We were all sitting in a circle on the small soccer court at the orphanage where we were staying during one of our Mexico service trips. 12 high school students and me doing one of my favorite things to do with teenagers, talking about life and faith. We had planned on talking about something different then what was about to transpire. Like most small groups the first one or two questions are intended to just get the conversation going. I started with a question that I thought would be fun for students to talk about.
Excited to hear about their families I asked, “What is one of your favorite family vacations?”
My question was met with silence. Nobody talked, students diverted their eyes from me and looked down. Finally, after a few moments of silence which felt like 10 minutes, one student spoke up and said his favorite family vacation was when they went camping and wakeboarding one summer. After he shared, more silence. Finally, another girl spoke up sheepishly said, “Well, maybe that one time we went to Europe.”
I was stunned that more students weren’t sharing. Trying to get the conversation going, I tried another question, “If you could plan your family vacation and money wasn’t an issue what would you do?”
Almost immediately students looked up and two students raised their hands to share.
The first one said, “I would go to a cabin in the woods in Alaska, away from internet and cell phone service.”
The second students said, “I would sail around the world with my family.”
What do these two responses have in common? Time away, alone, with their family, disconnected from work, school, internet, cell phones and life.
Recently we took a Love Language survey of 100 students. The survey had to do with how they best-received love from their parents. The five love languages are:
- words of affirmation
- physical touch
- quality time
- acts of service
Of the 100 students, we surveyed 90% of the students said that the best way they receive love from their parents was through quality time.
Time is one of the most valuable commodities in our lives. Our time is limited. Many of us work long hours to be able to provide for our families and give them the best possible life. There is nothing wrong with this, but at what price? Plus, the fear that our kids won’t have what they need in life to succeed drives us to work harder and longer hours. Even our kids time is limited as we believe we need to get them involved in multiple things to boost their college resume or we believe that if we don’t schedule them in so many activities they will be left behind. What are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of “success” for the benefit the very people we love more than anything in our lives?
If our teenagers are trying to tell us anything it is that they want their parent’s time. Not gifts. Not exotic vacations. Not even cleaning their bathroom or doing their laundry and definitely not more activities. They want us to “waste” our time on them. They are crying out for your love expressed in spending quality time. We will give it to them?
Take a moment and map out where you invest your time every day. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you doing it with? Many of us have jobs that require more than the average 45 hours a week. Plus all the activities our family is involved in on a daily basis. If you are like many other families, your day starts running the moment your feet hit the floor in the morning until the moment your head hits the pillow late at night. But, whether we know it or not, we have the power of choice.
How do we do it?
- Do what they love to do. My son loves Fortnight. I’m not a video game guy. But in order for me to be in his world and understand him and spend time with him, I need to learn about Fortnight and maybe even play the game a few times. Find what our students are invested in and do it with them.
- Watch what they watch. When taking the survey, one student told me, “All I really want is for my dad, just to sit down next to me and watch a movie.” But, don’t stop with just watching the movie, discuss the movie afterward. Spend time talking.
- Be present. This is one I need to work on. When our students are around, let’s put our phones down, close the computer and just be present, listen and be available when they need it.
- Listen to understand. Listen not to solve their problems or condemn them, but listen to understand. Feel what they feel. See life as they see it.
- Have them plan the next family night, weekend or vacation.
Our teenagers are some of the most important people in our lives and they still need us. Studies across the board show that we, the parents, are still the most influential people in their lives and they still want us involved in their lives. They will not let us know it. In fact, they may tell us that we have 0 influence in their lives. But, don’t let them fool us. They need us, they want us, and they want our undivided time and attention. Let’s give it to them!
President of Be2live.org
Author of “Reciprocal Missions: Short-Term Missions that Serve Everyone