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When parents ground their kids from youth group

I love it that a lot of the content generated here at Life in Student Ministry is based on my interaction with you guys (or “ya’ll,” depending on where you’re from!). If you have questions or ideas for me, please contact me at any time.

One question that’s popped up several times lately is what to do when parents use church as a form of punishment and ground their kids from youth group activities. GiGi Logan, the Children’s and Youth Ministry Director at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in North Carolina, writes in an email, “…parents don’t realize that they’re teaching their kids that church is like a cell phone, TV, etc. and that’s SO NOT COOL!”

Honestly, I don’t really have a lot of advice on this subject, so I’m hoping many of you will pool your wisdom in the comments below. I’ll just make a couple observations:

1. While I’m excited that a teenager enjoys youth group enough for the parents to see it as a significant loss for their child, it’s still exactly that — a significant loss. Kids are not usually grounded from going to school because it’s both a privilege and a responsibility. Church is no different. In fact, maybe if a parent is having trouble with their kid at home they should send him or her to more church, not less. (As long as that’s not perceived as cruel punishment to the opposite extreme! lol!)

2. I’m against using church as punishment not because I’m the youth pastor and youth group happens to be “my baby.” I’m against it because the church is instituted by God and every student here is part of the body.

3. My dad is a pastor and despite my parents’ stance on enforcing church attendance over anything else, there was a time during my early teen years when they grounded me to my room for an entire month, including no church. In that case, it communicated that my punishment was a HUGE deal.

What do YOU do when a youth group student is grounded from church? Your advice on the matter is greatly appreciated.


Posted on February 19, 2008

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  • Lori

    I am a parent of a 15 year old and a youth ministry volunteer. We have had reason to ground our daughter and the way we handle the youth group activities is to allow her to go to any regularly scheduled youth event, just not the impromptu activities that the kids come up with. Occassionally the youth will decide on their own to go somewhere to eat after Church or other things before or after youth events; she can’t do those if grounded. This tells her Church is important, but grounds her from only the extra social aspect of the group.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    Thanks for the input, Lori! That makes sense and I think is a good move on your part. What I’m mostly referring to, however, is when students are grounded from Bible studies and small group meetings kinda stuff. Being grounded from social activities is understandable, at least to me.

  • http://jaycurlee.blogspot.com Jason Curlee

    Usually sit down with the parents and preach the gospel hoping they will get saved. Nah…just kidding.

    In 14 years of working with teens this was the one that was the hardest. I have always equated it with grounding a teen who is diabetic from their insulin.

    Parents rationale is that they like and enjoy it so we will ground them. I personally think that is the lamest excuse. You are the parent and should be able to find a more creative discipline.

    Tim, honestly I don’t know that there will ever be a creative or practical way to solve this. The parents are the number one authority in their lives and we are just there to partner and support it.

    If someone felt comfortable enough with the parents I would suggest to them to try and open a dialog with the parent to get an understanding which might lead you to be able to find a creative discipline together.

    Part of our role is pastoring our the parents God has given us as well.

  • http://russbowlin.blogspot.com/ Russ

    I’m fairly new at the helm of a youth program, but I do recall being in youth and getting in big trouble…enough to be grounded from everything except school, bible study, and sunday night youth. I agree with Lori, but I lack the experience of a parent and certainly don’t know what it’s like to be “out of ideas…” and I think Jason’s idea of meeting with the parents could help clear up the situation, and maybe result in some cooperation between the youth director and the parent…tough subject.

  • http://brianford.wordpress.com brian

    Tim – I'm totally against parents grounding their teen from the regular youth ministry bible study schedule and any kind of service project. For example; in a previous ministry where I served as youth pastor I had a time when one of my students was grounded from attending our annual 30hr Famine and the service projects we had scheduled. As a matter of fact she was grounded for a month and was told she could not take part in anything with the youth ministry. However a week later she came to church ranting and raving about her prom and how she had an awesome time. I was floored and it was one of those moments that made me sit back and scratch my head. I lovely questioned the parents about it out of curiosity and the mother's answer was; "we bought the dress months before. we just couldn't allow that to go to waste." Priorities and perspective were in the wrong place for sure.

    I think some parents are equating youth ministry as a social event rather than a place and time for their teen to grow deeper in their faith and then share it with their friends. It comes down to what Jason said; priority and a wrong perspective. But ulimately we are NOT the parents, that's why youth ministry must also be family ministry. I believe in meeting with parents on a regular basis to discuss and share the vision, direction and progress of the youth ministry. Bottomline the parents need to be educated that the purpose of the youth ministry goes far deeper than having a place for their teen to "hang out."

