Fuller Youth Institute


Photo by ljholloway photography

Enjoy this post to celebrate with us our newest resource, Right Click, releasing on December 1st. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. Pre-order your copy of Right Click today HERE. What’s your #rightclick?

It is always fun to see the way a Halloween costume changes a kid’s demeanor.

Give a boy a set of foam Hulk muscles and he’ll start stomping around and growling loudly. Or put a girl in a princess costume and watch her twirl dramatically, singing at the top of her lungs.

Halloween is a day when we give kids permission to put on costumes and pretend to be someone else—in a fun, safe way.

For today’s parents, the issue of identity is one of the trickier topics to deal with when it comes to how young people use digital media. Halloween can be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about how identity works online.

Younger kids typically use media to play games as avatars. An avatar is something that represents us within the fictitious world of a game. Kids choose a character to “be,” but don’t see that choice as related to who they really are. For younger kids, game avatars are a lot like Halloween costumes in this sense—they just pick a character they like. And change their mind tomorrow.

As kids get older, they start to think more about costumes as personal and social statements. Factors like their friends’ costumes, and how their peers will perceive them, carry more weight as they decide who and what to be. For adolescents in the process of forming their own identities, Halloween represents a rare opportunity to do something that society doesn’t let them do often—“try on” being somebody else.

Young people experience a similar kind of transition as they go from using game avatars to sharing as their ‘real’ selves on social media. The distinctions between childish play and grown-up socializing get murky.[1]

When it comes to the online behavior of both young people and adults, researchers have found that a feeling of anonymity is one of the main factors that cause us to behave badly in digital spaces. Like teens egging a house on Halloween night, we’re more likely to trash somebody else’s walls when (we think) we’re well hidden behind a mask.[2]  

One of the really difficult things for adolescents to figure out as they begin using social media is this difference between an avatar and the “costume” of anonymity.

Not all anonymity is bad. Digital spaces are a lot like Halloween in how they provide young people with outlets to explore their identities and have fun with their friends in the process. This is why apps that let users share anonymously are often so popular among teens. But it is important to help young people recognize the boundaries and limits of this. Participating on social media can also feel a bit too much like a game that rewards users for hurting or outdoing on-screen enemies. [3]

If your kids are relatively new to the world of social media, think about using this Halloween as a teachable moment that helpfully illustrates the way we’re able to participate in digital spaces as an avatar, anonymous user, or authentic self. Ask questions like, “What’s the difference between the avatar version of you and the real-life version of you?” “How do you feel about the way you relate to other people online [through gaming or social media], and how they relate to you?” “Are your relationships in real life with these people similar or different? How does that make you feel?” One of the most important lessons for young people to learn is how, unlike an avatar, the actions of a costumed character online have real consequences for the offline people they conceal.


[1] Livingstone, Sonia. Children and the Internet. Polity, 2009, pg. 12-23.

[2] Wright, Michelle F. "Predictors of anonymous cyber aggression: the role of adolescents' beliefs about anonymity, aggression, and the permanency of digital content." Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 17, no. 7 (2014): 431-438.

[3] Davis, Katie. "Friendship 2.0: Adolescents' experiences of belonging and self-disclosure online." Journal of Adolescence 35, no. 6 (2012): 1527-1536.

Photo by Kevin van der Leek

I love volleyball. I have played it practically my whole life.

Recently I started coaching girls volleyball at a local high school in Pasadena. It’s not the same thing. I’ve quickly learned that coaching high school girls is a whole other ball game.

Here’s one example of how I’m trying to find my bearings. I told our JV team that my wife and I saw Taylor Swift in concert. They all screamed, giggled, and asked me what songs she sang. It was a great storytelling opportunity. I thought I’d bring that same story to the varsity team. It was met with “Eh, I don’t even like Taylor Swift.” Conversation. Over.

I couldn’t figure it out! I constantly felt like a nomad as a coach trying to figure out my place, and often times still do. Every day is different trying to connect with these girls.

Recently, our JV captain Meghan suffered a fractured foot. Needless to say, she was devastated. At the next practice, I was standing at one end of the gym watching. The girls were laughing together, cheering, and yelling chants in between plays. On the sideline watching was Meghan, looking down and out. I went out on a limb, walked up, and sat right next to her.

