had been caught cutting class. His math teacher noticed that Steve seemed aloof and uninterested. Fortunately, they searched beneath these symptoms to the root cause for the sudden change.

**Social Signs**. It's a given that teenagers spend increased amounts of time with friends and less time with their parents. But Phil and Steve had always been close. Steve's rather abrupt withdrawal from his Dad and change in circle of close male friends served as additional clues to his problem.

**Physiological Signs**. Drug and alcohol abuse always leave "footprints" on a person's appearance. Steve's red eyes and sleepiness served as neon lights flashing "PROBLEM". When the symptoms continued, the Fisher's knew that Steve was dealing with more than a late night or bout with allergies.

**Obvious Signs**. It's easy for parents who hope the best for their children to overlook the behavioral, social and physiological signs by fooling themselves into believing that nothing's wrong. But arrest, intoxication, or discovery of drug paraphernalia are obvious signs that a teenager has a drug or alcohol problem.

The school district I mentioned earlier has begun to generate a return on their $40,000 investment by educating parents. As part of that process, they are working to convince each and every parent to admit that "it can happen in my family". Hopefully parents will begin to educate their children by erecting warning signs, and educate themselves by paying attention to their kids. The entire community will reap a huge dividend. More and more homes will be filled with teenage voices echoing Jennifer's words, "it's not an issue for me!"

*Reprinted with permission from the [Center for Parent and Youth Understanding](http://www.cpyu.org/).*

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Don't Give Up!

*by Walt Mueller*

When a new baby is born, fathers, mothers, family and friends all celebrate. For several days, balloons, flowers, gifts and cards flood the hospital and decorate the new parents' home. The new parents experience a kind of euphoria: giving birth to a new creation that is a bit of them.

But for many parents, it is only a matter of days, weeks, or months before being faced with any number of parenting difficulties. Sleepless nights, colic, crying, and a baby that won't settle down can wear a young parents' patience thin. You know because you remember what it was like to be there!

As babies grow into toddlers, they go places they shouldn't go and touch things they shouldn't touch. Little children with independent spirits, disobedient streaks, and an ability to talk back can be a nuisance when they are someone else's, but they are terribly frustrating when they are your own. Some parents say that as the years progress, the difficulty of the parenting role increases proportionately. At any given point, parents may be tempted to cry out, "What did I ever do to deserve this?!?" The temptation is to wish the years away.

I've learned that a good number of parents of teens feel the same way. The brief time your child spends in the teenage years is filled with a complex and confusing mix of change and discovery. Neither fully child nor fully adult, a teenager's daily life can be similar to paddling a small canoe through a hurricane. My own children are growing up. I've got three teenagers in the house. We know firsthand that for those of us who reside with a teenager, life can be difficult and trying. Even if we have done our best to prepare ourselves for all of the developmental changes and cultural pressures that occur during the teen years, we may feel as though our child has just thrown us a curve by becoming a teen, and we might be tempted to wish away these teen years.

Let's face the truth: We are parents; they are teens. Although we may share a roof and a last name, they are growing up in a culture that is markedly different from the one we grew up in. It's a difficult and frightening world. There is a cultural-generational gap that exists. And if we, as parents, don't make an effort to close the gap, it will widen.

So what can we do to close the gap? As Lisa and I have worked to lead our kids from childhood into adulthood, we have been deliberate about learning from those who have gone before us. We've also talked to teens. And we've looked at the Scriptures prayerfully for guidance. Here are some simple truths we've learned that I trust you'll find helpful. They'll serve to help you keep your footing as you help your teens navigate an increasingly complex and frightening culture.

**First, God gives us the gift of children!** The Psalmist writes, "Don't you see that children are God's best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior's fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children!" (Psalm 127:3-5, The Message). On the day they were born you celebrated them as gifts. They may be teenagers now... but don't stop the celebration. They're still gifts.

**Second, no one ever said it would be easy.** Somehow we've all bought the lie that the only good things in life are the easy things. If it gets too hard or too painful... well... then something's wrong. Don't believe the lie. Nobody ever said raising kids - let alone in today's culture - would be easy. A quick review of the Bible reveals that sin affects every home. At times, your kids will make unwise choices. Perhaps it's those times where we find ourselves most blessed. Why? Because we must throw ourselves into the arms of our heavenly Father - the place where we should have been all along!