  • http://www.serialyouthpastor.com Chris

    let me throw this out there – what IF youth group is the only the valuable the kid has? I mean what if it's the one thing that would hurt the most if it were taken away for a brief time?

  • http://snavenel.blogspot.com Len

    I am now the father of a 7th grader in my youth group. What I once didn't understand, I now do. We have kept her from going to youth group on Sunday nights and her small group on Wed nights a few times. Often it's because she doesn't get things done in time. She could have, she wasn't responsible enough to do it. Actions have consequences. If the same things had been done or not done on a night for a school activity, we'd do the same thing.

    She's never missed Sun morning, which for us, is our main discipleship time. Going to things besides Sun morning worship and sun morning youth is a privilege.

  • http://randombloggings.wordpress.com Calvin

    Lori’s solution seems like an excellent one, but in my experience has not been followed by many parents.

    When a teen in my youth ministry is grounded from normal youth ministry gatherings, I normally try talking to the parents. I think most of the time this grounding takes place because of parents not completely understanding the role a youth ministry is meant to take in the lives of their children. Many times they view youth as another extra-curricular activity. It’s not a spiritual thing, its a fun thing. Interestingly, this is often the attitude many of our students have.

    But, ultimately, I think talking to the parents and explaining where you stand and why you’re there is the best course of action.

  • Robert

    I think grounding them on Wednesday is the only option for many parents because we know their not going to ground them from Tuesday Basketball, and Thursday Track Meet. So what is the one thing that they still enjoy but yet will not get parents in ‘hot water’… you guess it, church!

    I don’t have a problem with parents grounding my students from church. I just wish they would call me ahead of time so I can announce it to the other students, “Hey, Tommy was acting like a jerk toward his teacher today and so tonight he’s stuck at home… Note to self: Don’t be a jerk toward your teachers.”

    lol

  • GiGi

    Yea I also have a problem with parents just randomly saying “our kids will not be participating in the youth program.” No good reason communicated to me, just pulling them out, and I hear about it through the grapevine. What’s up with that?

    Example: I had talked to a parent about her daughter that she was having some discipline troubles, drama, etc. with. Mom wanted info, and I assured her mom that I was on her side, and willing to help. Her mom had told me that she wasn’t going to bring her to church for a while which is fine, but our parents provide dinners for us on Sunday nights (when we meet), and so I scheduled her family for like, our very last Sunday night. Her mom tells my dinner coordinator that her kids are no longer participating in the youth group. What? I thought this was a temporary thing?!?!? So what do you do about parents like that?

  • http://blog.likeafire.net Paul

    My parents use youth group as a punishment. If their child is bad enough, they send them to youth group. Is that wrong?

  • http://joelmayward.blogspot.com Joel

    To share a personal story, I was a student leader in my youth group as a junior in high school. I had the responsibilities of discipling a small group of my peers and participated in the worship band. So when my parents chose to ground me from these responsibilities for getting a few mediocre grades at school, I was devastated. Their choice to ground me from the church community, but allow me to continue with extracurricular activities (jazz band, other school functions) seemed counterproductive. It communicated that my grades and my parents expectations about school were more important than my spiritual development. (Years later, my mom apologized, as she now believes that their choice of discipline was wrong.) I wonder what these actions communicate to other students about priorities in life and how they should view the church community.

    GiGi, you have a tough situation! I wonder if their actions are an indication of something deeper than just a temporary discipline thing. It’s tough, but it may take a conversation over coffee where you genuinely–and not defensively–ask about their family’s involvement and how the church community can love their family better. It seems to be better to politely ask and engage in conversation instead of make assumptions or just let it slide. But then again, you’re the one asking, not me! :) Hope that helps!

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Jason: I think that’s good advice to talk with the parents about it. Practically speaking, however, a lot of youth workers don’t have that kind of a relationship with the parents nor would that discussion often work its way to the top of a typical youth worker’s priority list. Unfortunate, but true.

    @ GiGi: I call up the parents and talk to people like that. If they make decisions like that, that’s fine, but at least I’m gonna make them communicate with me about it and not just retreat into their turtle shell.

