It started off innocently enough: my daughter Kayla and I were enjoying some quality daughter-father time when I noticed that she had left her Disney Princess Snakes and Ladders game (and all its pieces) scattered on the floor near my bed. I noticed because I stepped on one of the pieces (I think it was Snow White) and it felt like she went right through my left foot.
“Kayla,” I exclaimed, “put your toys away or I’ll throw them in the garbage!”
I was quite surprised at her reaction; this was one of her favourite toys! Perhaps I was coloured by the fact that Kayla (along with my wife Gail) had just arrived from a 10-day trip to the Philippines a day before – thus I missed both of them dearly. So instead of following up on my threat, I explained to her that she needed to clean it up both from a tidiness and safety perspective. Thankfully she obliged.
I posted the exchange on my Facebook page and I received over two dozen comments – most of them calling me out as a wimp (in the most loving way). Parents, friends, and family willingly shared stories from their past and encouraged me to exhibit some tough love.
All because my 4 year-old daughter called my bluff.
Which got me thinking…how many times do we use bluffs in youth ministry? And what happens when young people actually call us out on them?
I’ve written numerous times (including just last week) on the importance of relational ministry and how we must earn the right to be heard: young people won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. It goes without saying that the two best ways to build and strengthen relationships with young people are to talk with them and to hang out with them.
Like any relationship, there will be ups and downs…but for the sake of the relationship we persist. We encourage. We inspire. We affirm. We challenge. And sometimes…we bluff…even with good intentions.
My exchange with Kayla from earlier in this week reminded me of the importance of being truthful and of following-up. Thus:
- When you tell a teen you are going to pray for her…you better pray for her.
- When you promise a reward to a teen…you better end up giving it to him.
- When you tell a teen you don’t know the answer to her question…you better find it and relay it back to her.
- When you threaten a teen with a consequence…you better administer it if you desire a change.
- When you tell a teen that you’ll go to his basketball game or school concert…you better be there.
All young people want from us is to be real. To be genuine. To be authentic.
That’s how we go “all in” with young people. The stakes are simply too high not to.