How to Parent a College Freshman

5 minutes ago you were changing their diaper and rocking them to sleep.  Now, they are visiting colleges or already working toward their college degree.  Time flies.

As a parent, the game changes when your child begins college.  Your kids still need you but they need you in different ways.  You must learn to adapt.



For a student, the first semester of college is incredibly disorienting.  Everything is new and unfamiliar.  What used to be automatic is now complicated.  What used to be done for you is now your responsibility.  The workload is impossible.  The social scene is foreign.  The temptations are new and the churches are weird.  The first semester of college might as well be Mars.

College freshman feel lost between two worlds.  A few months ago they were kids.  Mom did their laundry and made their meals.  They aren’t quite adults either.  They can still sleep in until noon and play video games all night.  Nevertheless they feel lost and it will be a very long time until a college student truly feels like a “real” adult.

Because of this, college freshmen will fluctuate between moments of impressive maturity and forehead slapping immaturity.  It’s the nature of the transition.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight.  There will be crashes, tears, triumphs and setbacks.



College can be as confusing for parents as it is for students.  What exactly is your role now?  The signals are confusing.  She calls me crying.  He wants money.  She screams, “This is my life!”  He has a new girlfriend who I’ve never even met.

I believe that college students want and need their parents more than they often let on.  The support they want and need looks different than it did when they lived at home but it is crucial nonetheless.  Here’s my advice on how to parent a college freshman…

1.      A Retreat

Nearly everything about college is foreign and new.  It’s all a bit too unsettling and disorienting.  In the midst of this, home holds within it everything that is familiar and comfortable.  A weekend at home can reorient and recharge.

Many parents quickly transform their college student’s room into an office or spare bedroom.  Please don’t do this.  You’re taking away your son or daughter’s retreat to the familiar.  Even simply knowing that their childhood room still exists can be a comfort.

2.      Communicate on Their Terms

You may feel that your college student is delusional when they talk about how busy they are.  Just wait until you have a full-time job and children!  But, they still feel overwhelmed and perception is reality.

We have to understand that their communication with us will be sporadic and sometimes curt.  This doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear from you.  In fact, they desperately need to hear from you.  They are simply learning to navigate the busiest schedule they have ever managed.

Leave them static communications that they can get to in their own time.  Text.  Leave a voice mail.  Send a care package or snail mail.  Communicate regularly, even when you don’t hear back.  Encourage your kids, let them know you believe in them and care about them.  They are listening and they need you.

3.      Don’t Get Offended

Your child is interacting with all kinds of new information.  He is meeting people from different backgrounds.  She’s sitting under the teaching of professors from entirely different worldviews.

It’s very likely that your son or daughter will come home in a few months and share some new ideas that you will not like.  Do you best to restrain yourself from intellectually destroying your son or daughter’s new ideas.  Most likely they haven’t changed their entire belief system.  They are exploring.  They are attempting to reconcile what they have always known with what they are learning.

The truth is, if you did a good job of building their worldview when they were a child they will be fine.  If you didn’t, now isn’t the time to pounce all over their independent thinking.  You will only drive them away.

4.      Advice Instead of Decrees

With all that said, college freshmen still need direction and you are still their parents.  However, the game has changed.  You aren’t in a position to “ground” them or take away their allowance.  Instead of making decrees shift to advice.  Share stories from your life.  Ask for permission to share your opinions.  In short, treat them like they are an adult.  Doing this communicates respect.  Your kids still want your opinions and advice but they want to be treated like an equal.


To recap, college is exhilarating and disorienting.  Your college student still desperately needs you but they need you in new and different ways.  My hope and prayer is that you courageously adapt and engage.







Porn Will Find You

Recently I spoke to a group of parents about sexuality and their kids.  A parent in the audience asked one of the most common questions I hear: “When should I talk to my kids about sex?”  Great question!  Let me answer it with a story…

Last month my friend and his family were trick or treating with their kids.  In that blind lust for candy that kids develop around Halloween they ran off ahead of him.  My friend and his wife weren’t concerned because they were in a safe and normal suburban neighborhood.  None of these homes were crack houses or meth labs.  There were no confederate flags or gun ranges.  It was a normal, upstanding neighborhood—the kind of place where your grandma or great aunt Gertrude might live.

