Let’s face it…being a teen is rough. But the only thing harder than being a teenager is being the parent of a teenager, especially if you are trying to raise children in a Christian home with high values. There is someone who has made it her ministry and mission in life to reach out to teens to strengthen their relationship with Christ.
Her name is Shannon M. Deitz.
As a wife and mother, Shannon ministers to teenagers across the nation, sharing her personal struggles and experiences. Her book, Exposed: Inexcusable Me . . . Irreplaceable Him is due to be released Spring 2010 and can be (pre-) ordered by calling toll free 1-877-421-7323 Pleasant Word Publishing. Shannon was kind enough to agree to share her insight about connecting with teens on a spiritual level. Her passion to connect with teens is how her youth ministry was voted in the top five of EWTN’S Catholic Youth Groups in the United States for 2007.
Read more about Shannon’s personal journey at www.shannonmdeitz.com.
Here is the interview:
- You connect very well with teenagers…what is the secret to being effective with this age group?
First of all thank you, I will take that as a compliment as I remember when I first began and was terrified of teenagers! When I first began in ministry I wanted to make sure I remember what it was like to be a teenager. What was I thinking? What was I feeling? What were the underlying issues and causes as to WHY I felt and thought the things I did. More often than not I was irrational and troubled which led to the attitude.
When I first began to teach to teens the scowls and boredom on their faces scared me, brought back my insecurities when I was their age, which is what led me to realize I knew exactly what they were thinking but I had to take a step back from who I am today and see the world through their eyes.
The secret is to dig deep into the life that most adults tend to wash away once we’ve learned and matured and to reconnect with the feelings and emotions we once harbored. I began to teach telling stories about situations when I was their age, though also giving them my point of view on the situation NOW and soon the scowls turned to understanding and the boredom to interest.
Maybe the biggest secret even beyond digging deep into my ‘inner teen’ is showing them love and interest. I listen to them, even if there are many times I want to roll MY eyes and show a look of boredom and disgust! Instead, I listen and read the inaudible signs of their story. I talk to them so they know I heard what they had to say and I give them insight as to how to come away from that ‘shell’ of ‘me me me’ and to see beyond the situation.
Finally, as a youth minister, I knew that many just needed a hug. Teens shy away from their parents because they are the ones dictating the rules and making their life miserable and I believe that many parents forget that sometimes their child just needs a hug. I gave that…I wouldn’t allow a teen to come into youth group, or leave youth group (or any time seeing me) without giving me a hug. And considering my own personal issues with physical affection, it was just as much therapy for me as it proved to be for them! Years later, after that first night of implementing this new rule, one of the teens told me that was the moment for her that she felt Christ because she could sense how difficult it was for me to give the hug and it meant that much more to her.
Granted I know many might be thinking about the rules most churches, schools, etc post for keeping our children safe and I certainly DO follow these to the tee…a hug can be given without crossing any barriers.
- What are some of the hardest (spiritual and worldly) challenges you see teenagers facing today?
Some of the hardest worldly challenges for teens is simply living in conflict with what is taught to them (hopefully in the home) as morally and ethically correct but is contradicted in all aspects of life. We try to teach young women to respect their bodies, to keep their dignity and to be confident and secure but the shows, movies and even songs suggest that they should sell out on their dignity because the only way to success and esteem is by ‘giving’ themselves away in how they dress, act and behave.
We try to teach our young men that they are to be respectful, to be dignified and to be gentleman upholding the dignity of women and to be honorable and trustworthy but the world suggests all is for their taking and that success is measurable in possessions of people and things rather than in the achievement of a dream that has been mastered through a hard earned education regardless of the possible outcome of financial gain.
Spiritually I have to say the teens I’ve worked with and met have a stronger hold on their faith life than most adults I have met. They are living in a world that is so troubled it has already caused them to come to the necessary place to seek out redeeming grace. The biggest challenge I’ve seen spiritually with young men and women is that their faith is not supported in the home. Many parents have good intentions of stressing the morals and the values but when it comes to the faith life, a true relationship with God, they either shy away because they don’t personally have one or they have personal issues (most likely dealing with anger and confusion of who God is to them) that lead the adult to not support their teen’s exuberance in their faith. I wish I could say this is minimal but the amount of teens that I have met that have had to FIGHT to attend mass or church of any kind is innumerable. Many are even grounded from their faith events because the parent’s don’t understand.
However, I do know there is a vast majority of teens that are not formed in any faith or and their parents force them to go to church out of duty and obligation. I have spoken to many groups of these teens that are ‘forced’ to come to these Sunday school classes or church events and what I see when I look at them is a young boy or girl that wants to feel accepted for who they are and worthy. There is an example of a young man (I’ll call him “Jack”) whom I met when he was in the 9th grade. His parents were forcing him to attend our LIFETEEN program (Sunday school for high schoolers) and he was causing trouble because he didn’t want to sit with everyone and listen to who was speaking at that moment. I was running the youth program at the time and a distraught volunteer asked me to do something with this young man. When I looked in Jack’s eyes they were black. Literally so dark I could feel almost a sense of evil radiating from the glare he was forcing in my direction. I said a little prayer under my breath and began talking to him, asking him questions about what was troubling him, why he wouldn’t sit down, etc. He began to tell me that he didn’t want to listen to someone talk about a God he didn’t believe in. He went on to rattle off various streams of information supposedly proving there was no God and in a way he was testing me to see what my response would be.