Through a class I took with professor Chap Clark at Fuller Seminary recently, I learned how young people feel abandoned by older generations because of the way we have created a performance-based society for young people. They often believe that if they’re not successful, they don’t matter. What truly matters, though, is helping them see their identity in God and how they have value regardless of their success or failure.

As I sat down next to Meghan, we talked about her injury and she mentioned how hard it was not playing. I told her, “You know, you’re an amazing volleyball player, but that’s not why we like having you on the team. We like having you on the team because of who you are. We appreciate you for you, and that’s enough.”

I saw maybe a slight twitch in her lip create the smallest hint of a smile. She gave a quiet “Thanks, Coach.” I didn’t expect much, but you could see something clicked.

The next day during a game, Meghan sat next to me on the bench. She was cheering on her team, encouraging them to keep working. I love how even when she was upset about her injury, she showed what being part of the team is about. It was not about her success on the court, it was about her willingness to serve others. She knew she offered value to the team regardless of her performance because her identity was rooted in something deeper.

Oftentimes as leaders we are so driven to find what makes young people successful and cheer that success on. It feels like we are cheering for them, but we’re really cheering on their accomplishments. We’re so driven to see them get A’s, to make the varsity team, to get that scholarship, you name it.

That day something clicked for Meghan, and something clicked for me too. Coaching is like pastoring. My personal investment in the girls affirming who they are is just as, if not more, important as coaching them to be better volleyball players.

I still love volleyball. But helping young people find deeper significance is something worth giving my life to.

How are you helping young people in your sphere of influence find significance beyond success?

There’s a land out there where everything is perfect. No one is ever sad. People go on trips all the time. They scale mountains. They paddleboard in the ocean. They’re at brunch with their friends. They eat the most amazing meals. Everything is perfect, and nothing is wrong. It’s a place where everyone likes what you do, and tells you how awesome your life is.

There’s a problem, though.

In this land, no one is as happy as they appear to be. It’s mostly a myth. This fantasy world is today’s social media landscape. For many of us, it’s a comparison trap. If we’re not posting something awesome, our friends usually are. Even though we may ‘like’ something, we’re often a little sad we aren’t doing something fun, too.

To complicate our ‘perfect’ social media presence even more, Facebook recently announced that they are releasing a ‘dislike’ button. “What [users] really want is the ability to express empathy,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained. “Not every moment is a good moment.”

Empathy is a good thing.

Many people are saying, “Finally, I have been waiting for this. I don’t want to like the post you wrote about your dog throwing up.” Others fear this change may usher in disaster for young people. “Disliking” has the potential to increase cyber-bullying and decrease a younger person’s willingness to share something honest on Facebook for fear of public ridicule. The opposite of empathy, handing out “dislikes” could foster callous social response in a climate that already feels like anything goes.

Regardless of what we think of the ‘dislike’ button, it’s happening. And we can’t avoid it. Here are 5 tips to better communicate with young people about social media in the coming presence of the ‘dislike’ button:

1. Say “I love you” and “I like you” more than simply liking their successes

The more adults tell young people that we like what they do, the more they feel like their identity is rooted in success or in a particular role. The more we tell them that we love—and like—who they are, the more their identity will be grounded in their inherent value as those who bear God’s image.

Some claim that narcissism is at an all-time high in our culture. Between reality TV, YouTube insta-stars, and social media, teenagers have learned that if they don’t get enough likes, they don’t matter. My cousin once told me that he was going to delete a picture we took together and posted on Instagram because it didn’t get enough likes. Wow. The more we say “I love who you are” to young people, the more this can help root their identity in something deeper than their own social media fame.

2. Be an active social media user, not a passive consumer

It’s easy to just consume Facebook. I could scroll through Facebook and never think twice about not actually interacting with people on the platform. I’ve seen too many cat videos, photos of someone’s lunch, and quotes from my friends about how much they love their girlfriend. It’s too much! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in that and begin to think, “Man, my life sucks.”

Being active on social media, posting on other people’s walls, and sending messages to friends helps break down the self-perception that we’re not valuable enough. When we reach out to people, they let us in to see that everything is not, after all, as perfect as it appears on Facebook. Encourage the teenagers in your life to do the same.