Anyway, the kids ‘trick or treated’ a house, a man answered the door and handed the kids candy.  Looking over his shoulder toward the TV in the living room the kids couldn’t help but notice what the man was watching.  The guy was watching porn while handing out candy to children on Halloween.  That is creeptastic.

My friend’s 5th grade son encountered pornography for the first time while he was trick or treating.  How does that even happen?  And yet, how did any of us first encounter pornography?  It’s usually accidental or random.  Very few kids go looking for porn.  Pornography has a way of finding us.

When I was in 6th grade, I walked over to my friend’s house expecting to play Tecmo Bowl on his NES.  Instead, he popped in a VHS he had found in his parents’ closet, the images from which are still burned into my mind.  Porn has a way of finding us.

As parents, we need to be clear about something:  Porn will find your kids.  It’s inevitable.  Recent research reveals that 98% of people in our culture have seen pornography.  I’m pretty sure the 2% were lying.

There may have been a day in our culture when the goal of parenting was to protect our kids from ever seeing pornography but that day is long gone–lost somewhere in the 1950s.  I’ve heard its locked in a vault somewhere with the Andy Griffith Show.


Is the pull of pornography inevitable?  Do we just surrender?  Do we shrug and allow our kids to be lured into the web of pornography?  No way!  We need a different and more honest approach.

If we know that our kid will inevitably see pornography, the question we need to wrestle with is: “What will our kids do when they see pornography?”  We want them to respond in the right way.  This requires preparation and a preemptive strike.  I believe our kids need to know what pornography is before they ever see it.  We must get in the first word on pornography.

I’m not saying that we explain what sex and pornography are when our kids are kindergarteners.   That would be crazy.  However, they do need to know that not everything on the Internet is safe.  They need to understand that there are pictures and videos out there that will hurt their minds.

They need to be coached on how to respond when a friend wants to show them a picture that is inappropriate.  Essentially, they need to understand from an early age that pornography is out there and that it will hurt them.



Not only do we need to get in the first word, we need to get in the last word.  What I mean is that we want our kids to process what they see with us, not their friend down the street or through Google search.   This requires building a massive amount of trust because telling anyone, let alone your parents, that you looked at pornography is an incredibly shameful and embarrassing moment.

And yet, we knew from the Scriptures that when sin is dragged out into the light it loses its power.  Pornography addictions take root in the darkness.  They begin when a kid accidentally stumbles on pornography, feels incredibly shameful and yet powerfully intrigued but doesn’t tell anyone because he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing.

Your kids will see pornography.  How will you prepare them for it?  Is your relationship open and strong enough for them to feel safe confessing to you?  How will you walk with them once it happens?


image credited to maura



Is Your Church Too Happy?

I recently read that one of the big reasons college aged Christians are walking away from the church is doubt.  What I mean is that they never openly wrestled with their doubts.  They were never given space or permission to do so.  As they struggled with doubts privately the power of their doubts grew.  And, I suspect, the people who finally gave them permission to confess their doubts also had a hand in dismantling their faith.

We have a problem.  Our student ministry, church and family cultures do not provide permission and space for doubt.  We have stigmatized doubt.  We have given it a bad rep and outlawed it in our ministry contexts.  Church is all smiles and praise.  If you are doubting you simply need more faith.  Please leave your sadness, doubt and pain at the door.  It isn’t welcome in our smiley service.

The problem with this approach is that it is unrealistic.  It isn’t real life.  It only represents half of what we experience as humans.  Let’s be real.  It’s fake and plastic.


