In my last blog post, I shared about the power of Bonus Parents in a teen’s life. In this post, I’d like to share 5 tips for being an awesome bonus parent for the teens around you!
The great thing about being a Bonus Parent is there is nothing scary or formal about it. You are simply making the most of the opportunities as they present themselves! These opportunities look different for everyone. I might be able to offer advice or encouragement, while you might be asked to tutor someone in Math or work with them on their 3-point shot. The important thing is for us to prayerfully allow God to use us in these moments to speak life into these teens any way we can.
“The difference between a statistic and a success story is YOU.”~Josh shipp
Here are five simple things to keep in mind as you interact with teens that will help you make the most of these moments:
#1: A Bonus Parent helps teens feel safe
Believe it or not, teens like boundaries. Knowing what to expect makes them feel safe, and having rules shows them you care. In all my years of working with teens, I have noticed they tend to flock to the homes of the parents who are involved. They aren’t looking for Bonus Parents who are cool and relatable and act like their BFF; they are looking for good, old-fashioned parents who feed them dinner and play board games and include them in family movie night. The best way to make a teen feel safe is to include them in your normal, everyday family life. So many kids come from broken homes, and they crave the security of “normal.”
#2: A Bonus Parent helps teens feel heard
This goes back to just making yourself available. I am always amazed at how freely teens will talk when someone actually takes the time to listen. However, just like with our own teens, these conversations usually happen on their own terms and at odd times. Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk— late at night when your bed is calling you, midway through long road trips, or whenever you have something else you really need to do!
Don’t feel like you have to give them amazing advice, either. Just listen well and repeat back to them what you hear: “So, it sounds like you’re feeling really frustrated with your teacher for embarrassing you in front of the class. I totally get it; that must have been really awkward. How are you thinking about handling it?” Teens are smart; they can usually figure out what to do on their own. They just want to feel understood and know that someone cares enough to listen.
#3: A Bonus Parent helps teens feel loved (by God, us, and their family)
This, really, is the most important thing. Every chance we get, we need to be reminding these students that God loves them, we love them, and their family loves them. Say it with your words. Show it with your actions. Write it in a letter, email, or text. Spell it out for them by listening to them, investing in them, and spending time with them. Cheer for them at their games or concerts. Take them to church with your family. Pray with them and for them. Make them cookies or take them golfing. Anything you can do to communicate that they are cared for, especially by God, just do it.
#4: A Bonus Parent helps teens feel capable
One of the biggest complaints teens have about their parents is that they treat them like a little kid. They are desperate to prove themselves, though they don’t always exemplify the necessary responsibility at home. Bonus Parents have a unique ability to notice where a teen is excelling and help them build their confidence.
Students are often more easily motivated by people outside their family, which provides a great opening for Bonus Parents to step in. This requires being intentional, and may take place through basic encouragement, opportunities to grow their skill, or even the chance to showcase their talent or character by putting it to the test. This confidence is an essential factor in determining their future success, and as Bonus Parents, we can make the most of these opportunities to help them feel capable in achieving their goals.
#5: A Bonus Parents helps teens feel called
One of the greatest gifts that comes from observing someone else’s teen over time is being able to sense God’s calling on their life. Often parents have their own dreams and plans for their children, and it can be difficult for them to be objective. However, as a Bonus Parents, you have the ability to remain separate and simply observe and share what you see God doing in their life.
Be careful not to project your own desires onto the student! But also don’t be afraid to prayerfully point out when you see a potential calling, especially if you have a strong gift of spiritual discernment. Teens are desperate to live lives of meaning and purpose, yet they have a hard time discerning God’s will. As a Bonus Parent, this is often a place where you can step in and help them connect the dots as they learn to hear and recognize God’s voice and leading in their life.
The idea of being a mentor and having someone look up to you can be intimidating. But being a Bonus Parent is as simple as helping teens feel safe, heard, loved, capable, and called. Mostly, it’s just about showing up. God is so faithful to do the rest if we make ourselves available.