Drop the ball
How to get through to your kids when all they see are sports
All my son cares about is football. He’s 14 and smart, but is failing eighth grade. We’ve already held him back once, but he doesn’t seem to understand consequences. Our threats fall on deaf ears, and now he’s in danger of being kicked off the team. We adopted him when he was 7, after he spent his formative years with drug-addict parents and in foster homes. I’m afraid he’ll be a high-school dropout and end up in jail! What can I do to make him see the seriousness of his actions?
“First of all, don’t go to James Dobson,” said Rev. David Thompson, referring to the evangelical Christian founder of Focus on the Family and proponent of “tough love.”
Instead, Thompson, who came to Westminster Presbyterian Church six years ago, offered an approach reflective of his congregation’s core values: be open, liberal and accepting.
“I think we have to find what is of interest to the young person and blow on it like a flame,” he said with measured compassion. “I don’t think it’s discipline that’s gonna do it. Encourage. Affirm. Be there. Go to his football games, cheer him on. No condemnation, no ‘you should’ this or ‘you should’ that.”
“And maybe an alternative to high school, too,” chimed in Ginny Curinga, pastor at Sierra Arden United Church of Christ. “If he’s interested in learning some particular skill or trade, maybe try a job corps. Here in Sacramento there’s a fabulous group called Sacramento Job Corps that provides training for young adults who don’t fit into traditional education. But I agree: Go with what his passion is.”
Both Thompson and Curinga have followed their own lifelong passions for social justice. Curinga, who grew up in Southern California and became Congregationalist as a teen, was “raised on social activism, civil rights and feminism. And then the whole ordination of homosexuals within my denomination became one of the pre-eminent issues when I was in high school. That commitment to social justice is what kept me in the church as a young adult.”
Thompson, who hails from England and Canada, formerly served as president of the Interfaith Service Bureau. He is active in California Interfaith Power and Light, an ecological organization dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint, and has won several awards for speaking on environmental issues.
Thompson also has firsthand experience of the challenges of parenting an adopted child.
“I adopted a boy at the age of 8,” he shared. “He was with me a few years and then returned to foster care. And it was difficult and life-changing. What I can say is that he went from one quality home after another. He had excellent parenting. So you can’t go into the victim stuff. Some people just need to be given many, many opportunities before it works for them.”
“We come up to lots of different intersections in our lives and there’s no one right path,” said Curinga. “There are lots of different paths you can go and it’s a matter of exploring. This kid may need to hit a few dead ends before he can choose something else. But the parents need to help him do that.”
Curinga learned the hard way that people learn differently. Growing up with dyslexia, she struggled in school, despite her obvious intelligence.
Yet even those with the best education can lack parenting skills.
“I think that every high school would profit from teaching students about parenting,” suggested Thompson. “Take a course, find community support systems to help you parent. And then probably the very best thing is to become friends with people who are really fabulous parents.
“How do you know an excellent parent? The children are happy, they’re open with their parents, and the parents are open with them. The parents are incredibly supportive. … They take parenting as a full-time job.”
“And the church can really help parents, because there is a network of people, not only to partner up with and learn from, but a network of people who can love your kid in ways that make up for your shortcomings as a parent,” added Curinga. “I really felt like the church was my alternative family as a young adult growing up when I was enraged at my parents. There were other adults there who could catch my creativity and my rage and listen in a way that my own parents couldn’t.”
“The church is a good equivalent of a modern village,” said Thompson. “If it’s a faithful, open, loving bunch of caring people, it makes a very good village.”