Thought Factory Podcast #307 || Best Way to Come Alongside Parents: Dan Seaborn Interview

Whether you are a parent or leading students who have parents, this episode is for you.  We interviewed the founder of Winning At Home, Dan Seaborn.  Questions include, “What kinds of things should youth workers be thinking about when it comes to working with parents?” “What are ways that youth workers can help equip families to have intentional family conversations?” & “How can youth workers ‘fill in the gaps’ with students who don’t have parental support for their faith?”

Highlights from Dan Seaborn’s interview:

When it comes to being a youth worker, what do you know now as a parent that you wish you knew then as a youth pastor?

“If I could do one thing over it would be to clue in a little more what it’s like when you’re a parent and you feel like your kids are struggling or wayward or a little disconnected from the youth group. 

I was out having fun with these kids you know, and I didn’t understand the amount of trauma and the amount of pain that some of the parents were going through related to what they were dealing with, with their kids.  Because I was the fun guy, I was a kid.  I was the guy that their kids, even though they weren’t getting along with their parents, they were having a ball with me.  If I look back, I wish I would have been more effective at coming alongside those parents and giving them more tips and tools on how to cope with some of the things they’re going through.

Part of the reason I’m at that place is because I had four children that went through youth groups, etc.  My youngest…went wayward she really got involved in some amazingly horrible things and it was the most painful thing in my life.   I would have paid as much money as I could, find, or have borrowed from anyone to have had a youth pastor, someone come alongside me to help me deal with my pain, my hurt, my sorrow. 

The one thing I regret as I look back at my days of youth ministry is that I did not relate and connect more with parents at that level.  I think I came alongside them.  I think I prayed for them.  I think I encouraged them, but you can’t know the type of pain you feel as a person when you have a wayward child or a child who’s disconnected.  You can’t know that until you go through it.”

What kinds of things should youth workers be thinking about when it comes to working with parents?

“I would say with what I do right now in ministry at Winning At Home, I’m a little bit on the front lines of knowing what parents are dealing with.  Our counselors are dealing with issues related to a lot of things with teens and probably number one right now would be the phenomenon and it’s kind of trendy across our society too, same-sex, sex change, all the things related to that sexual identity. Right now parents are struggling because they didn’t grow up with that.  They haven’t grown up being around that so the conversation itself is very uncomfortable.  And so that would be number one topic. 

Number two topic with me would be things related to social media.   Kids who are doing social media, it’s their life.  They grew up with it.  It’s not something new for them but for us, we didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t grow up with a phone in my hand.  I didn’t grow up texting.  I didn’t grow up doing those things, so as a parent I feel disconnected.  My kid is telling me this is a normal part of life just like for me a car is a normal part of life.  Well for them, a phone and these social media networks are a part of their life.  They’ve never known life without it and so that’s a change and that’s challenging for parents because they’re trying to speak into something that they’re not comfortable with, something they’re not aware of.  When you’re not aware of something, you can’t speak into it effectively.  So I think as youth pastors, one of our jobs is to educate parents, to give them insights on how to deal with this stuff.  Show them a proper Christian way to handle a child coming to you saying they want to sex change.  How do you have a conversation that is comfortable from your end and still honors the Lord and allows your child a freedom to have that conversation without you overreacting?  

How can youth workers get parents involved?

“Well, the first thing I wouldn’t want to say to youth workers and pastors is, if you call a meeting of parents and no one shows up, don’t be discouraged.   One of the things I started doing was going to announce to the parents that I’m gonna have a youth meeting for parents and at this meeting I’m going to tell them that I’m doing a sermon next week on sex and I’m going to be showing a video and I want to make sure they’re okay with the video.  They all showed up in freaking droves man!  They wanted to see what the video I was showing. 

Come up with effective methods to get their attention.  I think the best technique, though it takes a lot of time, is just getting time with them.  So, intentionally say to a parent, ‘hey, let’s go out. Let’s chat.  Let’s do this, let’s do that.’  Intentionally bring in parents because the one thing parents don’t want to feel is like you’re taking their kids away from them.  They don’t know what’s going on so the more you inform them, the more you connect with them, the more you say things like, ‘hey, I’m on your team now.’

Just do things that put yourself in a place where parents can come to.  Be approachable.  Don’t be a person that is ineffective at having adult conversations.”

What are ways that youth workers either gain or lose trust with parents?

“I would say right now one of the top issues in our society is same-sex issues.  I would love to talk to you as parents about that and what your kids are hearing.  For example, I would say that most parents would have no clue that their kids, their daughters, in particular, would ever receive a picture of a guy’s private part on their phone.  It’s a pretty common thing and I would say most girls who are over the age of 12, if they’ve got a cell phone, have received that pic.  I would say the average parent has no clue. 

I believe it would be effective as a youth pastor to say, ‘hey, I’m going to talk about this.  It’s something that you may not be aware of but you need to know there are legal ramifications.  There are different issues that could affect your child and I’m going to talk about that at this parent’s meeting.’   You’re giving them practical, relevant things that will help them as a parent.  Think if you are a parent what you’d want to know and then make that available for those parents.”

What are ways that youth workers can help equip families to have intentional family conversations?

