Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Christian kids and college: notes from a parents’ seminar

A few weeks ago, our church had a seminar for parents and high school seniors. They started it off with a panel, and then Kara Powell, from the Fuller Youth Institute, spoke to us for a while. There was a Q&A session (kids in one room, parents in another). Following are some notes -- none from the Q&A though.
What did your parents do that helped you feel supported when you were in college? A panel of college students replied:
  • Being available on my schedule, i.e., being flexible
  • Telling me "I'm praying for you"
  • Taking me to Costco!
  • Coming to see my athletic events (using up their vacation time like that)
  • Care packages.
  • Asking every few weeks, "How can I pray for you?"
  • Sending cards and packages. And newsy e-mails.
  • Supporting me in my decisions even if they don't fully agree.

What annoyed you?

  • Once when I was home on vacation, my dad told me, "Go to bed." ???
  • Telling me to do my homework at a certain time.
  • E-mailing my academic advisor
    (about what, I don't remember --collin)

What about getting connected with a faith community?

  • I didn't know anyone other than my (athletic) teammates and ignored faith for a while. Eventually another kid found me and told me about a good church in the area; we went together.
  • got connected through an FCA-like group (FCA = fellowship of christian athletes)
  • Don't just commit to the first church you see.

Kara Powell

Confession: "I can go a long time" (minutes, sometimes hours even) "without thinking about God." Life is full for Kara now, research and teaching and raising kids etc., and it gets full very quickly for students entering college.

According to research of T. Clydesdale(?), Christian kids sometimes put their faith into a "lockbox"; it's invisible from the outside. In some cases they drift away from their faith entirely.

One case: a leader in high school (worship leader? Bible study leader?) went to college and gave up on all that. He smokes pot with his buddies who are, he says, "far more supportive than" anyone at church was to him. (Is that reality, or was he only justifying himself? Did his youth group leader just use him, or did he really care about his relationship with Christ?)

They showed a 5-minute section of a longer (20-minute) video. I think you can see the clip at http://liveabove.com -- summary of the video: Christian kids go to college, some of them discard their faith (at least for a time) and get into alcohol and (other) drugs. Some get drunk every weekend; one girl was sexually assaulted while too drunk to resist. etc.

This video was shown at an InterVarsity meeting (this is a Christian group!) and some of the kids couldn't speak because they were so upset. The point: this sort of experience is far more common, even among Christian kids, than we would like to think.
Later, a mother asked if it's different at a Christian school vs others. They didn't answer the question, but I have my own sources :). Regarding alcohol and the party scene, I have a young friend at Vanguard University of Southern California, and she affirms that it's definitely easier to avoid it on a Christian campus than a "secular" one. But if you're determined to get drunk, you can still do it. My friend visited Cal Lutheran with her son, and alcohol is definitely available there. (She was not favorably impressed.)

Regarding sexual behavior, according to an article in Christianity Today (and a book by a Catholic college professor), there is a dichotomy between conservative/Evangelical colleges and others (including Catholic schools). At the Evangelical schools, abstinence and restraint are affirmed/celebrated, and at the others, promiscuity is the norm. So our kids probably would have a different experience going to Whitworth, Vanguard, Calvin or Hope than they would at Cal Lutheran, Holy Cross, Stanford or UC.
Kara next went into three factors for keeping faith in the college years:

Having a firm grip on the gospel

What is the good news, really? They observed (Fuller Youth Institute research) that youth group graduates who are teetotalers completely switch gears when they get to college and drink a lot. From this observation they think the kids don't really understand the good news. (How did they come to this conclusion? I didn't catch that.)

Summary of the gospel in four points:
  1. God made us GOOD; but
  2. we sinned, which led to GUILT.
  3. God responded by forgiving us through his GRACE, and
  4. we respond with GRATITUDE. It's not about "sin management."

How do we deal with doubts?

Questions inevitably come to the Christian student when s/he enters college. Why do you go to church? Why does God let nice people go to hell? (Imagine a Bible Belt kid going to Stanford or Harvard and meeting a lot of nice kids who are not Christians. They're nice; will they go to heaven? Why not?)

Four principal ways of dealing with doubt:
  1. diffused. student becomes a chameleon, simply adapting to whatever's around them.
  2. closed; they don't want to think about it.
  3. moratorium; they don't want to jump to any conclusions, so they try to hold all possibilities in their heads at once
  4. achieved identity; having considered all possibilities, aware that nothing in this life is 100% certain, yet deciding that following Jesus makes the most sense.
We all hope our kids come to #4 but that's not realistic for a new college student. Probably #3, a willingness to really examine conflicting claims to truth, is the healthiest for a college student. Some of us remain in #3 forever. Personally, I go between #4 and #3.


The suggestion was that we work on preparing our kids for what's coming. Part of this is being aware of the top 3 difficulties for Christian kids:
  1. Finding friends;
  2. Aloneness;
  3. Finding a church community.
So a poll of high school seniors showed 15% believe their youth group prepared them well for the transition to college. (In other words, 85% didn't think so.) The action plan then would be to think and talk about these things ahead of time:
  • where/how to find friends;
  • recovery: how will (my parents? myself?) respond when I goof up?
  • finding a church or an on-campus Christian group;
  • time and money;
  • the first two weeks.
Kids were asked why they go to youth group. #1 is they love their youth group leader. Seeing their friends was #6!

Most important factors on kids' faith:
  1. Relationship with their parents (and their parents' own faith);
  2. Non-parent adults;
  3. Peer relationships.
This isn't very precise. Was this positive influence, negative influence, or both? How was this measured? Was this kids who were still holding onto their faith after college? Those who had drifted away? When was the survey taken? etc.

That said, parents and non-parent adults apparently have a huge impact on kids' faith.

So: Do your kids have adults in their lives other than you? Are there any kids in your life other than your own?

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