Ep 18: Christian Parenting Skills

Episode Summary

Hannah Seymour, author of The College Girls Survival Guide, reveals what she has learned from years of running a Christian advice blog for teenage girls. She explains how to share stories with teens about your own mistakes and how to encourage them to make the right kinds of friends.

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Does the idea of your teen leaving home for college scare you? Do you wonder how they might handle challenges to your family’s values after leaving the house? Are they hanging out with the right crowd? What decisions are they making? It’s easy to get caught up in these questions and not be satisfied with the answers. It wouldn’t be better to ignore them.

Every family has its own bubble of ideas, values, and beliefs. It would be great if the good values we try to create within our families would stick after our children leave the nest. Although, we know that’s not always the case as our household values can be challenged every time our teens take out their smartphones at the dinner table. And if you’re raising Christian teens or teens of any faith, those religious values might be fleeting.

It would be unrealistic to assume every teen holds onto their family traditions after graduating high school, but surprising research shows that among families raising Christian teens, as much as 50% walk away from their faith! This can be so discouraging for parents, especially those raising Christian teens. That’s why I sat down with a woman who has been mentoring teenage girls in the Christian sphere for over a decade to discuss what she’s learned about preparing teens for college. You don’t have to be Christian to relate to the skills she has to teach.

Hannah Seymour authored the book The College Girl’s Survival Guide to help address the top 52 questions she found teens asking once they left the house for college. Don’t let the title fool you, her responses to these questions apply to teens of all genders! And you don’t have be raising Christian teens to resonate with her message. Hannah believes that raising all teens requires empathy and foresight, and her book is an amazing resource for helping prepare your teen for the college experience.

Questioning Your Experience

It’s evident that teens have a lot to wrestle with in college. She sees Christian teens grappling with not just their faith, but their family values and culture as well. This might sound familiar to parents raising Christian teens because it is natural for teens to question the set of beliefs they grew up around. As a result, many teens struggle to articulate what they believe in at all.

Failing to articulate what you believe was one of Hannah’s initial concerns when it came to mentoring teens in college. They might say, “I thought I knew what I believed, but now I’m not so sure.” When asked, “Well, what do you believe?” they couldn’t quite articulate it. 

After being exposed to so many new beliefs in college, teens are going to have questions. As a parent, it’s important to encourage challenging and difficult questions from your teens, whether you are raising Christian teens or not. When teens carry questions that challenge their childhood values, they can already feel confused, isolated, and alone.

Hannah first wants teens to know that they are not alone with their questions. This applies to more than just questions about faith, too! When mentoring teens in college, she gets the same questions all the time like,

So my roommate and I were getting along swimmingly, but now we’re a month in, and we haven’t spoken in three days. What do I do?”

I’ve dreamt of being a nursing major my whole life, and I’m really struggling in my biology class. I don’t even know if I want to major in this anymore.

While these types of questions are typical of the college experience, they feel earth-shattering to the teens! Hannah points out that parents often forget what it’s like to be in a teenager’s shoes. When parents aren’t aware of this tendency to forget, they struggle to relate to their teen. But that can be solved with storytelling…

The Value of College Stories

From her experience, she suggests that raising Christian teens to be ready for college means vulnerably sharing stories from your own teen years about how you were not ready!

Sharing your own adolescent struggles and failures with your teen may seem counterintuitive. Hannah points out, though, that you often cannot give your teen the “college experience” before they get there. They won’t know the internal and external conflicts that a new environment introduces until they get there. But if parents can recall their struggles and share them with their teens ahead of time, their teens will have a frame of reference for future challenges.

It’s no good trying to hide your embarrassing growing up stories. Hannah points out that at some point, your kid is going to realize that you’re a “sinner,” too. You need grace, just as much as they do! Embracing each other’s flaws is a sign of a more adult relationship with your teen. So don’t be afraid to tell an embarrassing (or sinful) story about growing up if you’re raising Christian teens.