The psalms were the song book of the Jewish nation.  They were the songs of worship for the people of God.  Here’s the thing, if you read the psalms you’re going to come across a lot of raw emotion.  Most of it isn’t positive either.  There’s a whole lot of, “Where the heck are you God?”  There’s a bunch of “God I don’t understand and really don’t like what You’re doing.”  And even a little, “I wish I was dead because my life sucks!”

Maybe our student ministry and church environments are a little too polished and smiley.  They surely aren’t representative of what we find in the psalms.  Could it be that we need to make space for the darker emotions?  Research is showing that this generation of students is perhaps the most depressed generation in our nation’s history.  What are we doing to meet these kids where they are?  Maybe it’s time to reintroduce our students to the raw emotion and struggle of the psalms.


What our students and children need is the freedom to confess what they don’t understand and don’t believe with adults and spiritual mentors who care about them and will process with them.  Doubts are like sins in that when they are dragged out into the light they lose their power over us.  There is life and hope in the light.


What if we taught our students from the psalms of doubt and lament?  What if we empowered them to pray as David prayed—with passion and angst?  What if we gave them permission to verbalize or at least write down their doubts?  What if we led them in songs of lament?  What if we recaptured the energy and life of the psalms in our student ministry contexts?

I believe that if we teach our students how to engage their doubts and disappointments while providing them with mentors who will walk with them through these experiences we will see a sharp decline in students walking away from the church.  If we remove the shame associated with doubt and the darker emotions we’ll give our students the freedom to be real and authentic.

We must find a way to engage our students in their doubts now while they are still within the orbits of our ministries and volunteers. Maybe the psalms are the key.

Maybe it’s time to reintroduce the psalms of doubt and lament.


image credited to Can’t Think

What Exactly Are Students Walking Away From?

We’ve all read the numbers.  We all get a little panicky when we think about how many students are walking away from church.  If the numbers are true, we’re facing a very serious problem because what we’re doing as parents and youth workers is not working.  We must grapple with one very difficult question:  why are students walking away from church after high school?

Maybe I’m over simplifying the issue but I think the answer is very easy.  Students aren’t walking away from church.  It’s not that the statistics are wrong.  Barna and Fuller have their numbers right.  That isn’t it at all.  And yet, I believe that students aren’t walking away from church.  They never belonged to church in the first place.  They’re walking away from something else entirely.


WHAT IS CHURCH?                                    

What is church?  That’s a really good question.  Personally, I think it’s best to define church by what I read in the New Testament.  Church is the Jesus community.  It’s a people bonded together by the presence, love and mission of Jesus.

The church is marked by the presence of Jesus.  There is something to be experienced in the church that cannot be experienced anywhere else.  The experience is different because Jesus is Immanuel.  The presence of God is with us.  Lives are being transformed.  Light is shining into darkness.  Life is breathed into death.  Hope is breaking forth in the midst of tragedy.

The church is defined by love.  The Jesus community shocked the world and overthrew an empire with love.  The Jesus community transformed the world in a few short centuries through inclusion, radical service, and care for the oppressed and forgotten.  Where the Gospel is preached and lived the world can never be the same.

The church is defined by the mission of Jesus.  The church is inviting people to follow Jesus.  It’s not asking people to join a club.  It’s not trying to fill seats in a building.  It’s inviting people to follow the most compelling person who ever walked the soil of this planet.  The church is inviting people into the restoration of the world through the Gospel of Jesus.



This is the church.  Students aren’t walking away from this.  People don’t walk away from the church.  It is far too magnetic.  The true church—defined by the presence, love and mission of Jesus is incredibly compelling.  It transforms lives, communities, cultures and nations.   Our students are walking away from something else entirely.

Maybe the problem is not that students are walking away.  In fact, they might be doing us a favor by pointing out the real problem.  Perhaps the problem is that we aren’t being the church.  Maybe we as parents, pastors and church leaders need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some hard questions.  What exactly are we doing anyway?


Speaking Light

I grew up going to church from a young age.  As a little kid we used to sing this old song.  Perhaps you know it.  It goes like this:

“This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine.  Hide it under a bushel.  No!  I’m gonna let it shine.”