3. Remember that people only post highlights

Have you ever seen anyone post a picture of themselves deciding not to go the gym? Me either. However, I have seen countless photos of people during or right after their workout sharing how great they feel. People will hardly post those low moments where they decided not to go to they gym, got in a fight with their significant other, or failed a test that actually mattered to them. Social media is a fantasy world that only captures the highlights we want it to capture. Remind young people that everyone deals with pain and struggle in some way. They just might not show it on Facebook.

4. Be mindful of what you post and how others react

Social media is full of trolls. Go look at any celebrity’s profile and you’ll find that every post is met with a lot of both positive and negative feedback (yes, even Taylor Swift). Remind teenagers that when they post something, may not be received the same by everyone. Sometimes we just need to ignore the trolls and move on.

5. Encourage young people to spread kindness and actual empathy

Research is suggesting that today’s young people are actually getting nicer to each other. Perhaps in part because of social media, they have become more inclusive, empathetic, and welcoming towards others. Even before I wrote this post, I asked ten high school boys what they all thought of the dislike button. Every single one of them said they feared it would turn Facebook into a place of bullying. That’s what empathy actually looks like.


The truth is that our young people today have the opportunity to create the culture that they want to create. We have the opportunity as leaders and parents to encourage that. Let’s not allow “dislike” to have the last word. 

Photo by Chris McVeigh

Last Friday I spoke on a panel with The LEGO Movie writer Kevin Hageman (Hotel Transylvania, Ninjago) about how to write imaginative films. After the discussion, we had a quick Q&A with parents, kids, and a few film critics to discuss what the film has to say about parenting.

The film is about that moment when we decide not to do what our parents tell us to do. That moment when we go off-script and make a choice based on our own convictions rather than the convictions we’ve been handed. And it’s about how parents tend to handle, or not handle, that moment well.

Here are a few observations about that moment, and the implications for working with kids in our ministries and homes.

1. There is no fire.


I grew up different. No TV, no Nintendo, no trampoline.

My friends were city kids with skateboards and hockey sticks; I was a country kid with ... just sticks. I was like Emmet (Chris Pratt) in the film, wanting to interact but unable to fit in. The worst kind of special.

When I started elementary school, my parents bought me the one item that determines all social standing in the kindergarten class system. A 128-crayon Crayola box set. Everything was awesome.

At least until the next day when my dad painted the hallway a gleaming white.

My brother and I couldn’t help but notice how ... colorless the walls looked, and the next morning my groggy mother awoke to a hallway-sized color-vomit Monet.

I’ll never forget the harshness of her gasp, like a hurricane ripping apart the state of Florida. The realization of what we had done suddenly landed in our brains, and at that exact same moment, we heard rustling from the bedroom.

Dad lumbered into the hallway and froze. His eyes slowly traveled from the walls, to me, to my brother, and back to the walls.

And then ... nothing happened. He turned around, went back into his room, closed the door and went back to sleep.

My brother and I, crayons suspended in midair, looked at my mom, who shrugged and turned toward the kitchen. We went right back to scribbling 128 colors everywhere. Later we had to repaint the hall of course, but it was the moment when I realized that creativity is okay.

Dad could have exploded and shut us down, but instead he decided there is no fire.

As adults we like to be in control. We like to glue the LEGOs down, like Lord Business in the film.

We do this because it’s incredibly hard work to make sure everyone’s taken care of and not killing each other in our families or ministries, and when we finally reach the promised land of everyone miraculously being happy and healthy at the exact same time, we want to keep it that way for as long as possible.

But a creative kid will always break that balance. Like Emmet in the film, a kid’s natural response is to be imaginative and try new things. This freaks us out, because it means that what we’ve worked so hard to create is going to change.

So our buttons get pushed, and our fire alarm goes off.

The LEGO movie is about a dad who figures out that the fire alarm is actually a false alarm. There is no fire, and even though everything in us wants to yell or control or shut down the situation, this dad figures out how to slow down the moment and ignore the alarm.

Of course we need boundaries and rules for our kids, but sometimes our reaction when a rule gets broken stems from our own fear or selfishness, not genuine concern for our child’s wellbeing.