    @ Paul: Yeah man, way to partner with parents! lol

    • David

      It's funny that something in a post over a year old would strike me enough to post about it, but this one sure did:

      "a lot of youth workers don't have that kind of a relationship with the parents"…

      And a lot of parents don't have that kind of a relationship with their child's youth workers, either. You know, it takes two to tango. No matter how much a youth worker reaches out to parents, there always seems to be parents who would rather talk about you and scheme behind your back. A lot of commentary I see puts the responsibility for the youth worker-parent relationship on the back of the youth worker, but I'm here to tell you that there are parents that you will never make happy no matter what you do. I'm going through it right now in my church.

  • http://jaycurlee.blogspot.com Jason Curlee

    I agree Tim, it is easier to say talk to a parent than it is to actually do it…I would only suggest being inquisitive with a parent that a youth pastor may have a relationship to create a dialog that may help a parent who we feel has their discipline priorities skewed based on our perceptions…practically speaking this is one of those things that you have to grin and bear because unfortunately they are the parents. And they can discipline their teens in ways we “pastors” may not agree with.

    Maybe as a lead pastor now it is something that I can try to solve from a larger audience.

    I believe that as a pastor it could be part of my responsibility to teach a proper perspective…I don’t think that will solve it because of the priority “Christians” place on church.

  • Lori

    If youth group is the only valuable thing the kid has then grounding should not the be discipline of choice. Parents need to get creative. What is the grounding for? Grades then make then go to the school tutor in the morning before class or after school until grades are up. Are they fighting with siblings….make them do something extrordinarily nice for the sibling for a period of time (make them breakfast, clean their room, etc.) If they did something they could do some research on and write a paper have them do that. Did they lie? what did they lie about….make the discipline teach something not just a loss of some valuable. Don’t just look for the easy thing to do.
    Youth group should be there to disciple and sharpen the kids in the Lord. Or if not yet a follower lead them to the Lord.
    Lots of parents have the wrong idea about what a youth ministry is for including myself about a year ago. They see this as a fun place for kids to hang out and be safe. We have got to get more in touch with the parents. Leading a child includes connecting with the family. I know that is not always practical, but it should be attempted by the youth ministry.

    True Example: We grounded our daughter for low grades: the low grades were a result of spending to much time on phone and internet and not asking for help when she needed it. We grounded her from phone and internet until mid-terms come out; we told her to go to the math lab during study hall for math help and we grounded her for 2 weeks as a loss of privledge. That did not include youth Bible Studies or events. There was even a weekend retreat during the grounding. She originally did not even want to go on the retreat. She went because “I an grounded and at least I get to do something.” That weekend she actually listened to the lessons and the Lord used that weekend to begin working on her heart in areas she was struggling. I would not want to see any parent ground kids from youth group.

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  • http://vissirion.blogspot.com Dj

    I was shocked and amazed when my senior minister told him one of his kids would no longer be at youth group for the next month because he was grounded. It was soon after that I learned that the church-wide attitude towards the youth ministry was to keep the kids busy and to occasionally throw a devo in. I just don’t think they understand that youth ministry has changed drastically over the past 20 years.

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @ Jason: I didn’t know you’re the lead pastor now. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you, as the lead pastor, are supporting the youth ministry and working with the parents of teenagers.

    @ Brian: Do you have any ideas of how we teach parents that? I mean, we can point-blank tell them, but that probably won’t cause a paradigm shift. What do you think?

    @ Chris: I still don’t think you restrict a student from spiritual encouragement.

    @ Lori: Creativity in discipline, eh? That would require thinking outside the box of “what my parents did with me.” It seems to me that sometime parents just do what their parents did without thinking about it.

    @ Dj: I wouldn’t call that youth ministry. I’d call that “Christian” babysitting.

  • http://www.shilohreading.org Dave

    The thing I was thinking about as I was reading these comments is ‘Marketing” How are we marketing our youth ministry? Are we highlighting the fun aspects or the spiritual aspects? In our youth group, it is not uncommon for our kids to be grounded for a month, yet be allowed to come to youth group. The reason for this, I believe, is the perception our youth workers have instilled in the parent’s mind that church is the only thing that is going to help their kid change. Most of our parents are at their wits end with their kids, and are looking anywhere for solutions to the behavior problems. We, as a church, can offer that solution.

  • http://blog.likeafire.net Paul

    Dave, you are my favorite! I think that hits the nail on the head. It’s not that we want the kids who are on restriction to be able to come play with us, but rather that they come and get support and help. Hopefully, those re the types of youth ministries we are leading.