“The reason this is such a difficult question to answer is because parents do that in different ways. So, when you give a specific guidance to a parent, they’re going to take it their way.  I saw very conservative parents who ended up raising awesome, awesome kids and I also saw conservative parents who end up raising hellions.  Then on the other side, liberal parents the people who give kids total freedom, some of their kids turned out awesome and some of the kids turned out…it was really not good.  And so, I found myself going there’s not a right way or a wrong way.  There’s just God’s way that will give me guidance in my family.  So I think it’s very important as a youth pastor that you not pick a side.  For example, if you’re a youth pastor who grew up in a really conservative home… just understand that parents parent at all different styles, in all different ways.  You need to come alongside them and celebrate those different ways and realize they get to decide how they do it.

So then the next step becomes, how do I give them a little bit of a guidance, a little bit of wisdom, and knowing how to do this with their kids?   What I say is to parents you have the freedom to parent however you want to parent.  You get to do it however you want to do it, but let me tell you some connecting ways you need to understand that work for your kids.  And then realizing their kids do things different ways.”

Number One Advice
“Be available to talk to your teenager when they’re ready to talk.  Be willing to talk to them when they’re ready to talk.  In other words, it might be 2 a.m.  I’m serious.  One of the greatest pieces of advice that one of my mentors who raised some awesome kids told me was be ready to talk no matter what time they want to talk because their effective communication might happen best at 2:00 a.m.  As a parent you need to understand if you’ve got four children, three children, two children, they’re going to communicate differently.  You need to teach those parents that if they’re going to effectively communicate with their kids, they’ve got to be willing to talk to them at the time their kids best connect.

As parents, the greatest thing we’ll do is set an example of living the life of Christ in an awesome way in front of our children.  So to me, the most effective way would connect with our kids spiritually is to talk when they’re ready to talk.  Connect with them by the way you live.”

Number Two Advice
“I would say to you also just make sure you understand that your child is going to connect with God a way that’s possibly different from yours.  As I’ve aged, one of the things I love is when people tell me how they connect with God.  People do it millions of different ways.  It does not have to be sitting down with a Bible in my lap and I think knowing that my child is connecting with God is what’s important to me.   I would just always say to my kids, ‘hey, are you connecting with God? How are you doing with what’s working for you?’  And give them the freedom to have that ability in connection.  Some will do it the traditional way, some will do it a different way, but the key is that they are connecting with God.  I think as a youth pastor, wisdom says don’t get caught up in thinking your way of doing it is the way they need to do it.  Be very careful of that as a youth worker, youth pastor.  Step back and work within the realm of the fact that God may work a lot of different ways.”

How can youth workers “fill in the gaps” with students who don’t have parental support for their faith?

“Be very careful not to just assume that though some kids are struggling, that something has to do with the parent.  I don’t go there anymore at all.  Of course, there’s plenty of times it’s parent-related of course.  I’m going to be foolish not to say there isn’t, but when you’re that parent who is living in humiliation and you’re going through a terribly painful time, the last thing you need is to have people questioning and acting like you’re the issue. I remember when I was going through it one day.  I was sitting in my office and I was just like, ‘Lord, this is humiliating.’  That’s the word – I am humiliated.  I lead Winning At Home.  I was a pretty decent youth pastor.  I try to be a good dad.  I am humiliated and I remember the Lord very clearly saying to me, ‘yeah that’s your problem.  You’re focused on yourself.  You’re focused on the fact that you’re humiliated.  Why don’t you just focus on the right word related to that?  Why don’t you focus on being humble?  Why don’t you focus on humility and not humiliation?’  Because that’s what he did on the cross.   He was humiliated by the crowd of people on that cross.  They mocked him and everything else and what’d he do?  He responded with humbleness.  His response was simply obeying what the Lord laid on his heart.

So as a youth pastor, I believe that’s the way we best come alongside parents.  Let me remind you that Adam was God’s first child and Adam screwed up royally and I’ve never blamed God for that. I’ve always thought Adam.  So I think that I need to remember though we’re not perfect parents like God would have been, we are going to make mistakes.  We are going to fail.  We are going to mess up.  It’s in our DNA and so as a youth pastor come alongside that parent and say you may have messed up a thousand times or one time doesn’t matter, I’m here to help you.  Here are some tools that will help you.

If you’ve got a child who’s already struggling, you’re double struggling as a parent because you’re wondering about your child but you’re also second-guessing all your parenting skills.  I sure did that.  I second-guessed everything I ever did.   As a youth pastor, I think to develop strategies that come alongside parents whether they have really failed or have not failed, doesn’t matter.  Come alongside them and give them tips and tools on how to connect with their kids.  Stay close to their kids.”

Any last thoughts?

“Just remember that teens have built-in crap detectors.  They can tell if you’re trying to screw them over.  They can tell if you’re fake.  We live in an authentic day, kids learn authenticity so as parents be authentic.   Come alongside and just be honest, be vulnerable, be willing to be teachable, stay teachable as a parent.  Don’t harden your heart.  Stay pliable.  Make sure your like play-doh, willing for God to be able to squish you around a little bit, change your shape a little bit.  Don’t get too cocky, don’t get too caught up in yourself.  If your youth ministers going great, don’t think it’s you.  Give the glory to God.  Stay simple, stay on your knees, be a person of humility and I think God will use your life.”

© 2017, Never The Same