After I first got married, I remember having dinner with a friend and her teenage daughter. By the end of the night, I actually had the gall to give her parenting advice.
No, she didn’t ask for it. And no, I didn’t have any children of my own, much less experience with teenagers.
Let’s just say, I called to apologize the next day.
It’s so easy to imagine how you’d handle a situation before you are faced with it, but once you’re in the middle of it, everything can change at the drop of a hat.
Two years into parenting a teenager, I’ve found that to be truer than I would like.
Case in point: we’ve always had a simple motto as a family, “Cones aren’t quitters”. Over the years, our kids have tried a lot of different activities over the years and may not have stuck with all of them, but they always finished out the season.
Until this year.
We’ve always wanted to expose our kids to a wide variety of experiences, activities and people. While we don’t want to see them get hurt or make a fool of themselves, we’d also rather help them through failure while they’re under our roof rather than send them off to college having never taken a risk and being left to struggle through disappointment alone.
In fact, one of the reasons our kids are starting a new school this year is because their old school didn’t offer a wide enough variety of classes, athletics and extra-curricular activities to challenge our kids. So as our daughter prepared to enter high school this fall, we made her tryout for the volleyball team in hopes that she would both get out of comfort zone AND make new friends before school ever started.
Good news: she made the team!
Bad news: she regretted it from the moment she made it.
I cannot adequately explain just how many hours we’ve spent talking, praying and crying about volleyball this summer (seriously, only God could keep track of all the tears).
We’ve called on mentors, reflected in silent meditation, met individually with the coaches, read Bible verses, observed matches and gone to workouts. Figuring out whether or not to continue with volleyball has become our full-time job this summer.
You might be thinking, “You are her parent; just make her play.” Until this summer, I would have agreed with you. But it wasn’t until this summer that I realized I can no longer pick her up, buckle her in a car seat and force her to go wherever I go. (I’m still getting used to the fact that she’s taller than me now).
Sure, I could make her life miserable by grounding her, taking away her phone (that she just bought with her own money at the age of 14), or saying she can’t have any more sleepovers with friends unless she plays volleyball, but then what am I really teaching her?
Ultimately, we told her the final decision was hers.
Ultimately, I’m sad to report, she quit.
You can read the entire story about her decision to quit volleyball and how we reacted to it, but there’s one thing I want you to hear from me: I’m still glad we made her take the risk.
I wish I could give her a glimpse into the future so she could see what a great experience being part of a team could be; she doesn’t yet have the self-confidence or foresight to believe she can succeed even when faced with unknown circumstances. And of course, we’re sad we don’t get to go to games and cheer her on.
But in the long run, we know it’s possible she may learn more from working through the disappointment than she would from being part of the team. And who knows, maybe she’ll even join the team next year.
Regardless of what happens in the future, I stand firm on my belief that we must encourage our teens especially to take risks and try new things.
If you need a little help finding the words to encourage your student through the challenges they face, Max Lucado just released a student edition of his Unshakeable Hope Promise Book that could prove to be a valuable resource. Aside from understanding that taking risks gets harder as our kids get older, I’ve also come to understand that sometimes they need to hear advice and encouragement from someone other than their parents.
So go on, get out there and find something new for your teen to try. Who knows, you just might find a way to take some risks of your own in the process!