What I Wish My Parents Knew
When it comes to communication, the metaphorical gap between teenagers and their parents can sometimes seem as wide as the Grand Canyon. Teens are growing up in a world that bears only slight resemblance to the one their parents knew, making it sometimes difficult for the two generations to relate. But California pastor Jesse Winkler is part of a pastors group working to bridge this gap in his community.
Winkler’s pastors group meets every month for prayer, praise, and serving the community. A few years ago, the group experienced a call to action of sorts after drugs and alcohol claimed the lives of several students in the area.
“In 2012, we began a conversation with high school principals in our school district about partnering to meet some of the needs facing teens in our community,” says Winkler, lead pastor at Westview Church in San Diego. “It became apparent that, in order to provide a safer upbringing for the teens in our community, we needed to build stronger homes—and in order to build stronger homes, we needed to resource the parents in our community.”
The pastors set out into the community, asking hundreds of teens one simple question: What do you wish your parents knew about your life, and the world you’re growing up in? Armed with honest feedback and video testimonies, Winkler and his colleagues then set up an event for parents in the local school district. The event was called “What I Wish My Parents Knew,” and it included breakout sessions to discuss the seven topics most commonly brought up by the teens: substance abuse, self-harm, depression, social media, academic pressure, communication, and relationships.
The response was immediate, and compelling: more than 600 parents showed up. And they wanted more.
“We acknowledged that this was a community conversation, and invited parents to join with us for the sake of our teens,” says Winkler. “The goal is not only to inform parents about the issues [facing teens], but also to get them engaging with one another about these issues.”
Extending the conversation
After the success of the first What I Wish event, it was clear the conversation needed to continue.
“God has been gracious in giving our pastors group trust and favor with all five of the principals in our school district,” says Winkler, who went on to create a What I Wish steering committee with those principals, another area pastor, and some community members. Together, they’ve put on five more What I Wish events since that first one, held at various high schools throughout the district.
As a relatively new church plant with a small congregation, Westview Church has been ambitious in taking on this project. However, John Alwood, executive director of missional ministry for California Classis, says church leaders in his classis love to encourage creative risks in ministry—and he’s not at all surprised to see Westview being so intentional with its community engagement.
“God has used Jesse to unify the Church in North San Diego around an incredible missional project,” says Alwood. “The fact that several churches had a strong enough relationship to work together with this initiative, and the willingness of the school district, is rare; however, it is something that should be normative for the Church—to work together to see social change in a community for the sake of the gospel. [What I Wish] has not only given the Church a reason to unite, but it has helped build a vital relationship between the school district and the Church. It is clear that the Holy Spirit has moved in such a way [to make this happen].
“This initiative also creates a great opportunity for the church to help parents better understand their teenaged kids, and also help kids understand their parents. So many things go unsaid and misunderstood in families—I know! I have a teenage daughter!—and it has been great to see the light of Christ shed in such a creative way in a dark area.”
Interest in the What I Wish events remains strong. At the most recent event, held in the fall, approximately 350 parents participated and gave positive feedback. Besides the main events, organizers also put together smaller breakout sessions over the course of the year, each focused on specific topics such as “Is your teen self-motivated?” and “Bridging the digital divide.” Some of these breakout sessions are even led by the teens themselves.
What’s on the horizon
Winkler says in the future they hope to be able to provide more personal support groups for focused and prolonged conversations about certain issues like drugs, alcohol, or communication styles.
“The goal for Westview Church is to equip the members of our church to engage in these conversations, form authentic relationships with households that aren’t otherwise coming to our church—or any church—and share the love and truth of the gospel,” he says.
What parents should know
As for those specific things that teens wish their parents knew? Winkler said a few topics always rise to the top:
- Teens want to be trusted.
- They want their parents to show interest in the issues they face without micro-managing.
- They want parents to know a teen’s world today is different than what their parents grew up in.
“What I love about Jesse’s story is that, as a new and small church, they first built relationships with other non-RCA churches, civic leaders, and schools to accomplish something really great,” says Alwood. “They didn’t do it all because they couldn’t do it all. But what they did do was learn about their community, organize an initiative, and then serve with others. It is amazing what happens when the world sees the church play nicely with them in the sandbox.”
Learn more at www.whatiwishmyparentsknew.com.
Photo credit: Geoffrey Hsu/Flourish San Diego