I wanted to break away from our normal sermon to talk for a few minutes about some of the issues that were discussed at the clergy symposium this week at the Antiochian Village. As you may know the topic of our discussions was the problems facing our youth and teens especially alcohol, and drug use. The topic boils down to answering a couple of questions that are closely tied together. One question is “How do we keep kids from self-destructive activities?” The second is “How do we keep kids faithful to Jesus Christ and His bride the Church.” These two questions are closely related. Here is a verse to remember: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Prov 22:6
Here are some of the things parents can do to train their kids up: Spend quality time together frequently. One of the biggest issues we found with youth and teens is the lack of attention and activities that were shared together by parents and teens. Of course this is made even worse when we know that many kids come home from school and are alone because both parents are working. A close relationship between parents and children is one of the strongest indicators of a teens likelihood of trying these other harmful activities. This doesn’t mean that parents should be best friends with kids….far from it. But parents have to be a presence in their lives. There are many ways to do this and a simple one would be to make sure that you are eating around the dinner table together every night.
Here are a few other things that parents can do to protect their kids: Never allow kids or teens to go on “dates” with one person. Always make sure that their activities are social activities with a group of people with good activities. If teens are together at someone’s house without supervision from responsible adults, you are begging for problems. In this regard I would also remind you of something that I’ve said before, dating is not a Christian activity. Courtship is the biblical model for bringing people together for life. Courtship means that when a youngster is close to marrying age he or she begins to court and try to spend time with the person that he intends on making a lifelong commitment with. There is no such thing as casual dating. Dating may lead to serious complications including diseases and an increase in mental illness and depression. Those who engage in casual dating will likely also have a weaker relationship with their future spouse because of the casual mentality developed through dating.
Our children are our treasure so why would we carelessly let them do whatever they want? We are responsible for their souls before God. An aspect of this is that parents should always know where their children are, that means that sometimes you should surprise your kids and show up where they are expected to be. Also we as parents should have strict limits on how long our kids should be outside the house and away from our supervision. If they aren’t outside the house with outside influences it is much less likely for them to fall into trouble. Another way to protect kids is to introduce Internet filters, or filtering software to your family computers and tablets. Many of these programs are free and keep kids from “stumbling” upon violent and sexually explicit materials. They won’t like these steps you take but who cares. 🙂 My parents had full control of their household while we were growing up. Sometimes love was tough, tough as nails. I thank God for the way we were raised.
Another problem that was discussed was the role of the public school system. Please understand that kids aren’t computers that simply go to school to gather information. When they go to school they are formed or deformed spiritually as well as mentally. We have to be ready to talk about what our kids are learning and try to bring these things back to reality as we understand it through the teachings of Jesus Christ. Pay attention to what they are learning and know what the teachings of Jesus Christ are. They are meant to protect us and enrich our lives.
Parents can also help their children by modeling responsible behavior in all walks of life and especially with their attitude towards the Orthodox Christian way of life. For a Christian, Sunday is not enough. We love God everyday and so we have to pray in our homes with our kids everyday. St. John Chrysostom tells us that the home is a little church. So we have to treat it like one. Our influence in forming our children is strongest before the teenage years. After that our best influence is prayer. Elder Porphyrios says that if you Speak to God about your teens, God will speak to their hearts.
I’ve spoken about a few of the things parents can do and there are certainly more, but let me also share some things that we can do as priests and pastors. I want you to know that while I might not say it to every one of the kids every day, they need to know that we are here for them. Parents should never hesitate to remind their kids that their priest is there to support them and encourage them. I care about what is going on in your lives. It is very difficult for me to know if you are having troubles or need my help unless you let me know. Give the teens my cellphone number, and let them know that they can call anytime they need to talk. They should know that our conversations are confidential. Teens need to know that there is nothing that they can do that God can’t forgive and that there is nothing that they could ever tell one of us that would make us look at them differently.
Families are strong when there is great love for one another and that doesn’t come from wishful thinking. Love comes through a commitment to be there for one another and share activities as well as a commitment to the source of our love who is Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless each of us and our families to the glory of God AMEN.