If you don’t believe that your personal horror stories have value to your teen, listen to what Hannah has to say. She remembers her own mother waiting until she was in grad school before sharing stories of her own college experience. Hannah was shocked! Not just about the content of the stories, but about how impactful they could have been if she had heard them when she was 16. From then on, Hannah knew that raising Christian teens means being honest about your past mistakes and using them to teach valuable lessons.

The sooner teens realize that they are not alone in their mistakes, questions, or struggles, the sooner they’ll believe you when you say:

“You’re normal. This is normal what you’re going through.” 

This is a big theme for Hannah when mentoring or raising Christian teens. Assuring teens that they won’t be the “odd one out” alleviates so much peer pressure.

But That’s Not All…

Hannah has spent years responding to questions teens and parents raising Christian teens. As a mentor, she knows so much about raising Christian teens with empathy and grace. Plus, we were able to talk about so much more than just Christianity and the college experience! Other topics that we covered include:

  • Healthy involvement in your teen’s friend groups (without being a helicopter)
  • Treating all teens the same in your house, whether they’re yours or not
  • Showing genuine love and care for teens who are not your own
  • Trusting your teen’s decision making, and not forcing your opinion on them
  • “You are who your friends are,” and long term peer influence

The parent-teen dynamic differs so much from household to household, but the goal is the same. You are trying to prepare your teen for a bigger pool, and this is something that Hannah knows all about. I really enjoyed our conversation, and I hope you will, too!

Complete Interview Transcript

Hannah: So I started working in higher education over 12 years ago now. About three years into that career, I noticed that a lot of my students were really grappling with both the Christian faith they had been raised with, but also just who their parents were and who they had grown up in light of who their parents were. And trying to decide then, who am I? Do I really believe what my parents have raised me to believe. Both, certainly in religion, but also in politics, also in just ways of life and priorities and that sort of thing. So what was interesting since I personally come from a Christian faith background. I was watching my students really grapple with the Christian faith and many of them truly couldn’t articulate why they believed what they believed. So over several years, of course being exposed to lots of different thoughts and beliefs. All of that is so good and part of the college experience, but they really started to walk away from the Christian faith they had been raised in because they didn’t know why they believed what they believe.

Hannah: They couldn’t articulate it. They didn’t have a solid foundation. So I thought, man, I would love to start working with high school students. And if I could just graduate 12 girls, but I mean, I just threw out a random number. But, if I could graduate 12 girls who really knew why they believed what they believed before they went to college, I think I’ve done it. I’ve made a difference on this earth and that can be the end of it.

Andy: I like that.

Hannah: So I started mentoring high school girls and leading a church, a small group and kind of started that process. So over then, let’s say fast forward another, probably five years, I was still working in higher ed. So working with college students full time, but had this weekly, small group of high school girls, of course I was meeting with them one-on-one and coffees and that sort of thing.

Hannah: As I started graduating my crop of high schoolers into college, two things started happening. One. I wanted to give them a book that would help them in that transition. I wanted to give them a book that had a faith based perspective, but that wasn’t overbearing, overwhelmingly biblical. Something that for some of them I think, needed to just be a little softer and kinder and easier for them to swallow at that point in life. I kept looking and there just wasn’t… I didn’t find anything that I loved. Then in that same situation, weekly, I would get somewhere between two and three emails from this small group of girls who had graduated. They were now freshmen at colleges all across the country and they were emailing me basic, basic things Andy. Things like, “So my roommate, I were getting along swimmingly and it’s a month in and we haven’t spoken in three days. What do I do.”

Andy: Yep.

Hannah: To, “I’ve dreamt of being a nursing major my whole life. And I’m already really struggling in this biology class. I don’t even know if I want to major in this anymore.” I mean, things that you and I know are so typical to the college experience, but that are earth shattering to them at the time. So I found myself spending probably an hour on each email each week. So two to three hours… Two to three emails, two to three hours a week, responding to these girls. When they all came home from college during Christmas break, I sat them down and said okay, look, I love your emails. I love responding to your emails, but I have a proposal. What if I took your questions? And I made them a little less detailed, a little more applicable to all, post them on a… Basically write up a Q&A.

Hannah: It was called Dear Hannah at the time. A Dear Hannah blog. But I can answer your questions, but I think that, even just the 12 of you would really benefit from seeing one another’s questions and answers.

