My teenagers have plans for spring break: Rewatch the Batman trilogy. Work on jump shots. Stay up late and sleep in. Eat obnoxious amounts of snacks all day. Find drippy threads at the thrift store.
While I remember and appreciate these desires, my perspective on school breaks looks different these days. From a parent’s point of view, school breaks not only provide a reprieve from making lunches and sitting in carpool lines, they can also offer opportunities to connect more deeply with our children.
Life gets busy, especially during the teenage years. In addition to more challenging courses and more time-consuming extra-curricular activities, teenagers become aspiring event planners—smoothies with friends, trips to the mall, and hikes are scheduled and rescheduled by the minute. Spring break provides a chance to slow down and peer into the hearts and souls of teenage children.
Below are five questions to consider asking your teens over spring break.
(Pro Tip: I would not ask them all at once. Sprinkle them throughout trips to get a milkshake or drives around town. And definitely don’t ask them before 10 am!)
1. In the past few months, what has brought you the most joy? What has caused you the greatest amount of stress or worry?
In our family, we often say that emotions make poor drivers in our lives, but they also don’t belong in the trunk (using driving analogies is my way of coping with the reality that my children will soon be operating vehicles). Teenagers experience exponential growth physically, relationally, and emotionally. They have big feelings but often have no clue what to do with them. As parents, we have an opportunity to acknowledge, validate, and explore these emotions.
Emotions are not our masters, but they are pathways to better understand our souls. Teenagers (and their parents) tend to either deify or dismiss emotion. We can help them to learn to dissect their emotion and bring it into the presence of God and into the light of his word (Ps. 62:8).
Your teen might not be a gushing fountain when it comes to talking about their emotions. Go slow. Offer your observations as to when you’ve seen them come alive or look deflated.
2. What is one thing you are learning about God and how he relates to you? Where have you seen God show up in ways that surprised you?
Psychologists have rightly noted that teenagers tend to be developmentally self-absorbed. Though they readily look in and constantly look around at their peers (and other imaginary audiences whose eyes they revere or fear), they struggle to look up. As parents, we can gently, winsomely attempt to lift their gaze (Ps. 121:1). We can point out the tracks of where we have seen God moving in and around their lives. We can remind them that God often surprises in the ways he works. His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8–9).
The teenage years are full of high hopes, deep disappointments, and confusing conundrums. As parents, we can point out hints of God’s presence and remind them of God’s good, sovereign, and providential hand through all the ups and downs, twists and turns (Rom. 8:28–32).
3. What do you wish we did less as a family? What do you wish we did more?
In my experience, teenage interests are moving targets. Things that were fun yesterday are loathed today. I struggle sometimes to keep up with their changing interests. Family habits and traditions that used to provide proximity and connection no longer do the trick. Games they used to love grow boring. As much as possible, I want to hear from my teens about ways they would enjoy connecting as a family. When possible and prudent, we try to give them chances to shape our schedules and plans.
4. Who have you most enjoyed spending time with lately? Why?
In the teenage years, friendships can sometimes shift on hidden fault lines. Circles of safety are drawn and redrawn more often than in more stable adult friendships. Breaks provide a chance to ask with which peers they are enjoying spending time. During breaks, we try to invite our teens’ friends over or offer to drive them around to desired destinations so we can get to know them more.
Some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever received was to learn to love your children’s friends (not just endure—but grow to enjoy and appreciate). Peer relationships are powerful shaping influences during the teen years, so the more we can see and shape our children’s friends, the better!
5. What is one thing you want to grow in or learn in the next few months?
We live in an entertainment and comfort-driven culture. It is all too easy to get lost in the entertainment sauce and forget that development takes intentionality and work. Rather than appointing goals for our children, we can come alongside them as champions and consultants who help them reach their own aims. Dream big. Start small. Stay consistent.
May your Spring Break days be filled with smoothies and movies, but also connection and intentional conversations!