Slow down the moment and ask: Am I reacting out of fear or my need to control? Is this really a fire? And if not, how can I shut off the alarm?


2. Everything is not awesome. But your kid is.


“That night in the city, when you thought I was the Special, and you said I was talented, and important ... That was the first time anyone had ever really told me that, and it made me want do everything I could to be the guy that you were talking about.” (Emmet, The Lego Movie)

Creative kids are special because they’re different, and being different as a kid isn’t easy.

Which is why in the film Emmet pretends to be special even though he doesn’t feel like it.

Just hearing that he’s special, and that special is a good thing, fills him with hope and the drive to become better. It creates what psychologists call the “happiness advantage,” which allows our brains to operate at optimum levels and positively impacts our behavior.

And actually, the absence of that affirmation is what transforms Lord Business into a villain in the first place.

“Hey, not so special anymore, huh? Well, guess what? No one ever told me I was special. I never got a trophy just for showing up! I'm not some special little snowflake, no! But as unspecial as I am, you are a thousand billion times more unspecial than me!”

The question becomes how can we make our kids feel special without playing into a culture that tells kids they can do anything?

The “you’re special” culture gets tricky fast, and has become an influential factor in the development of a number of social disorders. The percentage of American teenagers who believe themselves to be “very important” jumped from 12% in 1950 to 80% in 2005. Other research has found that 93% of young people are more narcissistic than the average young person 20 years ago.

This change may not seem that important at first, but it turns out that this shift in worldview can dramatically effect the course of our kids’ lives.

In a 1976 survey, young people ranked “being famous” 15th out of 16 possible life goals. By 2007, 51% of young people said it was one of their principal ambitions. In a recent survey, nearly twice as many middle-school girls said they would rather be a celebrity’s personal assistant than the president of Harvard University.

But The LEGO Movie offers a different take on being special. Feeling special actually means being fully accepted for you who are. Not that you’re better than anyone else, but that you are enough.

Our kids are naturally creative, and our world needs that more than ever. As we approach them and their unique perspectives, ask the questions:

How can I affirm this young person’s creativity?

How can I make their uniqueness feel awesome?

How can I make sure they feel like they are enough exactly as they are?


As we gaze at the myriad of social, economic, and environmental challenges in every corner of the world, it’s increasingly clear that we need creative thinkers now more than ever. May we nurture creativity in our young people, and may we let those moments of divergence be places of grace, and understanding, and discovery in our churches, our youth groups, and our homes.


I got all the stats in this article from David Brooks’ book The Road to Character that came out earlier this year.

Photo by André Josselin

Last Friday was the first time our 14 year-old son didn’t want to talk to me about girls.

He was going to a school dance—his first as a ninth grader at a new school. I was headed with our two daughters to speak at a Mother/Daughter retreat. Since I didn’t have a chance to see him after school, I called him on our drive up the mountains.

I asked him what he was going to wear. He didn’t really know but named a few possible shirts (my daughters would have had their “outfits” picked out a week ahead).

I asked him if he was going to ask a girl to dance. He said he didn’t know.

Trying to help my son think ahead about different scenarios, I named a few girls from his middle school who were now at his high school.

He sighed and responded, “Mom, I don’t want to talk to my 48 year-old mom about who I’m going to dance with.”

I answered, “Well, first off, I’m 45 and not 48.” We both chuckled and I continued, “And I totally get that. Have a great time at the dance. I’ll be praying for you.” And we hung up a few minutes later.

Last week he talked to me about flirting. Two weeks ago he talked to me about how to handle a girl who likes him and keeps texting him. And next week he might feel comfortable talking to me about girls at school.

But not this week.

And that’s OK. It’s normal. And because of our Sticky Faith research, I’m not freaking out.

When he actually starts dating someone, I hope he wants to talk to me. But if he doesn’t want to talk to me or my husband, he’s got a team of amazing men to talk to. Because of Sticky Faith’s research showing how important it is that young people feel supported by five adults,  Dave and I have been extra intentional in connecting Nathan with five amazing men—who range in age from 39 to 72. Nathan knows he can talk to any of them about what he’s feeling, especially when those feelings aren’t something he wants to talk about with mom or dad.

