Indirect Influence: Parenting Today’s Youth

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A father sat in my office. His 16-year-old son was growing more independent. The concern for the son’s spiritual development was weighing heavily on this dad, because it seemed his ability to shape his son’s faith was diminishing. The reality of his concern was palpable.

I asked him about his own faith development as a youth. He talked about a few people in his church, an uncle, and others. As he talked, we both realized that there were several intergenerational influencers God had placed in his life. We speculated about whether there were those influencers in his son’s life too.

After other questions and conversation, this father decided he would talk to some key people who in many ways could help mentor his son spiritually, relationally, and as a whole person more directly than he could at this time. He said he knew who to talk with first, and that he would thank them for speaking into his son’s life and encourage them to continue to do so in the future. 

As time progressed, he confessed his struggle and his “harshness” with still trying to tell his son what to do, as he did when his son was younger. He recalled the times when he would firmly stop an argument or by picking up his son and carrying him to the next thing. “He is too big to pick up now,” he said with tears in his eyes. We paused for a couple of minutes in the truth of that reality. 

I asked him how his son would know that his father was really listening to him instead of trying to fix the problem. We talked about this for a bit. As parents of teens, asking good open-ended questions plays an important role in “indirect influencing.” Good listening requires both gathering depth and breadth to the issue, but it also requires waiting for an invitation to speak into the moment. This may take a number of similar conversations. 

Some people have told me that prior to conversations with youth they often indirectly influence by asking God to prompt the young person to bring up the issue that is weighing heavy on the parent’s heart, and then waiting for God to do so. Listening while waiting for the invitation by the youth is hard, but it’s vital to their development into mature adults. 

A month or so later, the dad told me things seemed a bit better. He was working on his indirect role as a parent in his walk with God and his son. He confirmed that he had spoken with the other people who he knew might have more direct influence. Finally, a week ago his son had a birthday. The dad found a blank card and wrote in it these words: “Congrats! I am so proud of who you are and who you are continuing to be. I am thankful for all who you know and give permission to help you in growing wise and fun. I hope you will remember this: the older you get, the smarter I become. Love you, Dad.”

For more insight into how faith grows and how to talk about it with others, check out Spiritual Characteristics of Children and Teens and Ten Ways to Talk with Someone About Their Faith from Faith Formation Ministries.

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