5+25: Helping seniors give their parents snapshots of time

Photo by Ezra Jeffrey

Josh Boehr is the Youth Director at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor Michigan. Josh and his wife Lisa are the parents of three beautiful young children that make everyday an adventure of grace. 

As my small group talks on this particular night, something becomes increasing apparent to me. All six of the young men in the group are seniors, and as they prepare to leave home, they are feeling a very real tension with their parents.

The tension is exposed by a single question: “Have you noticed your parents trying to spend more time with you?” Frustrated responses immediately follow:

“Every time my mom sees me she hugs me!”

“Yeah, they keep coming into my room and just sit there… They don’t even really say anything. They basically just look at me. It’s really weird!”

“My parents keep talking to me about things and I don’t want to talk about… like… everything.”

Although this isn’t really a new conflict, as these young men prepare to graduate high school and likely leave home, tensions are heightened. Parents know the clock is ticking. Soon they will have to let go of their child in new and frightening ways. They are also wondering, with fear, if they have done enough to prepare their child for the next step. On the other side, the students are longing for independence. They want to experience life, live freely, and make their own choices. 

As leaders, how can we confront this tension in a way that encourages these students not to ignore the conflict, but instead to faithfully address it?

My next move with my small group was to help them somehow take a step toward perspective and compassion. I asked, “What do you think it is like for your parents to know that you will probably never come home for more than a few months ever again?” A few heart-felt responses trickle from the guys. “I never thought of it like that… it’s probably really hard.” “That’s why my mom is always crying when she looks at me!”  

The Experiment: 5 + 25

With hearts sort of beginning to soften, the guys ask, “So what are we supposed to do?” After four years of being pushed to address relational problems, they already know what's coming when I say, “You could spend more time with your parents.” 

Cautiously they ask, “How? What do you mean?” I offer this: “What if every day when you come home, you fully engage your parents in conversation for 5 minutes? You don’t avoid them. You don’t just stay quiet. You work hard for 5 minutes to listen and respond. And what if you gave your parents 25 minutes around a meal? You can still go out with your friends or do what you need to do, but give them 5 and 25 minutes.” I encourage these guys to practice this pattern and see what happens.  

Students from our youth ministry have found this practice of 5+25 to be freeing. They do not feel as if they have to spend long hours all the time with their parents, but can still be intentional in honoring and engaging their parents. This doesn’t fix all of their family problems, but it can create a manageable step in the right direction to keep students and parents connected in a precarious season.

When it comes to seniors and their parents, both sides are living in a real tension, and both sides are going to have to work together in this tension. If parents are willing to start letting go, and students are willing to fully engage for a few minutes a day, the tension often subsides.

How have you helped students engage their parents in midst of the anxieties of the senior year?