I have two teenagers. When they got word their schools were going online in light of COVID-19 and they’d be spending more time at home, they high-fived each other. Then they gave my wife and me big hugs, exclaiming, “More time with our parents? Our prayers have been answered!”
Okay, that’s not even close to true.
For many of you, social distancing means a newfound proximity to teenagers. That’s a really great thing (and perhaps a little frightening). Can we handle it? How should parents handle it?
Here are five practical ways to disciple your teen in this odd hour.
1. Let them see you trusting God in the midst of fear.
Parents are human. We fear. We doubt. We express sadness about the next thing that’ll be postponed or canceled. A normal amount of that in front of your kids shows them you’re realistic. Too much of it could rub off on them.
It’ll be tempting to watch the news all day and shake your head at each new disappointing development. You don’t need to ignore it, but make sure you’re communicating your own awareness of God’s provision and protection by your words and body language. When you’re feeling panicky, it’s probably time to turn off the TV.
When you’re feeling panicky, it’s probably time to turn off the TV.
Let them see you pray. When you’re overwhelmed, don’t hide it from them. You have to show them where to turn. We model all kinds of things for our kids. We show them how to hold a pencil. Much later, we show them how to drive a car. Let’s show them where to turn when they’re afraid. Let’s tell them what to believe even as we remind ourselves that same truth. Preach the gospel to your own heart—right in front of them.
2. Bring back devotional time.
For years, my family had a nightly devotional where we would read a Bible story, sing a Bible song, and pray. Once my kids became teens, this became impractical because our schedules got so crazy.
But now you have everyone back with you—a captive audience. The simplest thing to do is to pick a book of the Bible, read a chapter, and discuss it. You could also find a short sermon online and listen to it together. Take advantage of this increased face-to-face time with your teens by diving deep into Scripture.
If your teenagers are nostalgic at all (like mine), bring out cherished Bible stories from when they were younger and the favorite vintage Bible songs.
3. Tell them why they don’t need to be afraid.
“Fear not” is one of the most common commands in Scripture. It applies equally to life at school and life in a quarantine, because God’s goodness and sovereignty don’t fluctuate. Your teenager needs to hear this truth. It won’t take you long to realize that Gen Z—those born between 1997 and approximately 2012—often struggles with more anxiety and less optimism about the future than previous generations.
This was true before the pandemic.
Don’t tell them it’ll be ok because the disease is more dangerous for others. Don’t tell them it’ll be ok because the economy will recover. Don’t tell them everything will work out fine because they still have the internet to do school and see friends.
Tell them they don’t have to fear because God doesn’t change. He’s always good (even now). He’s always in control (even now). And his goodness and power aren’t subject to the circumstances of our world. The opposite is true: the circumstances of our world are subject to his goodness and power. That’s the only kind of hope in which they can find true rest.
Do some show and tell. Show your teen that Dad and Mom have built their lives on a rock, not on the sands of an ever-changing world. And tell them why.
4. Practice social-media distancing together.
Your teenager has more free time to scroll. Their feeds are inundated with a frightening waterfall of news relating to the virus, the economy, cancelations, and more. Help them turn down the volume on those voices. Invite them to trade a bit of FaceTime with their friends for a little face-to-face time with you.
Social-media distancing is an act of faith. It admits that we don’t need to know everything, because we’re children of a God who does.
I’m not encouraging a quarantine on social media. It’s fun for them to connect with friends (and their youth groups) through those media. I’m also not encouraging you to limit their access while you spend gobs of time on Facebook or watching the news.
A fire burns best when there’s room between the logs. Give them room. Put your phones down together. Pick up a new hobby or dive into an old one, together. Let your fingers and brains rest. For many of them (and us), social-media distancing is an act of faith. It admits that we don’t need to know everything, because we’re children of a God who does.
5. Enjoy a good gift together.
Your teenager has lost something. It might not seem as big as the economic downturn or health crisis, but they’ve still lost something. It might be graduation, or prom, or the last few months with their fellow seniors. They might’ve lost their tennis season or their spring musical. They might not understand why they aren’t supposed to go out any more. And with these losses comes real grief and frustration. Grieve with them (Rom. 12:15).
Finding Joy amid Loss
Help them see that, in the midst of these losses, deep joy is available. Good gifts are still available: a hike with the family, greasy cheeseburgers, laughter at toilet-paper memes, technology that lets them connect with friends, books that are better than smartphones. They can and should enjoy those gifts. But deeper joy awaits because they have a heavenly Father who gives them good gifts, especially his presence and his Word.
Show them how to extract double joy—the joy of the earthly gift and the joy of the heavenly Father who provides it. Show them joy that comes from knowing the Savior. He’s always with them, even when their friends are not.