**Third, the world is more than happy to raise our children for us.** In the same way God gives us the gift of children, He gives our children the gift of parents. It's a gift they should have right on through those rocky years of adolescence. Sadly, too many of us drop back. We get too busy with our own interests, careers, and pursuits. But when we do that, we open the door for someone or something else to come in and raise the kids. In today's world, the culture - particularly the pervasive and attractive world of music and media - is all too ready to step in and raise the kids for us. The degree of influence that the world has on our kids depends on how involved we become in their lives. Are you involved in your teenager's life?

**Finally, we've been given a compass.** While our postmodern world denies the presence of truth, we know that God has given us His word to guide our steps through all of life. As a parent, I find great assurance in the fact that I can look beyond my own confused self and the opinions of confused others to a compass that has stood the test of time - a compass created by the one who made all things. The Bible offers us sound parenting instruction. It's a road map that will keep us on course in a culture that offers so many other ways.

Parenting teens in today's culture is hard work. There are no easy answers. We will all encounter trials - some of us more than others. But through constant, active dependence on the God who never changes, we can live through the teen years. And we can experience the joy of letting God work powerfully in and through us to affect the world - through our teens!

*Reprinted with permission from the [Center for Parent and Youth Understanding](http://www.cpyu.org/).*

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It's a High-Tech Life

By Doug West

Today's youth culture is marked by technology, and has the acronyms to prove it. PS2, PDA, IM, SMS, P2P, MP3 are just a few of the abbreviations to emerge in recent years that point to this new reality—not to mention the prefix "e" and the use of the oft-ignored ampersand @. But at the hub of this technological tempest is cell phones, which promise to keep us accessible, connected, secure and entertained.

American adults expressed their feelings of ambivalence about cell phones, as evidenced by the results of a recent survey (Lemelson-MIT Invention Index), where 30 percent called them the most-hated and needed invention. Yet, despite this vacillation, cell phones continue to flourish. Culture is adapting to the cell phone's presence by adopting measures to curtail cell phone use at movie theatres, schools, churches and elsewhere. Given the growing prominence and increased placement of what is quickly becoming the staple in the tech-savvy teen's diet, CPYU offers the following information and analysis on cell phones in the lives of today's tweens (ages 8-12) and teens.

**Adoption rates and revenue streams**

Enter the world of youth and an undeniable reality quickly becomes evident—cell phones are everywhere. To see just how pervasive cell phones are, conduct an informal survey of the youth in your unique ministry setting and compare the results with what the researchers are finding. The Yankee Group says 56 percent of 11-17 year-olds own or share a cell phone (*New York Times*, 3/18/04). Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) reports that 45 percent of 12-19 year-old youth have a cell phone (*USA Today*, 6/6/03). Either way, lots of kids own and use cell phones.

The cell phone market was estimated at $100 billion with 520 million units sold and approximately 159 million users in 2003, according to Gartner research group (Reuters, 3/10/04)). Ring tones—digital versions of popular songs—generated $3.5 billion in global sales in 2003 (Reuters, 1/13/04). According to research firm IDC, 9.9 million people downloaded a ring tone in 2003, up from 4.8 million in 2002 (csmonitor.com, 1/30/04). IDC also reports that Americans tallied $57 million in ring tone sales in 2003, up from $16 million in 2002 (*Time*, 12/29/03-1/5/04).

**Features**

Cell phones, like any other technological gadget, have experienced enormous change over recent years. Increasingly powerful and functional, cell phones offer elaborate and sophisticated games, ring tones, cameras and more. As technological advancement continues to revolutionize cell phones, it also simultaneously expands the extent and reach of media—for better or worse—in the lives of today's youth. Concerned adults should take particular note of this trend and use it as an opportunity to engage youth in their media consumption patterns and lifestyle choices.

The most prominent and noticeable feature of cell phones is the ring tone. No longer confined by conformity, ring tones are considered to be a form of expression. In fact, a recurring YMobile ad has as its tag line, "express yourcell!" The ad also features the top 10 most popular ring tones of mainstream pop music artists. There are numerous Internet sites that allow teens to seek out and download their favorite ring tones.

Another common feature is text messaging, or "SMS" (Short Message Service), which is the cell phone version of instant messaging that allows users to send and receive shorthand messages with thumb typed keystrokes. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, 37 percent of youth use text messaging (*USA Today*, 6/6/03).