If you’re a parent, what can you do this month to connect your child with at least one amazing adult so that when (not if, but when) they don’t want to talk to you about something important, they still have someone they can go to?

If you’re a youth leader, how can you help the families in your church develop those types of relationships?

Our kids might not talk to us about anything. And our kids’ friends don’t know any more than them. That’s why I’m so grateful for adults who serve as listening ears to our kids—just when they need them the most.


We’ve been delighted and humbled by the range of churches from multiple denominations and all sizes that have participated in the Sticky Faith Cohort over the past six years. We’re gearing up for our next cohort starting in January 2016. One of the questions we often get asked by leaders considering the cohort is:

“How do we know if it’s the right time?”

Here are 6 things to consider as you think about joining the Cohort:



Discuss the Cohort process and ask all your questions directly with Kara Powell, Brad Griffin and a Cohort alum on September 16th at 9:30am PST.

Dial: (712) 832-8320
Access Code: 559575

Reserve your spot on the free call by emailing Brian Nelson: bnelson@fuller.edu.



Start having conversations with other team members that push you to look at both what you’re doing in ministry and why you’re doing it. Often we find churches love the Cohort because it brings them together on a new, refreshed page as one team.



What is your vision for partnership with children’s ministry leadership at your church? Churches who see the most gains during the Cohort process tend to move towards synergy between youth and children’s ministry.



How do you want to utilize training opportunities next year? Consider focusing your team training efforts and budget toward the 2016 Cohort in order to create a clear collaborative mission and leverage our research-based resources. We’ll supply you with volunteer training tools and an interactive process for your team to engage for the year!



How involved is your senior pastor with your ministry’s mission? The cohort helps bring everyone on the same page to move toward a clear vision together. Consider garnering support from your senior pastor and other leadership for your church’s participation in a yearlong process.



If it would help to talk with a leader from another church within your denomination/tradition or your community who has been through the Cohort, let us know and we will do our best to connect you with someone.



Often the factors leaders think might be obstacles to participation don’t have to be. Issues like a senior pastor transition or having a small youth ministry team don’t necessarily mean the timing is bad. Sticky Faith won’t look the same in every church. We think that’s great news for leaders like you.

Sometimes God surprises leaders with the timing of the cohort. We’ve heard story after story about how God has used the cohort journey as a catalyst for their team, youth ministry, or congregation in ways they hadn’t predicted. Nothing excites us more!

If you have been considering the cohort, email or call Brian Nelson today at bnelson@fuller.edu or (818) 620-6996.

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Photo by Martin Neuhof

As we launch into a new era of experimentation here at FYI, it’s been exciting to see where we are able to innovate.

It’s also been exciting to see where we tend to get stuck.

For example, we are in the midst of transforming our latest research project into a series of books. The writing process is going well, but we spent eight months trying to come up with a title for the series and we're still struggling.


We have mountains of fresh content and creative ideas. Why are we hitting a wall?

Creative roadblocks happens in our ministries and organizations when we don’t understand how innovation actually works. Most of the time we use words like innovation and creativity and imagination interchangeably, and they are taken to mean the same thing. They are not.

Imagination is the ability to envision the impossible. This is what churches often call “the vision,” an imaginary future version of our ministry and its role in the world. It’s what social researchers call “divergent thinking” because it paints a picture of reality very different from the one we live in. A “visionary” leader’s job is to communicate their imagined version of the world in a way that compels us to act, change, and support it.

Creativity is different. It’s not about the future, it’s about utilizing what we have right now.

Creativity is to create. It’s to do. Creating a youth group means we need young people, a leader, time, space, and the capability to pull it all together. Creating a log cabin means we need wood, tools, a grassy knoll, and a plan for how to bring it all together. The more efficient or novel the creation, the more creativity is required to pull it off.

I like creativity by it’s other name: problem-solving. It’s practical and tangible, not imaginary. It’s the act of making an idea real.

Innovation occurs when you combine imagination and creativity. Dreaming and doing.

My fiancée does this with space. She can fit three truckloads of film equipment onto one truck because she’s able to imagine a new way of organizing it, then problem-solve to actually make it happen. And her innovative way of approaching packing saves us boatloads of time and money.