  • http://passionburnswithin.wordpress.com Jason R

    When I was a youth if I was in trouble I would not be allowed to participate in the church activities. Softball, Summer camp, Mission trips, outings, lock ins, and some youth Bible studies. However on Sunday and Wednesday nights I would not just be at home I would be sitting in adult church with my parents. I was allowed to go to youth

    Now my situation was a little different than most. I was in a rural area and homeschooled church was my principle social activity. My parents knew that the Sunday and Wednesday night classes had games and alot of “fun” stuff involved which is what they were really grounding me from.

  • Ginger

    I do not like to take my kids out of youth group however, I have recently done so on a short term basis due the fact that one of my kids’ focus is more on a particular student rather than on the group or the lesson. It has almost hit the point of obsession with this individual and my child has made the comment “I am so sad that I don’t get to go to church because I won’t get to see __________ (fill in the blank with that person’s name).” My child will be allowed to participate with the small group since this individual is not a part of it but with the larger group because again, the focus is on that individual and not anything else. How else can I handle something like?

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  • http://dccurry.blogspot.com DC Curry

    Great dialog! This is a great question to wrestle with as many youth pastors/directors have encountered this tension. The tension between we should “partner with parents” and we hate to see kids pulled out of our minsitry.

    I have only encountered this situation through students coming to me concerned about it and never through parents direct contact with me. I always tell our students, “don’t put me between you and your parents because I will always side with your parent. I am trying to help them raise you, not JUST be your friend.”

    My intention in most of these scenario’s is more to deflect the conversation rather than picking a side, which is what most students want you to do as they come to you in dire need of support.

    So my advice is when dealing with students….DON’T PICK A SIDE! It’ll break down trust between you and the parent and it can to easily foster a manipulative spirit in the student to “get people on their side.”

  • http://www.jeremiahoneseven.com Michael Marchand

    One of the solutions I’ve come to with parents in the past is to allow students to attend youth events while grounded, but require them to put in the time cleaning up after the event. That way, there’s still a “punishment” element in it, but they’re still getting the spiritual element they still need. Everybody wins (especially my leadership team who are normally stuck cleaning up).

    Or the student could just attend the event from home via iChat video. :)

  • Yerardi

    I am struggling with the parents myself, one thing that we thought of was sending the parents a monthly youth newsletter and one of the topics in it is called, “IS YOUTH NIGHT CHURCH OR JUST A HANG OUT?” it explains the importance of having the kids in youth night be there, it rebukes the parents but kind of in a nice way!!! we just sent it out, i will write about how it works when we see the results.

  • Adam

    Whoa whoa whoa. There’s been like 25 comments to this post now, and unless I missed something, we’re leaving out something pretty significant here. Tim, what the heck did you do that got you grounded for a month to your room?

  • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

    @Adam: lol! Umm… the Cliff Notes version is that I bit my mom during an argument. I was little, gimme a break. lol

  • Adam

    Fair enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001054722963 Matthew Jennings

    I am currently in the position of being grounded from church and youth. I am 16, and soon 17 years old.
    My dad has grounded me for doing poorly in a math class which is already above average level. Anyways, he will not let me go to church or youth now, and says he wants for me to be "well rounded" in other words an average teenage male who wants to get in shape and be popular with the ladies. the interests he had at my age.
    So now he is always offering to take me to the movies, or sea kayaking in the Gulf of mexico, or to pay for me and a date (that i dont have) to do something. O and he forced me to do sports this year, which is 5 days a week. whereas church is only 2 days per week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001054722963 Matthew Jennings

    But he refuses to let me go to church now because it takes away time from these habits he wants for me.
    I'm at a point where Im pretty involved with youth, and in many ways see my church as more of my family, and my home, more so than my real one. because they behave much like one most of the time.
    I want to stay in church, desperatly, but I also know (because of my youth group btw) that I should honor my parents will, and I WILL have a blessed and long life if i do.

    What should I do now?

    and i can no longer invite my friends to a God based inviorment because I will most likely not b there.

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  • Giulie

    I'm just wondering, this might be slightly off topic but, there are several comments about communicating with parents. What if the kids in the youth ministry don't want you to have that contact? Also, what if a parent who is not a believer and does not attend church grounds the child? I think that would be a more difficult situation, wouldn't it?

    • http://www.studentministry.org Tim Schmoyer

      If a kid didn't want me to have contact with his/her parents, I'd say, "Too bad!" (in a nicer way, of course). :) Communicating with parents is so essential and I don't think kids can have the authority to say no to something like that.

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