Like most songs I sang as a kid I had no idea what this song was about.  First off, what the heck is a bushel?  I actually thought the word was bush which was weird because I kept imagining sticking a candle in a bush and watching the whole thing burst into flames…which of course would have been awesome.

Mostly, I just enjoyed shouting “NO! I’m gonna let it shine!” as loudly as I could.  All little kids love shouting “NO!”

I learned much later that this goofy old song actually has roots in the Bible and coincidentally has nothing to do with setting stuff on fire.  The words actually come from Jesus.   In what scholars call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said these words to his followers:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 


Jesus often referred to Himself as the light of the world, which makes sense because He is the Messiah. Through Him is forgiveness and life and peace with God.  He is the hope of the world.

But here, Jesus refers to His followers as the light of the world.  Essentially, he’s saying to you and me—you are the light of the world.  Wait what?  How does this work?  Because I don’t know about you but I don’t often feel like a light.

According to Jesus, I do have something to offer.  You do too.  Why?  Because we have a relationship with the Savior.  We know the Messiah.  The truth is that you’ve experienced Jesus in ways no one else has.  Jesus has shown up in your life in ways that He hasn’t shown up in mine.

The way you’ve experienced Jesus is something no one else knows—unless you talk about it.  You see, talking about Jesus and what He has done for you is a way of being a light.


The truth is, we need each other.  We were not meant to pursue Jesus alone.  Community is crucial.

Recently, I realized that every significant decision in my life—every significant moment of spiritual growth, came out of a conversation.

  • I learned that God loves me and wants to rescue me because someone told me
  • I stopped manipulating girls in dating relationships because a friend explained to me the damage I was doing and how to stop it.
  • I pursued student ministry because someone told me that I could be a good youth pastor.

All the significant growth moments of my life began with a conversation.

I understand what Jesus was talking about with this whole “light and city on a hill” thing because I’ve experienced it—I’ve seen how it works in my life.  The words of God’s people can be a light to the people around them.



So, who is speaking light into your life?  Are you hearing more light or darkness from your friends?  Are there Jesus followers who you could become closer with?  We all need to hear some light.

The times in my life when I have struggled the most are the times in which I didn’t have friends and mentors speaking light into my life.  The times I was too lazy or stubborn to pursue community were the times I drifted away from God.

Who is speaking light into your life?



My second question is this:  who are you speaking light to?  Going back to Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount.

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.


You have something meaningful and special.  Share it!  Don’t hide it!  The truth is, the world needs you.  You have something that no one can argue with.  It’s your experience with Jesus.  The ways He has brought life, healing and purpose to your life is something we need to hear about.

We weren’t meant to pursue Jesus alone.  It’s impossible.  We need each other.  The Jesus community is not as strong as it should be without you speaking up.  We need to hear your story.  We need to hear your encouragement.  We need you to challenge us.

Shine your light.  The world needs you.  We need you.


image credited to nuwandalice










New LifeLine Video: Mission Trips Reveal

This week we revealed our summer mission trips to our student and volunteers with a ridiculous video.  I mean, how else would you do it?

Announcement: Knapp & Cascade Mission Trips from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.

This year we are hoping to send 270 students on mission trips.  That’s way too much paper! Have you noticed that some mission organizations require a tree’s worth of paperwork?  Thankfully, our resident web genius, Jon VerLee designed this registration page for us which streamlines the process and saves the rainforest.

LifeLine Missions Registrations


If you are a youth worker, when and how do you reveal your mission trips?  Also, how do you do registrations and collect paperwork?


Cancel Sunday School

Delorean badge. Cannon Beach Ferrari Show

What would you do if you could go back in time and undo something in your student ministry?  Maybe you’d undo your youth group name, “BOB”—Bunch of Believers.  Or perhaps you’d like a mulligan on that youth room color scheme that was so hip back in ’83 “when you could still throw a football over them mountains.”

