Tag Archives: parenting teens

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 3

youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it…

see part 1: doubts
and part 2: transition

bored in churchBored with Church and God

When your kid was 9, he loved going to church, loved his Sunday school class, and seemed to have a real relationship with God.

But now, as a young teen, he seems bored. Maybe he’s even expressed this: “Church is boring; I don’t want to go.”

This is a natural occurrence in the lives of young teens. But the reasoning behind this boredom isn’t the same for every child. Here are a few possibilities:

Not Connected
Children (prior to the teen years) need fewer reasons to find church or Christianity engaging. A few fun moments in Sunday school or the reality of Christ in their parents’ lives can be enough. But young teens start to perceive a disconnect (if one exists) between real life and “church-world.” If they don’t sense a relational connection with people in the church (youth group leaders, other kids, adults in the church), it’s easy for them to make the small leap to boredom.

Young teens have a passionate need to be valued and noticed. Any place that doesn’t validate who they are as individuals, any place where they don’t feel known, can quickly feel awkward or boring to them.

Unless your family happens to attend a church with worship and sermons that connect with your young teen (this isn’t common, and isn’t normally the aim of most churches), attending church can begin to feel like a monumental waste of time to young teens – even if they still have an active faith in God.

The forms most churches use (in song, spoken word and format) are pretty foreign to the world of a teenager. Frankly, they’re often pretty foreign to the world of adults too! But the variance from “church-world” to the world of adults is almost always less than to the world of teens.

Faith System Disconnect
Probably the most common, and most healthy reason for young teens to feel boredom is their developmental need to grow up in faith. Pre-teens and children approach faith issues, obviously, with the mind of a child. But a young teen’s new ability to grasp (or at least entertain) abstract ideas begs all their concrete spiritual conclusions and understandings into question.

This shift in thinking ability has enormous spiritual implications for young teens, because pretty much everything we talk about at church, or in relation to faith in God, is abstract. Its like kids have a backpack of faith system “bits.” And during their young teen years, situations arise that call these bits to the forefront. When it becomes obvious to a teen that their childhood spiritual answer to a given situation or question doesn’t offer a strong enough answer anymore, they are forced to ignore this issue or struggle to allow their beliefs to evolve into a more adult form.

Don’t be freaked out by this process. Don’t be thrown by your teen’s expression of boredom. Instead, find constructive ways to come alongside her during this transition time of life.

Processing Boredom with Your Young Teen
Here are some ideas for coming alongside your young teen and her spiritual boredom:

  • Live it out. If your teen sees a vibrant and real faith being lived out day-to-day in your life (and being verbally expressed also), it will go a long ways toward helping him consider what an adult faith system should look like.
  • Talk about it. Our natural tendency is to lecture our kids about why they’re bored (“you need to do this”). Instead, work to create open lines of communication about faith and church. Process your child’s questions and reservations without jumping to easy answers.
  • Look for relational connections. Help your teen be (or stay) connected to the people of the church, not just the program. Look for creative ways to foster these relationships – with their peers and with other adults who will care about them.
  • Debrief. After a church service or youth group meeting, talk about what went on. Be careful that this doesn’t come across as a test. Helping your teen see the life-connection between what’s talked about at church and their world is a wonderful way to encourage the growth of their faith.

middle school culture, part 2

i have a new book releasing in december for parents, called Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents. the book is a significant rewrite of some of my chapters from the book scott rubin and i co-authored a couple years ago, called Middle School Ministry. In this series, i’m excerpting portions of one of the chapters, called “White-Hot Temporary (Early Adolescent Culture)”.

my first post in this series covered a culture of information, and a culture of immediacy.


A Disposable Culture
Along with everything being instantly accessible, we also live in an era of disposability. Some things, such as disposable contact lenses and printer ink cartridges, are understood entirely as items to be used up and thrown away. Many more things have a sense of disposability to them, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers. Even an MP3 file seems more disposable than a physical CD.

Just like other aspects of the middle school world, this “use it a bit, then toss it” mentality has been the norm for these kids their whole lives. So it naturally flows over into other realms of their thinking in ways that are new to this generation:

Relationships have a sense of disposability to them these days.
Knowledge has a sense of disposability to it these days.
Beliefs have a sense of disposability.
And affiliations.
And trust.
And truth.

The subconscious thinking is: If something new is going to replace this next week anyhow, why should I be attached to it now?

A Culture of Consumerism
Earlier, I noted that it’s time for us adults to own our complicity in today’s culture. Nowhere is this more true than with consumerism.

A significant portion of the still-forming identity of today’s middle schooler is just that: “I am a consumer.” They’ve learned this from the obvious places, such as advertisements everywhere. It’s become so prevalent we may not even realize that it’s not always been this way. For example, do you remember when major sports arenas weren’t “sponsored”? Or the era before ad revenue was the primary fuel of the Internet? Do you remember when product placement was a term you didn’t know?

But schooling in how to be a consumer is not just a product of those people in the marketing world. Almost everything and everyone in the lives of young teens treats them as consumers.

And treating young teens as consumers–get ready for the “ouch”–is what most of our churches and youth ministries do also. Unfortunately, I see it played out in many homes also.

Some time ago, I heard British youth leader Mike Pilavachi speak at a Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention. He shared the narrative of his earliest days in youth ministry, when he worked hard to provide the best “youth ministry show” in town. A turning point came for him on the night he put together a fun movie party for his group. He arranged comfortable seating, provided fun movie snacks, prepared a bit of stand-up comedy beforehand, and showed a fun film. At the end of the night, the room was trashed and all the kids were walking out. The last girl looked at the state of the room, turned to Mike, and said, “Wow, this room is a real mess.” He thought she might offer to help clean it up, but instead she said, “You’re really going to have to clean this up!” And then she walked out.

Mike was furious as he went about the work of cleaning up. He thought about how unappreciative the kids were, and he even thought how they “didn’t deserve him.” But an intrusive thought (from God, Mike was sure) came to him: Why are they this way?
The only honest answer Mike could give was, I’ve made them this way. Mike said, “When we treat them as consumers, they play their part very well.”

Or, consider this example of the consumerism perpetuated in our own homes: I was chatting with my middle school guys small group about their parents, and asked the very abstract question, “What role do your parents play in your life?” The first boy to answer smiled and said, “My parents are the people who get me stuff!”

This is one of those “less neutral” parts of middle school culture that we can work to undo. Or at least we can be intentional about not adding to it.


up next: an intense but temporary culture, and a networked culture.