Innovation occurs when we know both what to do and how to do it. Not only what we want to accomplish, but also how to move forward.

Churches and organizations often make the mistake of labeling their imaginative people as “creative,” and their problem-solvers as “administrative” or something else. But innovation only occurs when we fuse both skillsets together.

As you look forward to the coming ministry year and all the new things you hope to accomplish, make room for both dreaming and doing. Moving forward means not only knowing where you’re going, but also how to get there. 

Photo by Kayla Varley

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Fuller Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily.

This summer my family made an epic move from a community we adored in Southern California to be close to our extended families in Northern Indiana. Truly epic. We have three little kids (ages 7, 5, 3), which only complicated and intensified our cross-country trek.

In the span of a few weeks, we sold a house, drove 2300 miles, moved into a new house, painted every wall, completed some house projects, and unpacked a billion boxes. Meanwhile, my husband started a demanding job, I took a couple of work trips, and our kids were struggling every day to adjust.

It was a lot.

I am a leader who loves change and transitions. At least I thought I did. This transition has kicked my butt. I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded at “doing this well.” Most days I feel like it requires all my energy to keep my own head above water, much less walk my little ones through this hard season.

I have been made aware (again) that change can mean loss and change can meet a longing. It’s not an either/or. It’s both. Change and transition provide opportunities for growth, transformation, expanding muscles, and deepening self-awareness and compassion.

As your kids make transitions this year—big ones or small ones—here are a few practices that are helping my family through our transition:

Acknowledge the hard.  It has made a hard day a little less hard when I’ve vulnerably connected with a trusted person in my life. Verbalizing what is difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging in transition is important. It takes some of the power out of the “hard” and gives strength to face the next challenge.

Say “me, too.”  When my kids have expressed their loss, I have learned to respond with “me, too”. People process transitions differently. Transition exposes latent fears, insecurities, and grief. Giving kids the space to verbalize what’s hard for them and validating it with “me, too” goes a long way to help kids find their equilibrium again.

Look for little lights.  I was commiserating with a mentor and passionately blurted out, “everything is so hard!” Before I could utter another breath, with strength and grace in her voice she responded, “No, it’s not. Not everything is hard.” She encouraged me to take notice of where little lights were all over our new life: the way the sun set behind the giant tree in my backyard around 9pm, the new window treatments in my bedroom, the giggles of my kids playing on the slip ‘n slide, licking watermelon popsicles on a hot afternoon. There are little gifts that our good Father desperately wants us to receive daily, even in hard transitions. Finding those lights fans the flames of gratitude and gives hope that eventually we’ll find a new normal … together.

New mercies every moment.  Lamentations promises God will give new mercies every morning. Frankly, I need them more often than that. In transitions we need new mercies about every other second. As our kids transition from “what was” to “what’s now,” let’s be flag-bearers that God is with us. God is giving us what we need right now, and will give us what we need every moment after that.

What practices help you and the kids in your life make it through transitions? After all, we don’t want to waste these transitions by simply surviving. We want to become more of who we’ve been created to be.

May the God who doesn’t waste a single thing show himself to us more in this season of transition.

Photo by Rachael Hyde

If there’s a recent high school grad in your life who is heading to college this month, this season might feel like a blur. Not only are your weeks filled with “lasts,” but you’re also trying to help them prepare for what’s next. Research shows that families tend to focus entirely on the logistics of the transition to college. But from parents, mentors, and ministry leaders, these emerging adults also need help thinking through bigger questions and issues. Like time.

In our latest Sticky Faith research, we’ve found that the majority of first-year college students are overwhelmed by how to spend their time, and anxious about all they are balancing. Most feel completely unprepared to juggle everything well.

In one college setting, leaders found that directing students to focus on a few key questions helps them more reflectively navigate how they spend their time. Here’s one exercise (courtesy of Harvard’s Richard J. Light via the NY Times) you might find helpful as you grab a last coffee or lunch face-to-face with an entering college student:

1. Ask them to make a list of how they want to spend their time at college.

What matters to them most in this next season? What would an ideal week look like if they could estimate their time in rough percentages? What are they concerned about when it comes to time in college?