Want to know what I would go back and undo?  Sunday morning programs.  No, not all the church services!  Sheesh, I’m not that crazy.  I’m talking about high school programming.  Let me explain.

When I launched out as a youth pastor ten years ago, I inherited a Sunday morning high school program that was on life support.  My superiors charged me with bringing it back to life so that’s what we did.  By the end of my first year we had grown the attendance by 80%.  At first, I assumed that this reflected how awesome our high school program was—and by extension how awesome I was as the youth pastor.

Our Sunday morning program was so epic that students liked it much better than the adult church services.   I began to notice that the students would either sneak back into our junior high program the following hour or jump in their cars and hit up the local coffee shop.  Very few of them were attending the adult church service.  I was so blinded by the numbers and the positive attention I was getting from leadership that I never bothered to think through the ramifications of what was happening.

Even worse, when I heard students complaining about how boring the adult services were, I kind of liked it because what I was hearing was, “What you do is awesome.  What they do is boring.”  Call me a jerk, but I like to be awesome.

After a few years (I’m a slow learner) the flaw in my approach finally dawned on me—like a pile-driver to the face.  I realized that when our seniors, who had been regularly attending our high school program but not the main services, graduated from our ministry they disappeared.  Sometimes they found a church that better suited their tastes but more often than not they peaced out from church all together.  This is one of the great regrets of my life.

When students walk away from faith, we as youth workers are quick to blame the student, parents or culture.  “Well, I’m sorry but he shouldn’t have been hanging out with those guys.”  “His parents were just clueless!”  “Our culture is just so messed up, it’s practically impossible for kids to stay committed these days.”

Although it’s much more painful, I think it’s far more valuable to look in the mirror and to evaluate our structures and programs.  The logical reason my students were walking away from church is that I was training my students to walk away from church.  How?  I was isolating them from the church services and community.  When they graduated from my ministry they didn’t possess the tools or desire to integrate into the larger body.  For many, this was the end of church.

So what would I do if I indeed did have DeLorean?  I’m glad you asked:

  • cancel Sunday morning high school programming
  • encourage high school students to attend church with their families
  • encourage students to serve in the children’s ministry/junior high/larger church body (if you have 2 or more hours of Sunday morning services)
  • refocus high school youth group programming to Sunday night or Wednesday night
  • build the high school youth program around solid teaching and adult mentor relationships

That’s it.  Oh, and if you do happen to have a DeLorean…CALL ME.

Why You Might not Enjoy Talking to Jesus

Growing up, I understood Jesus to sort of be this smiley, tousle your hair grandfather figure.  I imaged that talking to Jesus would be like talking to my great grandfather who was fond of gifting me with loose M&Ms out of his shirt pocket as he dished out depression era wisdom.  I’ve since learned how weird the M&M thing was and how different Jesus is from my childhood imaginings.


Recently I reread the Gospels and noticed that Jesus was actually rather awkward in his conversations.  What I mean is that He was blunt…really blunt.

One of my favorite scenes of the Gospels is when Jesus talks with the woman at the well.  After offering her living water that will never leave her thirsty he says something you just don’t say to someone.

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

I have no husband,” she replied.

“You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”

If Jesus’ disciples had been around during this conversation, I imagine they would have pulled Jesus aside and whispered, “You gotta stop.  This is uncomfortable!”

And, I love the woman’s response, “’Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet.'”

I’m about as far as it gets from a linguistic expert but my translation of the Greek is basically, “OH CRAP!”  Her past has been exposed and she’s uncomfortable.  What is it about Jesus?  Why does he dig like this?


In the Gospel of Matthew there is another awkward conversation in which Jesus asks hard questions.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

If I were one of the disciples I would have probably slipped into a nearby cave.  What’s up with Jesus being so blunt?


In what I would consider to be the most awkward conversation in the Gospels, a young man runs up to Jesus and asks how to get eternal life.  Jesus tells him he should obey the commandments.  The young man responds by saying he is.  Then Jesus drops an awkward bomb.

