"As your kids are preparing for going back to school, don't let the busyness of shopping for new jeans and school supplies make you miss the incredible opportunity - and responsibility - you have to prepare your teen spiritually and emotionally, too," advises Dr. Walt Mueller, a nationally-recognized expert on youth culture, and founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
"Our kids always face cultural pressures, but once they are back in those school buildings, they'll be spending more time immersed in a peer group that is extremely powerful," he said. "As a parent and a youth worker, I must know what the culture of the peer group is about."
"The pressures kids face today are more frequent and intense than those that parents or even today's youth workers faced. We wish we could protect our kids from harmful influences, and we'd like to escape those influences ourselves. But I don't believe God has called us to that. We aren't here to escape from the world; God has placed us in the world at this time to live out the kingdom in the world--without adopting its ways."
Mueller challenges those who would like to keep their kids from all secular influences to instead seek to understand the culture today's kids - and parents - live in so we can help them navigate through their teen years. In a new book out today, Mueller addresses those concerns.
In Opie Doesn't Live Here Anymore: Where Faith, Family and Culture Collide (Standard Publishing), Mueller calls the belief in the innocent good old days as "looking for Mayberry," but reminds us that Mayberry is a fictional place ...and Opie doesn't live here anymore.
Instead, Mueller challenges us to "joyfully embrace the struggle" as faith, family, culture and life collide. In this collection of his personal writings, Mueller reflects on life events ranging from damaging messages teens believe about personal appearance, to remembering childhood Christmases with his own father, to challenging Christians to think deeply and not settle for superficial faith.
But Mueller is not only a leader in the subject of youth culture, he's also the father of four kids. His personal reflections as a parent of teens enrich his cultural commentary.
For example, the book includes a letter he wrote to his oldest daughter as she began her senior year of high school and was contemplating leaving for college the following year. Experiencing the amazement all parents feel that the time has gone so quickly, Mueller worked out some of his own feelings in a letter to his daughter, lovingly outlining 12 character traits for her to strive for in adulthood.
"The world will encourage you to see yourself as number one. But don't be self-centered," he challenges her. "You were made by God to be God- centered."
"Strive for a life of integration," he adds. "Your faith should not be just one part of your life. Instead, it should guide, direct, permeate and inform every area of your life."
It's good advice for Christians of all ages. And as Mueller admits, "To be honest...my words are for me as well. Maybe you'll find them challenging too."
And at back-to-school time, Mueller also reminds us that being back in school routines also provides parents and youth workers greater potential for getting to know their kids' friends, and to speak the truth into their lives, especially since so many kids today have little or no parent/adult input.
"What a great opportunity to not only be salt and light in our world," he said, "but to teach our kids to do the same."
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