Pastor Mike Bourland of Windsor Heights’ Walnut Creek Church typically offers three pieces of advice on raising teenagers.
He urges parents to spend quality time with their children, because in return the teens will feel more comfortable talking to parents about their problems. Knowing their friends is also critical, because these friends will have a tremendous influence on the teen’s life. Lastly, offer praise, encouragement and support.
“All children, especially teenagers, need to know that their parents are proud of them,” he explains. “It is too easy to criticize and let them know everything they could do better.”
Bourland is a valuable resource in parenting, both as a pastor and a friend. He and his wife, Dawn, have seven children. Two have entered the adult working world and two are in college. Three still live at home: Matt, 16; Rebekah, 14; and Naomi, 12.
Walnut Creek Church implemented a Parent-Teen-Ministry (PTM) program in 2008, something Bourland feels is significant in fostering teen-parent relationships. The program encourages mothers and fathers to witness an environment where their teens make friends while receiving support and reassurance of their own from other parents.
The PTM group meets at 6 p.m. every Saturday at the church. A light meal is provided before transitioning to worship time. A teen band, testimonies from members, short message from a parent and activities round out the evening.
Teens are encouraged to invite friends to the group’s special outreach events. A costume party, Christmas gathering, Valentine’s dinner, service projects, mission trips and outings also occur throughout the year. The scheduled PTM meeting ends at 8 p.m., but teens will often stay and converse until 10 p.m.
The Bourland children participate in PTM and are striving to be leaders and stand firm for what they believe in.
“It’s OK to lose cool points or have people think less of you for doing the right thing,” Naomi says.
Mike and Dawn make it a priority to maintain the lines of communication with their teens because they’ve seen firsthand the consequences of not doing so. In his work, Bourland has counseled teens from broken homes or teens succumbing to peer pressure and struggling to fit in.
“Many different views of life are being presented as legitimate,” he explains. “This generation has so much media — including social — available to them that it can take away from the other important things in life and can prevent them from having good relationships.”
But Mike and Dawn’s family faces many of the same obstacles as most families with teens. Bourland says one of the greatest challenges the couple faced was learning to deal with uncaring attitudes, laziness and know-it-all behavior. As a man of faith, Bourland hopes his children develop convictions of their own, not just what they’ve been taught by him. And he wants them to make life choices that honor these convictions.
Dawn stresses that in their home, privileges are contingent upon the level of responsibility shown. If their kids act irresponsibly, they don’t hesitate to take luxuries away.
The Bourland children are given the freedom to set their own curfew and bedtime, within reason, and never after midnight. The more their teens demonstrate the ability to resist negative influences, the more freedom they are given to spend unsupervised time with their peers.
“Often teens are legitimately tired, but they still want to do things with friends that keeps them up late,” Dawn says. “As long as we know where they are, who they are with, what they are doing, we give them that leeway — granted that they can get up when they need to for work, school and church and be able to function.”
The Bourlands feel it’s not only important to set boundaries outside of the home, but also inside the home. Computer time is limited, chores are assigned and proper eating habits are encouraged.
Quality time is key for making sure everyone in the family stays connected. Making homemade pizza, and playing soccer, Frisbee, kickball and basketball are just a few of the activities the family enjoys as a group.
“It’s also nice to go out for a meal to have one-on-one time together,” Matt says.
Navigating the teen years, especially seven times, can be exhausting. But Bourland is always reminded why the parent-teen relationship is also highly rewarding.
“Watching them grow to become their own person and developing a friendship with them is priceless,” he says. “We see the benefits of the hard work from the training we provided them when they were younger.”
Learning Together Through PTM
Prior to 2008, Walnut Creek hosted a youth group where teens were dropped off at the church with little to no involvement from parents. Today, not every parent is able to get involved in PTM, but many do.
Jeff and Melanie Hall have five kids. Three of them are teenagers who participate in the Parent-Teen-Ministry group: Elyse, 13; Bryce, 15; and Wes, 18.
According to Melanie, the group is a top priority for the family.
“In guiding their lives, we want to surround them with people that encourage them and their ideals,” she says.
The Halls have a relaxed, live and learn approach when it comes to the usual teen distractions like social media. They encounter the usual tug and pull with balancing time spent on electronics, and they deal with those on a case-by-case basis.
“Kids are going to want to use social media, so it’s important to have vigilance,” Jeff explains. “Monitor it and use it as a teacher, because eventually your teens will be responsible adults.”
Jeff’s words of wisdom for other teen parents are simple.
“You always need a united front with your spouse,” he says. “Also, don’t make a big deal out of the little things. Try and focus on the positives.”
Pete and Jeannie Kottra couldn’t agree more. The couple has two of their four kids (Andrew, 17 and Sara, 15) involved in the PTM group at Walnut Creek.
“We don’t ever let the kids pit us against one another,” Pete says. “We agree to disagree sometimes, but at our house it’s not a democracy.”
The idea behind their philosophy? The Kottras feel it has created fewer power struggles at home. Their daughter Sara isn’t allowed to date just yet, and she’s actually grateful for it.
“It’s kinda nice not having to worry about that,” she says.
Jeannie says this is something she and Pete have always agreed upon. They prefer their children wait to date until they are old enough to understand the mentality of courtship and are emotionally ready to handle a relationship.
The Kottras homeschooled each of their children until eighth grade. Pete acknowledges that homeschooling isn’t the magic ticket for every family, but that it was best for theirs.
“Having them home allowed us to imprint the character qualities and values we wanted to instill in them,” he explains.
Now that their teens are involved in everything the traditional school systems have to offer, the Kottras try to remain mindful of the character their teens are exhibiting. Pete says that Andrew and Sara are by far the busiest kids in the family.
The heavy demands of the Kottra teens’ schedules include band, jazz band and choir, to name a few.
“We want our children to stand out,” Pete says. “But we don’t place expectations on them. We just insist that they are working hard. We know their schedules, so it’s important that we help them pace themselves.”
The Kottras feel the insight they receive from other parents and teens during fellowship events is invaluable.
“I’ve developed great friendships,” Sara says. “And I’m learning with these friends. It’s great to experience going through the same thing with other teens.”
This comradery between parents and teens is what makes the PTM program so successful. The group’s mission is carried out weekly and many families are stronger because of it.
“I want my friends to know I’m always here to talk,” Sara says. “No. 1, trust your parents and talk to them. But if you can’t talk with them, I’m here to talk also.”