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Uh…what?  Is there a baby step option here?


One thing I know from reading the Gospels is that Jesus is always about others.  Everything that he does and says is for the benefit of the people around him.  So, there has to be significance to his awkward bluntness.  Maybe it’s that Jesus knows that there is no growth without honesty.  There is no transformation without truly looking in the mirror.  There can’t be freedom without understanding what it is that has you in bondage.

Every awkward conversation I referenced was an opportunity for growth.  Jesus forces the woman at the well to admit who she really is.  Jesus demands that his followers admit what they really think and believe and Jesus reveals to the young man that he is a slave to money.

I used to believe it was better to mind my own business and I hated it when friends bluntly identified inconsistencies in my life.  Now, I’m realizing that maybe awkwardness leads to maturity and bluntness might just be spiritual.


image credited to cowfish


Life According to Oregon Trail

As a kid in elementary school, I lived for one thing: Oregon Trail.  I’m not sure I learned anything in the classroom because my mind was constantly wandering off to the computer lab.  Nothing my teachers had to say remotely measured up to the captivating power of Oregon Trail.  I was obsessed with this game and learned some key life lessons from playing it.

I learned that life is hard.


I learned that hunting is easy.


I learned that the West isn’t nearly as beautiful as you might have supposed.


But most of all, I learned that there is something transformational about a journey.


My favorite kind of story is a travel story.  I can’t put down books like Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller.  I planned my own personal hiking adventure 14 times during A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  For days I debated whether or not I could build a time machine after reading about Lewis and Clark in Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.  Oh, and let’s not forget about those few months when I considered selling it all and buying a vintage sail boat while reading, Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum—which is a must read by the way.  There is something about an epic journey that captivates in a way no other story can.

I guess I should redefine my obsession with journeys a little.  I love reading and fantasizing about journeys but I’m actually rather uncomfortable with them in real life.  This whole thing about overcoming conflict to get what you want is sort of annoying.  The truth is, I want to overcome conflict right now.  Actually, I’d rather not have any conflict at all.  I’d much prefer to get what I want right when I want it without any sort of conflict.

And yet, I’m beginning to understand that a journey without conflict is rather like a trip to the supermarket.  It lacks meaning.  Why?  Because it doesn’t involved conflict.  An old lady stealing your favorite parking spot doesn’t qualify as conflict.

In our culture, we’ve grown accustomed to bypassing or removing all conflict from our lives.  We are obsessed with safety and comfort. Don’t get wrong, I appreciate safety and I enjoy a good recliner as much as the next guy but I’m starting to think that removing all possibility of conflict isn’t exactly a good thing.

The truth is that conflict makes you a better person.  Conflict provides opportunity for growth that otherwise wouldn’t exist.  When my wife and I attempted to adopt an orphan teenager from Ukraine we began a long and exhausting journey that ultimately ended in failure and heartbreak.  You might say, we never made it to Oregon.  Our covered wagon was swept away in an attempt to ford the Mississippi.  If you missed this story, you can start it here.

Stories have the power to deeply move us and some of the most meaningful stories end tragically–think Romeo and Juliet.  Sometimes the protagonist doesn’t get what he wants.  Sometimes Jenny repeatedly returns to her destructive path and Forrest loses her.  The thing is, the story isn’t less meaningful because it didn’t end happily.  In fact, you could make an argument that it is more meaningful because it didn’t.

Our adoption story is packed with meaning even though it didn’t end the way we wanted.  Because of the pain we’ve grown in meaningful ways  Because of our adoption journey we became more compassionate and more resilient.  Our children’s eyes were open to the plight of orphans and they began to respond with compassion themselves.  Our faith was tested but in the end we learned to trust God more than ever before.

All this is to say that the journey is worth the price–whether you make it to Oregon or not.  Who you are on the other side is worth effort and the pain. There is meaning in the conflict.  Whether you overcome the conflict or not, there is transformation in the journey.


image credited to oblomberg