As adults, our needs are often set aside to care for our family. Yet, parents often feel overwhelmed and disconnected from their kids. Any direction parents look, there is a plethora of advice on parenting and raising successful kids. What we know is simple - children of all ages need relationships and support from many sources. Coaches, teachers, youth directors, family members and other trusted adults provide the security, healthy relationships, purpose, and belonging our children need to connect to the world around them.
What we know is simple - children of all ages need relationships and support from many sources.
Connections are so important to our children that the absence of them impacts their mental health. That’s why this pandemic has increased our concern for our children’s well being. Experts estimate that 1 in 4 young adults have thought about suicide in the last month, and report 75% are struggling in at least one area of their life (Wan, 2020). Pima County Health Department has consistently sent out bulletins throughout the COVID pandemic alerting medical professionals of the rise in suicides among all age groups. The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but our youth have encountered a time unlike any other generation. This has shown us that at the core of every person is the need for healthy connections. So, what can parents do?
Connecting to Family
Connect with your kids. The most powerful force to healthy development is connection. In its simplest form, it is called love. By teaching young people to connect to family, friends and faith, they learn to love themselves, others, and God.
When children are young, opportunities for connecting are endless. Going to the park, playing with Play-Doh, baking cookies, watching TV shows, listening to music and dancing all count as family activities. As they get older, kids become more withdrawn. This is a normal part of development as they learn to become more independent; yet, this can make forming connections with our children much more difficult. We know love and connection come in simple things: time, activities, eating together, and just simply enjoying one another's company. The actions we choose as parents determine the bond our children have with the family.
By teaching young people to connect to family, friends and faith, they learn to love themselves, others, and God.
Meal time is a great example. Eating as a family is not about the food; it's about the connection. In 1960, the average dinner time was 90 minutes; today’s average time is a whopping 12 minutes. What’s the significance of family dinner time? It is a reflection of how far we have strayed from daily routines that promote connection. We are inundated with distractions that take us away from our family and home. Jessica Smart is an author and blogger that spends most of her time intentionally connecting with her kids. She sums up connecting with kids by saying, “The greatest power is when your kids know you like them and want to be with them.” Finding ways to let our kids know we love them and want to be with them is critical to forming a healthy relationship founded in connections.
Connecting to Friends
Friendships come and go and leave our kids to question what relationships look like. All kids have experienced healthy relationships and a few toxic relationships. Families create the foundational qualities needed for kids to develop healthy friendships. Honesty, respect, compassion, acceptance, spending time together, communication and loyalty produce healthy friendships. However, kids tend to struggle considerably with communication and loyalty. Social media and other online platforms create a false sense of security where kids feel like they can say anything without consequence. Yet, they are unable to have meaningful communication with one another in person. They also “jump ship” the minute a friend annoys them or says something hurtful. Friendships are like any other relationship; they will have good times and bad times. The best way to help our kids find friends is to teach them to be a good friend. This begins by teaching them the above qualities, giving them the confidence to put themselves out there, and creating an attitude of openness to many different types of friends. This diversity helps kids connect to others and the world around them.
Friendships are beautiful, loving, forgiving, joyful, long lasting and meant for the building up of the kingdom of God.
Jesus was the ultimate example of diversity, love, acceptance, and loyalty. These qualities are reflected over and over in God’s Word. From the beginning, God declared, “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God constantly restores fellowship (friendship) with one another and with Him. Even in the Bible, God shows us that relationships are not easy. Friendships are complicated and our kids need to know this. However, they should also know that friendships are beautiful, loving, forgiving, joyful, long lasting and meant for the building up of the kingdom of God. Jesus commanded us to, “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus was and still is the ultimate friend.
Connecting to God
The final and ultimate connection kids need is a relationship with Jesus. They will learn a lot from the world around them but they will not learn how to connect with God. While emotional and social connections are critical for development, a spiritual connection is forever. Helping our children or teens connect to God begins with us. As parents, we must pray daily for ourselves and our children. We must examine our own hearts and practice self control. They are watching our every move and they are learning how to cope with life in the same ways we cope. We must remember that we will always love our children; yet, we will not always like them and they will not always like us. God has chosen parents as instruments, but only He can make the change.
As parents, we must have patience as we watch our children make mistakes, wander, and doubt. This is hard. They may watch us do the “church things”. We may bring them to every church event and hope that the youth pastor or volunteer can keep them safe and make them good people. However, our strongest influence is inside our own home. In Ephesians, we are told to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 1 Timothy 5:8 commands us to care for our household. Church is a vital and necessary part of a child’s spiritual development. Many are saved during a vacation Bible school, Sunday school, youth group or a teen retreat. We must never downplay the importance of church connection; yet, the strongest influence is in the home.
We must never downplay the importance of church connection; yet, the strongest influence is in the home.
Prioritizing our kids’ needs and feeling confident in our ability to guide them can be a daunting, overwhelming task. We can take solace in knowing that our children belonged to our Heavenly Father before He entrusted them to us. He knows every hair on their head. He knows their deepest fears and their deepest desires. He sees them when we don't know who they are; He hears their hearts when we don't know what they are trying to say. He puts people in their lives at just the right time for just the right task.
This pandemic has presented many losses to our young people. Some have thrived; while others have barely survived. It has been a year of constant change that has forced our children to miss out on normal. Birthday parties, graduations, play dates, school, trips to the movies, vacations have all been put on hold or severely altered. Despite all the change, our children have somehow become more stagnant than ever. They’ve sensed the stress, they see the concern. They are not shielded or isolated from the bad things in life. As parents, we have seen this clearly. Hopefully now, we understand more than ever the importance of connection. Life’s better connected when we give our children the benefits and security of family, friends and faith.