Andy: Yeah.

Hannah: A) knowing you’re not alone. B) Knowing I’m probably answering the same question that you’re going to ask me three weeks later, but just for our little small group community. And then before I knew it, I would answer their question one week on the blog and they would share it with all of their college girlfriends at their new community. Those girls would share it with their old high school friends. And I mean really fast, I started getting email questions from girls all over the country that I had never, of course never met. I’d never even heard of some of the colleges that they were at.

Hannah: It was really fun, just unexpected, organic, whatever. So all of that to say at the end of blogging for probably two years, Jess on College Girl questions. I thought, I think this is the book that I’ve been wanting to give my graduating seniors. I think this is it. And so kind of started shuffling through, how do I distill all this down and ended up writing a book with it’s… It really is a combination of both that blog and then in person conversations that I’ve also had with college women over the last decade. But yeah, 52 of their top concerns and kind of my answers to those issues.

Andy: So, okay. You mentioned this a couple of times already, just going through there, that one of the things you really wanted to be able to communicate was you said, Oh yeah. I mean, to us, it’s obvious that these are typical things that everyone deals with, but at the time to a college student, no, this seems like, Oh my God.

Hannah: Yes.

Andy: And I thought that it was interesting to see that one of the big themes of your book seems to be, you’re normal.

Hannah: Yes.

Andy: This is normal, what you’re going through.

Hannah: Yes.

Andy: It’s funny because we find the same thing in our research, which is that when we can help kids to understand that they’re normal. We do research on alcohol.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy: And when we just show kids that, hey, actually, 33% of your classmates don’t drink at all.

Hannah: Yep.

Andy: It’s normal that you’re… I know you feel like you’re alone. And you’re the only one who is not, but you’re not, there’re tons of kids out there who are struggling with the same situation of do I drink. I’m being pressured to.

Hannah: Yes.

Andy: So we found scientifically just by making people aware of that.

Hannah: Yes.

Andy: It changes their behavior, then that changes their attitudes.

Hannah: Totally.

Andy: So I love that you weave that through the book and I wonder how there are ways that parents, and from your perspective, which is coming out from a different angle than the research perspective of how you can do that to kind of help teens to see that they’re not alone. That these are our typical problems.

Hannah: Yeah. That’s such a great question. You know, I think the parent/teen dynamic and communication or relationship probably differs a lot from household to household.

Andy: Yeah.

Hannah: But I think for parents that are just really genuinely trying to help their kid in navigating that transition. Maybe you have a junior or senior in high school and you’re preparing to send them off to college. Some of that I think is just sharing. If you went to college, sharing your own stories. I think about how little I knew from my own parents. I’ll never forget my mom told me, gosh, I bet I was in grad school or later when she told me two really pivotal stories from her college experience. My immediate response was, mom, I wish you had told me that when I was 16. So some of that I think just gives a nice connection to where, once I’m in college and I’m experiencing some things, if my mom or dad have shared with me that this was a struggle, or this was a huge pivot point for them, or… It makes it easier for me as that 18, 19, 20 year old to come back and talk to mom and dad about it.

Andy: Yeah.

Hannah: But I think what you’re saying, it’s just… I think we all need to be reminded whether we’re teens or 20 somethings or 30 somethings or six year olds, for goodness sake, you are not alone. Nothing that you’re experiencing is unique to you. And I don’t know, maybe we’ve grown up in a culture where we’re trying so hard to be special and unique, that we have kind of let that become a lie that we believe in, in dark places. Like what you’re saying with teens, who feel like they’re the only ones that aren’t drinking and partying on the weekends. Well, we know that’s not true, but I don’t know. I think we just all fall victim to that in different areas of our lives.

Andy: I like what you say about sharing stories of what happened to you.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy: Because for one thing, I think it’s so human that we learn in stories.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy: That sometimes our best way to teach someone a message is through a story. I think it’s funny that the texts that have survived for thousands of years are things like Aesop’s Fables, the Bible.

Hannah: Yep.