Camera phones are one of the latest and most controversial cell phone features. While the picture quality is typically poor—but improving—many people and companies, citing privacy and copyright concerns, are taking issue with the improper use of images captured on these phones, and denying their access.

Internet and e-mail access and computer games are also being made available on cell phones.

**Cheating**

As with any other invention, cell phones have the potential for misuse and abuse, and can serve to foil or facilitate cheating. On the positive side, a Nokia "Spy Cam" (picture phone) ad shows a mosaic of camera phone images of a guy frolicking with various females with the tag line, "Didn't Jake tell you he was studying?" In this example, technology provides a valuable function of accountability.

On the down side however, an LG print ad highlights the growing moral relativism in today's youth culture, but also points out how technology can be used for dubious ends. The ad shows a cartoon female standing next to a phone with the tag line, "Different rings for different boyfriends. Technology can be so naughty."

In addition to the use of cell phones in dating relationships is how they are used in the classroom. Students have been caught cheating on tests using text messaging. Now with the advent of camera phones, teachers have to respond to a whole new set of challenges. Many schools have adopted rules to ban cell phones in the classroom.

**"Handle with care!"**

Beyond cheating, there are other areas of concern with cell phone use. Driving a car while talking on a cell phone is a serious safety issue, particularly for teens, who, though accustomed to multi-tasking, are inexperienced behind the wheel. Cell phones also afford teens the opportunity to gossip on a grander scale, and gives bullies another means to torment and tease their victims. Invasion of privacy is another possible problem as camera phones enable people to act like "paparazzi" by intruding on the lives of friend or foe and distributing the images quickly and easily via e-mail and the Internet.

Clearly cell phones are the proverbial blessing and curse, offering numerous benefits but with accompanying drawbacks. Parents, educators and concerned adults would do well to "consider the cost" and think through the multi-faceted issues related to cell phone initiation, and, if deemed appropriate, to lovingly establish limits on their use.

*Printed with permission from the [Center for Parent and Youth Understanding](http://www.cpyu.org/)*

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You can't give away what you don't have

By Steven J. Givens

There’s an old faith-sharing conversation starter that goes like this: If you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Let’s try a new twist on that for today’s Catholic parents: If your kids had to decide today, based on the example you set, whether or not to become members of this great Catholic and apostolic Church, would they?

That decision, of course, is what is supposed to happen at the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our kids are supposed to stand on their own two feet and, based on what they have been taught and what they have experienced in their homes and their parishes, make a decision about following Christ and His Church.

But is this what is happening?

Sadly, many times it is not. As a person who has taught in and run parish schools of religion in three parishes over the past 25 years, I’ve experienced all too often the mass exodus of the newly confirmed from the life of the Church.

Confirmation, for many of these young people and their parents, has become the sacrament of departure instead of the Sacrament of Initiation that it truly is.

Somewhere along the line many of these teens have been told by their parents that if they will just "make it through Confirmation" then all will be well. No more religion class. No more PSR. No more rules.

"Go to Mass or don’t after that," they say, "whatever turns you on."

But going through the paces of Confirmation doesn’t make your children Catholic. It might make the grandparents happy and proud to see the grandkids get the chrism and the hands of the bishop laid on them, but as filled with grace as the Sacrament of Confirmation is, it’s not a magic pill that makes 14-year-olds Catholic. Catholic schools and parish schools of religion don’t make our kids alive, vibrant Catholics, either.

Parents make their children Catholic.

When a man and woman marry, they promise to accept children lovingly from God then raise them according to the laws of Christ and His Church. They promise to "pass on the faith" to their children, to raise up a new generation of people to love and serve God.

But in an age of satellite television, MTV and video games, how can we hope to compete for the hearts and minds of our children? How can we convince them that faith matters and that God is real?

The answer is that we must show them. Sending them to religion class won’t guarantee they receive the faith any more than taking them to soccer practice will make them professional athletes.

They certainly need to be educated about their faith, but if that’s all they get something’s missing. They will grow up thinking that "Catholic" is something we "are" because we’re born with it, like being an American or male or female.

What they need to learn is that Catholic is something we "do."

As parents, we need to remember that faith is "caught" more often than it’s "taught," because how we adults live our faith is always more important and powerful than demanding our children to "go to church." If we say, "go to Mass" but never go ourselves, if we say "go to PSR" but never show a speck of interest in educating ourselves more about our faith, guess which lesson is being learned?