2. Follow up in a month or so by sending them the list.

(Bonus points if you tuck it into a care package!) Invite them to write down how they actually spent their time over the last week and then compare it to the list they made prior to college. Then via text, call, chat, or in person if possible, ask: How were the lists the same or different? How well does your actual use of time match your goals? What do you want to do about that?

The majority of students don’t find a lot of overlap between these lists. But that’s not the end of the story. Reflecting on how we use our time can be a catalyst for better aligning our commitments with our convictions. Simply having the conversation can stir reminders of latent hopes and drifting values.

One more thing. Both conversations—before and after—need to be laden in grace. Don’t let time and priorities become another way to heap shame and guilt on an emerging adult whose identity is being tested day by day. Frame failure as the opportunity for learning and growth. And remind them that God is faithful, even when we are not.

What other good conversations have you had with a new college student?

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily. 

Photo by Amanda Tiption

To help you hit a home run with your parent training this year, the Fuller Youth Institute is debuting the DVD release of the new Sticky Faith Family Training five-session video curriculum. In fact, throughout the month of August we are offering resources, blog posts, and practical tips for parents to help develop lasting faith in their kids. Stay up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook. Follow the conversation #stickyfaithfamily.

This back-to-school season you might be like me. Wondering what kinds of challenges and discoveries await my kids this year.

Wondering what will happen in their friendships.

Wondering how they will grow—physically, spiritually, and a host of other ways—over the next ten months.

But underneath these questions lies another question we wonder about. We wonder how our kids will perform. How they’ll measure up against their peers in class and in sports or other pursuits. How they’ll take more steps toward the successful adulthood we dream about for them.

These underlying questions loom beneath the surface like a sleeping giant. A giant of fear and anxiety. This giant occasionally bothers some parents, and continuously torments others. It’s the reason we push our kids to add that extracurricular activity, volunteer a few more hours to boost their resume, and take the “zero period” class at 7am each weekday to get a little bit ahead of the curve.

As we head back to school this year, it’s time to wake that giant and slay him.

Here are three strategies to help you win that battle:

1. Challenge “success” as the ultimate goal.

Is “success” really the goal for our kids, or is it something bigger? Societal definitions of success have driven us to push our kids to exhaustion. This “race to nowhere” has been well documented, but the system that drives teenagers to burnout and busyness still pervades most communities. And most of us parents are complicit.

The folks at Challenge Success, a Stanford-based group taking aim at the performance-driven culture that leaves high school students “overloaded and underprepared,” offers some helpful tools for parents you can review right now. Especially check out the page of brief free videos for parents on questions that might be bugging you about achievement, homework, scheduling, and play.

2. Help them find their own sparks (not yours).

While you might have a plan for “elite” sports, cello lessons, and chess club, your son or daughter may secretly wish they had more time to pursue what they really care about. Gather your courage and ask whether they really want to do all the things you’re signing them up for, or if other interests sound more life-giving.

Explore together what the Search Institute calls “Sparks”—interests that spur engagement and passion in kids. When young people discover and develop sparks, and have adults in their lives who support these sparks, the research shows that they tend to thrive in a lot of other areas—yes, including grades. The Thrive Foundation for Youth has a whole set of free parent resources on sparks.

If you’re getting anxious about questions of vocation for your older teenager, here’s a two-part series from our archive about helping your kids find their calling.

3. Ask different questions.

I don’t know about you, but my questions before the start of school often center around logistics—supplies, schedule, clothing, and carpool. As our kids get older, they need us to help them reach a more reflective space as they head back to the classrooms and hallways of their new daily routines. Take each of your kids for a one-on-one conversation over milkshakes (or whatever you like to do together) and ask a few questions like this:

  • How do you want to spend your time outside of school this year? How can we make sure to include some down time and some family time in your schedule?
  • What do you hope for this school year? What are a couple of things you’re excited about?
  • What is one fear you have as you head back to school?
  • How can I help? Is there any way I’m trying to help that just makes things worse?
  • How can I pray for you?

And finally, here’s a little perspective from expert Madeline Levine, cofounder of Challenge Success, about taking the “30-year” view of our kids’ development.

Now, take a deep breath. School’s almost in. Let’s slay some giants.