Andy: These books where there’re small parables, that it’s not just, hey, here’s what to do. Here’s how to live. It’s, hey, here’s a story of someone who is dealing with something probably kind of a lot like stuff that you’re dealing with.

Hannah: Yep.

Andy: And so it’s cool. But I think it’s hard for parents to share stories. Especially if it maybe doesn’t make you look good.

Hannah: Sure.

Andy: We feel like we have to put on this kind of, we’re such perfect-

Hannah: Yeah.

Andy: …human beings or something like that. Right.

Hannah: I think those are the most valuable ones. Okay, this is going to sound ridiculous. In college was really the first time that I started seeing my parents as sinners, if I can use a really religious Christian term. And looking at them and going, oh, wow, I don’t like that, that’s a response that you have often. I don’t like that… I really started, especially with my mom, started nitpicking and seeing her in a negative light. I think once I got that, hey, my parents are imperfect people.

Hannah: They work really hard to do things right. To raise me right. To love each other well, to do all these things well. But I needed to see as a young adult that they need grace and they are allowed to be imperfect, just like I want to be allowed to be imperfect and just like, I need grace. So I think parents sharing with their teens stories of how they really screwed up in high school and college. I know that’s hard. I know we want to be perfect parents, but I think that those are often way more impactful stories and conversations with your kids, then some great success story about yourself.

Andy: Yeah. I noticed that throughout your book, you tell stories and you use those to kind of illustrate points and it’s powerful. One that really stuck with me was you talk about how you had this kind of career preparing kids for the music industry.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy: That you noticed something really interesting, which was that students tended to run in groups. So kids who were in… There’d be like a whole group of friends that all kind of graduated and went on to all have successful careers in the music industry.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andy: Then there’ll be another kind of group that all graduated and didn’t find success and would all say, Oh man, nobody’s able to get a career.

Hannah: Yep.

Andy: Whereas the other kids were saying, Oh yeah, it’s easy. Everyone can get it.

Hannah: Yep.

Andy: Again, this is one of the themes in our research is that especially during the teenage years, how strongly we’re influenced by our immediate peer group.

Hannah: Yes.

Andy: So it was cool to see your experience with that. I wonder then what you found was helpful. If there’s an application there that parents can use to… If they see maybe their kid with the wrong peer group or just to kind of make your kid’s aware of it in a non-judgmental way or something like that.

Hannah: Yeah. That’s a Great question. So in the book, I really hammer in, I think a lot throughout it, that we know the old saying you are who your friends are, but that it really goes way deeper than just, if your friends with good people, you’ll be a good person. If your friends with rule breakers, you’ll be a rule breaker. Gosh, I’m trying to think if even I would have been able to wrap my head around the people I was surrounding myself with in high school. How they impacted the trajectory of my life and what my parents could have said or done or not said or done that might have aided that.

Hannah: Oh, I don’t know Andy that’s so… That’s tricky.

Andy: That’s interesting to think about.

Hannah: You’ve stumped me.

Hannah: I mean, I guess again, to be a total broken record, going back to the power of story. If you, as a parent have stories of how your high school friends did or did not encourage you and, help you transition well into life and adulthood or make help you make good decisions. I do think showing interest, I think if I reflect on my own relationships and my parents and the way that they interact with my friends. My parents were really hands on with my friend group. And I don’t mean that in like a helicopter way, but they just showed-

Andy: Yeah-Yeah.

Hannah: …interest when friends came over, whether it was the first time a friend came over to the house or they had been over a hundred times, my parents were asking about them. Like, “How are you, what’s going on in your life?” Or if they’d never met them before, like “Tell me about yourself. What do you do? What do you like, tell me about your parents. What do they do?” And both of my parents, interestingly, really. How do I say this? Okay, I would come home from high school and there would be four guys sitting at the island in my kitchen talking to my mom while she cooked. I’d be like, “Oh, hey guys, what are you all…?” Thinking they’re there for me. Like, “Oh, hey, what are you guys doing?” And they would say, “Oh, well, we’re talking to your mom.” I’m like, “Okay, well, I can’t hang out right now. I have to go do…” X, Y, Z. And they would say, “Oh yeah, that’s fine. We’re not here for you.” And literally they would’ve shown up and both of my parents really ended up being surrogate parents for a lot of my friends.