Never doubt that our kids are watching us. If our children never or rarely see us at prayer, they are not very likely to grow up to be adults who pray.

But when they see in us a spirituality that is a cause of joy and peace, they will see something that they want to have, something worth seeking. They won’t be able to imagine their life without it.

And that’s the only kind of faith worth passing on.

*Reprinted with permission from the [St. Louis Review](http://www.stlouisreview.com/). Givens is a member of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant and the author of several children’s books on faith issues.*

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Back to School Night... Everyday

By Walt Mueller

With four kids in school, we get to do it four times each and every September. If you're a parent who cares about your kids, you've done it too. Depending on where you live, it's called "Back To School Night" or "Meet The Teacher Night." It's a chance for us to get to know two major components of our kids' education. First, we meet and familiarize ourselves with the teachers who will spend hundreds of hours with our children throughout the course of the school year. And second, we are exposed to an overview of the curriculum and content taught to our kids during those days spent in the classroom. It's fair to say that the mark of a concerned and caring parent is a deep interest in and awareness of their child's education - particularly who is doing the teaching and what is being taught.

As a parent I want my kids to learn as much as possible about math, science, history, and the numerous other courses that will prepare them for further education and the fulfillment of their vocational calling. But as a Christian parent I also care because I want them to get a good education that reflects Godly values and attitudes that will pay dividends in Godly behavior throughout life.

Over the course of my years studying adolescents and their unique culture, I've become aware of three basic facts: First, because of where they're at in the developmental process, teenagers are asking lots of questions about life. Because of that, they're primed for learning. Second, I've learned that most of what they learn about life doesn't take place while they're sitting in school. Rather, much of their education takes place in the "classroom" of popular culture. Their music, media, and peer group are teaching some pretty powerful and convincing "lessons" that over time will shape their worldview. And third, I've noticed that most of us parents don't involve ourselves nearly as much in finding out about what they're learning in the classroom of pop culture as we should. Sadly, many of us don't have a clue.

But as we fulfill our God-given role to nurture our children through the difficult, confusing, and sometimes rocky years of adolescence, we should be going out of our way to "Meet The Teachers" by familiarizing ourselves with who in pop culture is doing the teaching and what is being taught. Let me suggest that you should visit these "classrooms." Why? Because most kids I know sit in these classrooms each and every day. If we know what they're learning, then we can affirm those lessons that are positive, and challenge/debunk those that are negative with God's Word and a Christian worldview. Here are five "classrooms" that deserve your regular attention:

**Their magazines** - Research points to the fact that many teenagers spend more time each day with magazines than they do in front of the TV. Find out what magazines are your teen's favorites. Ask to borrow them or take a field trip to the magazine rack at your local bookstore. Grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and start to read. Begin with the covers. Look closely at the ads. Read the articles. Editors and marketers know what makes your teen tick. Their magazines are designed and written to push those buttons.

**Their radio station** - Early morning and right before bedtime - that's the time most kids are tuned into their favorite radio station(s). Have you ever listened closely to the radio "teachers" your kids live with every day? Take special note of the banter between the on-air personalities, the advertisements, and the music.

**Their CD's** - I've always said that there are two great ways to learn what's on the mind of a teenager. Naturally, asking them questions and sitting back to listen and learn is most important. The second way is to ask them about their music. What is it about your teen's music that connects with them? And what are they learning as they attend the school with a beat?

**Their Movies** - If you're looking for teens on a Friday or Saturday night in my town, all you have to do is head out to our local cineplex. And if they're not there, chances are they're at someone's house watching a movie or two from the local video rental store. What movies have your kids been watching lately? Do you know what lessons those films teach?

**Their TV** - While teenagers watch fewer hours of TV per week compared to most age groups, it's still a big part of their media diet. MTV. UPN, and WB are just a few of the networks targeting teens with viewing fare loaded with lessons on life. Do you know what show(s) you teen "just can't miss" every week?

A father once asked me this question: "How can I expect my teenage son to hear the still small voice of God with all those other voices screaming in his ears?" This dad recognized a troubling fact about growing up in today's world. While there's not an easy answer to that question, we can start by listening to those voices ourselves. When we know what their teaching, the lessons we must teach become clear. Want to do your kids a big favor? Then go "back to school."

*Reproduced with permission from [The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding](http://www.cpyu.org/).*

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