I smiled and told him why I knew God was real and that it was okay for him to question and feel the way he did because God was loving him through it. Jack rolled his black eyes and needless to say I didn’t get very far with him that evening. But Jack kept coming, whether forced or not, I don’t know. But I kept Jack in my prayers. I knew despite the attitude and the evil he radiated he was worthy to be saved. I prayed that God would get through to him.
As the year went on I lost touch with Jack in the group as I had other responsibilities and he didn’t come to our other scheduled events. I kept him in my prayers, though, and exactly one year later we were holding a retreat for the sophomore teens that needed to be confirmed. On this retreat I gave a personal testimony of the reality of God’s love in my life and this young man came up to me afterwards asking if we could talk. I didn’t know the young man, he didn’t look familiar but I was always happy to talk to the teens. Later that night when we sat down to talk he was very excited and talking fast about recognizing God in his life and as he spoke I looked into his soft brown eyes and smiled at the life I could see reflected within. We spoke for nearly a ½ hour when he began reflect on who he was a year ago, what he believed (or didn’t believe) about God and how grateful he was for God’s mercy and forgiveness. It was then that I looked at this young man again and realized it was Jack! He did not look like the young Jack I’d met the year before…his face was softer, his eyes full of life and color and his energy was contagious.
To this day Jack plays his electric guitar in college for a Christian band and he continues to be a witness to God’s love and mercy.
I offer this story as an example of what many teens are dealing with, they come together in anger and frustration and decide there is no God. They feed off each other and in doing so the enemy works in them and among them, keeping them trapped in sin. What these teens need is love, mercy, forgiveness, understanding and PRAYER.
- What can parents do to help their own teens who may be experiencing “spiritual warfare”?
First of all, they need to believe them. As crazy as the story might sound, or as unbelievable as it may seem, look into your child’s eyes and recognize they are closer to the faith of a child that God calls us to than we have been in a long time. Somewhere along the way are hearts get hardened to the reality of the ethereal world among us.
Second, most churches have spiritual advisers or counselors, if the issues regarding spiritual warfare are intense and often then they do need to seek counseling. Also, it is important to arm them with their faith. To remind them of the Armor of God and that God is NOT OF FEAR but of LOVE… and anything that tries to instill fear in their life is not of God. It is important for them to have courage to stand firm for Christ and to know that sometimes all we need to say is “In the name of Jesus go away’…or “My life is for Christ.” Actually, the shortest, strongest prayer is simply saying the word JESUS..
- How have your experiences helped shape the way you parent?
My faith has helped shape the way I parent by giving me an inner peace to turn to, to call upon the Holy Spirit when I feel overwhelmed or out of control. I’m not perfect, I have many flaws as a parent and I try to take a step away from a situation and think about whether I’m being rational or not. Sometimes I don’t make it that far, but that is why I pray daily “God, save me from me.” I’m a work in progress.
Working with teens has truly shaped the way I parent as my oldest heads closer to the teen years. I want him to know that I’m here for him but not as a friend, as a mother who understands his likes/dislikes and dreams but that has to keep them in check with what God’s plan is. I pray daily for my kids to WANT to know God and WANT to serve Him because it doesn’t matter how much I make them do, where I make them go, or even how much I force them to pray…they each have their own free will and ultimately unless they form that personal relationship with God then it will not remain in them.
I don’t want them to go to church because I tell them to, I want them to go because they want to go and feel the desire to be a part of that community.
I worry because I don’t want my boys to become the ‘minister’s child’ the one that rebels…I try to look at them as I do the teens I speak to, with love and compassion realizing they will have their own fears, issues and questions and I can’t judge them. But as a parent I am instructed by God to GUIDE THEM and sometimes they don’t like that at all. But I do try to keep everything centered on prayer.
Finally, one main thing that took a great step of courage and humility was recognizing when I’m wrong and making sure that I know when I should offer an apology to my children. It is my actions they will follow not my words.
- What is your advice for teens that are self-destructive and without a strong spiritual foundation or family support…how can they bounce back?
There is so much self-destruction today, it is heartbreaking. First of all, EVERY TEEN can bounce back regardless of their home situation or their faith life. Again, what I would like every teen to know, to hold on to, to repeat to themselves at night is this “I am worthy and this is MY life, I have a purpose in this world.”
Honestly, the way I look at life is a battle field. We have God and his army of angels on one side and the enemy and his followers on the other. Our lives are caught in the middle. We are what both sides are fighting for. Instead of it being a tug of war, the only advantage we have is our free will. We can choose which side we want to go to. When we look to God’s side we see love, acceptance, forgiveness, everlasting life and JOY. When we look to the enemy’s side we see a mirage of items and possessions and a list of empty promises that at first appear to bring happiness and joy but fade away.
It is our choice DAILY to decide which side we’ll go to. When teens feel at a loss, unheard and unloved and they can only mask that pain by causing a more physical real pain they are only reacting to the frustration that the enemy’s side brought to them. But at any time they can choose to go to God’s side. We hear a lot in the media about ‘freedom to choose’, well here you go, it’s the one true aspect in life that you have the freedom to choose.
- Your book Exposed: Inexcusable Me . . . Irreplaceable Him is due for release in Spring 2010. Is this a book for teens or parents, and what do you hope readers will gain from it?
Exposed is written for both the teen and adult audience. My intent for displaying the mistakes, tragedies and triumphs in my life to the public is to offer a voice of hope for those that have been caught in a web of suffering or are currently in the mix. It is my desire that the reader will be inspired to review their personal journey and recognize the love of God that is woven throughout the fabric of their life.