Parenting Teens Within Broken Systems: Interview with Dr. Chap Clark, ConclusionBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Speaker and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and founder of ParenTeen and Hurt seminars, Dr. Chap Clark has over 30 years in youth ministry, including 15 with Young Life. He is the author of many books, including Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World and Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers and serves as senior editor of Youthworker Journal. Dr. Clark has a B.A. in communication from the University of California, San Diego, a master of divinity from Fuller and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. In other words, he’s a pastor. He’s a teacher. He’s a scholar. He’s also a parent.
For the past two weeks, we’ve heard insights from Dr. Chap Clark. His book Disconnected goes into a lengthy exegesis of the word “discipline” and how it’s used in the Old and New Testaments. He writes that the nature of discipline should change to what he calls “boundarying” as kids enter the teen years.
Boundarying the Systemically Abandoned
“From the age of 14, most discipline is about training instead of punishment—90 percent of the time, to train our kids rather than to punish them. If we did that, we’d be way down the road,” he said. “Exerting boundaries is exactly what I teach. Adults have to work overtime to build relationships with kids so boundaries are not constricting, not forced upon them, but something a kid is invited into to thrive. Yes, we have boundaries. At the same time, we’ve gotta be increasing our social capital…when we have people in our lives who have no self-serving reason to be in our lives. People that care about me because they care about me.”
What Parents Can Expect from Their Kids
“We want our kids to do their homework or clean their room or do the dishes. We want them to work hard. All those are really good for them,” Clark said.
Training teenagers, especially on days when parents are suffering with work pressures or family pressures or whatever pressures assault them, can be a real trial. How do parents help hurting teens who sometimes hurt them in return?
Dr. Clark steered parents to 1 Thessalonians 2: Verse 7, "'But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother.' Gentle among you. Verses 11-12, 'Like a father with his children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God,'" he said. "When our kid totally screws up, to have a default understanding and yet to boundary. That’s when we’ve really got something.”
The problem is that even when a parent wants to be a gentle, comforting authority figure, sometimes kids don’t receive it well. Dr. Clark acknowledged “how complex and tentative this is.”
“Even when you’re trying to serve the best interest of kids, because of the systemic nature of this abandonment, they think and feel like it’s one more way to manipulate them for the adults’ sake. They simply don’t trust that adults are acting in their interest,” he said. But, "over time, they receive those boundaries more easily.”
Created for Relationship
That’s because all of us—teens and parents alike—are created for deep relationships, and all deep relationships have boundaries.
“We want to have intimate relationships,” Clark said. “It’s like Peter, James and John. You know Bartholomew’s dad probably sent Jesus an email, complaining.”
Parents love their kids. They want to do the right thing. They read articles and blogs and books, hoping to figure out the secret formula to avoid trouble with their teens. But that’s impossible.
“Here’s the deal. Expect your kid is gonna make mistakes and fall down and do some stupid stuff. Expect it. Our kids are gonna do a lot of stuff, and there’s no way to stop them. We can’t get away from society. We can’t get away from technology,” Clark said. “Our job is to parent for the long haul and be mature, adult, compassionate and kind with boundaries.”
Megan Willome is the managing editor for the WACOAN magazine. She blogs at meganwillome.com about poetry and other things, always with a cup of tea.