Putting youth in the driver’s seat

Some of you have had the experience of teaching your children to drive, but most haven’t. Its almost as scary as watching your wife give birth, or deciding to adopt for that matter. As each of our children became a part of our family, my future passed before my eyes. That was definitely scarier than watching my past.

Anyway, sitting in the car next to each child in the driver’s seat for the first time is an experience like none other. Each time, my life passed before my eyes, not just out of fear, but reminiscing on how life brought us both to this point. You know, you can teach and train them, admonish and encourage, but some day, you have to put them in the driver’s seat. Sometimes, it works out. Sometimes not.

One day a few years ago, our family went to the grocery store. Most of the family went inside to shop, leaving Josiah, my second son, and I in the car. The parking lot was pretty empty, so I told him to get behind the wheel, we were going for a drive. He said, “Are you sure, Dad?” The light in his eyes was a mix of fear and hope. “Let’s do it”, I said. We went for a nice cruise, a couple of laps around the lot, and parked the car, a look of satisfaction in his eyes. When April and the rest of the family heard about it, their jaws just dropped.

Well, April thought that she could do the same thing for some of her teenage girls in her Bible study. They found a nice, empty, church parking lot. April did everything she could do to make it as safe as possible. The first girl took the driver’s seat. April told her to just lift her foot off the brake gently, then put it back down. Well, as the car began to move forward, panic set in. She stepped down, but on the gas instead of the brake. The car shot out towards the street. If it weren’t for the small tree they uprooted, and the church’s 4-foot high sign that almost turned our mini-van into a convertible…well, God is good. The car was fixed, but the roof now leaks when it rains, reminding us of that day.

The girl behind the wheel was of course pretty upset. When I drove up, she was convinced I was going to chew her out (why not, that’s how her own father would respond). When I simply said I was glad she was OK and gave her a hug, I could see a huge weight fall off her shoulders. For a while, she didn’t want to spend time with us any more because of the embarrassment. But with encouragement, she came back to the Bible club, and despite the experience, this meek girl has learned to face her fears, her family problems, and continues to grow in her faith. She joined our summer leadership program and quickly became a leader of the leaders. We are looking forward to seeing her become a major force for God in our community in the future.

As I look back on this year at RYAA, I would say the overwhelming theme has been leadership development. We had 16 youth in our summer leadership development program, and in our fall soccer program, over 50 youth leaders as coaches or referees. Many of these youth had never coached or refereed. Some were not really even soccer players. But the eagerness and enthusiasm they showed gives me so much hope for our community. We gave them training of course, but then, we had to put them in the driver’s seat.

As one 13 year old coach of 6 and 7 year old boys put it, “I learned to be responsible. If I didn’t show up, no one else was going to be there. If I didn’t bring the balls, we were not going to have balls to practice with. When they wouldn’t listen, I had to be tough. It was hard, but I am glad I did it.”

Think about the youth in your own life. Look for an opportunity to put them in the driver’s seat. Even young children can be given responsibility for a family task, like deciding how to set the table or preparing food for a special meal, owning a small piece of the garden for flowers or vegetables, or picking out the clothes for mom and dad to wear on a special night out. Our youngest daughter enjoys putting on April’s makeup before we go out on an (infrequent) date night. If you have a good example of how you put youth in the driver’s seat, let me know. We have a new blog at …, and we will post it for others to learn from your example.

Remember to be there with them, though. Just like you would not just let your child get in a real driver’s seat and send them off alone, you need to support your youth in the process. But try your best to be quiet, and just be there to prevent complete disaster. If they fail, don’t admonish, but give them a hug and encourage them to try again.

And, thank you for all of your prayers, work and contributions towards caring for our community. Some of you have been faithful in your prayers, some have been incredible generous with your time and finances. And some of you even let us borrow your bicycles and helmets during our bicycle camp, when we had one day to find 30 bicycles because we just had an overwhelming response to our bicycle camp. Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Shannon

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