Hannah: These friends had great parents. This is not that they were coming from a scenario where they didn’t have parents that loved them and listen to them and communicate with them. But I think it’s rare when other adults show interest in teenagers that aren’t their own. So my friends were really attracted to that and they wanted to sit down with, my mom or dad to say, okay, this is going on. How do I deal with this? Or this happened, how do I tell my mom? That was a lot, I think, of my parents conversations with my friends. How do I explain this to my parents? How do I talk to them? So even that, to kind of circle back around to your original question, my parents cared about and invested in all of my friends. But I knew which friends, my parents quote, unquote approved of and which ones that maybe weren’t their favorites [crosstalk 00:15:45].

Andy: Yeah-Yeah [crosstalk 00:15:45].

Hannah: But they never showed it to that friend. They didn’t show it to the person, but I think that encouraged me in a like completely subliminal way of who to be hanging out with and spending time with and who, you know. But my parents never said you can’t hang with that person or don’t, they’re a bad influence on you. But I think they saw their role as, okay, we can either step in to these relationships that our daughter has and try to cultivate trust and communication with those kids or…

Andy: Yeah.

Hannah: …or push them away. And they chose the former.

Andy: I liked that a lot. It’s becoming engaged in your teenager’s social relationships-

Hannah: Yeah.

Andy: …and social groups on a deeper level. It’s funny because this really smart woman that I had on the podcast recently. Dr. Deborah Gilboa was talking about how she recommends that you treat your kid’s friends with exactly the same rules. If they’re in your house, they follow the exact same rules as your kid.

Hannah: Oh, Totally.

Andy: Which means, if the garbage needs to be taken out. “Hey, can you take this out?” Like, “Hey, you and you start washing these dishes.” Even to the point of, “Hey, Saturday morning, I’m looking for some kids to help me-

Hannah: Yes. 100 percent.

Andy: …lug out the stable back there. I’ll cook you guys breakfast.” She was like, well, actually you’d think this would push the friends away and they wouldn’t want to hang out at that house. But actually it had the opposite effect-

Hannah: Yeah.

Andy: …that people then start to kind of see your house as like the place that we can go.

Hannah: Yeah.

Andy: We can hang out. And there’s something cool about it.

Hannah: That’s so funny. Cause anecdotally I immediately… A friend’s family, but specifically her father came to mind as someone who did that to me. My whole life, I grew up helping with, if I slept over at her house Friday night, you better believe I was doing yard work at their house Saturday morning. I mean, he would wake us up in the morning and to this day, I mean, I call him Poppa Bob. He is, he’s another father to me because not only was I at their house a lot, but I was another one of their kids. They had four kids and they were all teenagers at the same. So four teens in the house, two boys, two girls. And we were there and functioning as part of that family. Chores and all.

Andy: I think there’s something going on there too, where it’s as a teenager, if I know that any friend I get is going to come to my house and my parents are going to basically bring them into the family, then I’m going to… That’s some pressure that I want to bring home friends that are kind of, like you said. If that’s what you do as a parent, then it’s like, you’re saying, you don’t necessarily have to be so, oh, I don’t like that friend very much. It’s just by nature of knowing, I’m going to know what kids your parents like and what kids they don’t. Right. It’s the ones who have the same values that the family has. That’s cool.

About Hanna Seymour

In 2012, Hanna was mentoring a small group of high school senior gals who went off to college and she spent a lot of time answering their questions by email. So she decided to start a blog called “Dear Hanna” where she responded to their questions in an anonymous way.

Soon, Hanna was receiving emails and questions from girls she’d never met at colleges she’d never even heard of! With a master’s degree in Higher Education & Student Affairs and a decade of working at several different colleges, she felt she had a lot of experience and insight to share with these girls and enjoyed writing to them.

She recently published a book inspired by the blog, The College Girl’s Survival Guide, which features faith-based answers to 52 of the most common questions teenage girls have about college.