Center for Organizational Leadership

Empowering Effective Leaders

Leading Families and Youth

By Joshua Adams

Joshua Adams is the Youth Minister for Germantown Church of Christ in Germantown, Tennessee. He is also an MAOL student who will be completing his degree in December.

I like roller coasters. Going to theme parks was a big part of my childhood., and now that I’m a youth minister, I’ve found more than one excuse to take my youth group to them from time to time. The thing about roller coasters is that they can evoke anxiety. For many, working with teens isn’t much different.

One of the first things you might do when getting on a rollercoaster is jostle the lap bar to make sure it is secure. Josh Shipp, in his book The Grown Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans , writes that children do not shake the bar hoping it will fling open and allow them to careen off the track to their doom.  Instead, “Teenagers will test you to see if you, like the lap bar on the rollercoaster, will hold. They are testing you and prodding you and pushing you because they need to know, at a time when so many other things are uncertain, that YOU are certain. That you are steady. That you are safe. That you will hold.”

When I first read his book, I couldn’t believe how much insight that description gave into the dynamics of working with teenagers. Teenagers regularly test the boundaries of their abilities and their relationships. These are the first signs of growing independence and  are important to become self-sufficient adults. However, it is this same process that breeds interpersonal conflict and is the main fight that the teen years bring. It is this tension that many who work with teenagers find to be their greatest challenge.

When working with children, it can be easy to focus solely on your relationship with them. For coaches, they are the focus of training, and for teachers, they are the focus of instruction. However, when you work with children, you don’t only work with children. You also work with their parents. Whether you’re an educator, coach or minister, having a balanced relationship with parents is crucial. If teenagers are the frightened passengers on the rollercoaster preparing for a tumultuous time in their lives, then to carry Shipp’s analogy one step further, the parents are the roller coaster operators. While most operators  (if you’ve been to a theme park, you can attest to this) like to have fun with their passengers, all of them take their job very seriously. If you work with children, it is important to understand that parents also see their job as a matter of life and death.

So, where does that leave organizations like the church and after-school programs or mentors like coaches, teachers and ministers when it comes to helping empower effective leadership? How does one lead families and children to be strong leaders both inside and outside of the home? The answer: very carefully and with great intentionality focused on character building and environment.

According to research by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child , “ The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult. These relationships provide the personalized responsiveness, scaffolding and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption. They also build key capacities — such as the ability to plan, monitor and regulate behavior — that enable children to respond adaptively to adversity and thrive. This combination of supportive relationships, adaptive skill-building and positive experiences is the foundation of resilience.” These findings highlight the important role parents and other adults play in the development of children, specifically in helping transform them into resilient leaders of the future.

How can you help in this process? You can help lead families and youth by participating in the promotion of those positive characteristics, and by taking part in creating positive environments in which they can flourish. Josh Shipp writes, “Positive character traits exist because caring adults have cultivated them. Positive environments exist because caring adults have cultivated them. These things don’t fall from space.” Each of us can play a role in making it easier for parents to teach their children to grow into tomorrow’s  leaders. In some cases, we can provide examples and be a haven for those children who do not have godly influence and support at home.

The old expression is true: it takes a village to raise a child . What kind of village are you helping create? You have the special opportunity to shape the environment which will shape future leaders. This blessing is both humbling and challenging, and I pray you will take it to heart..

  • Shipp, J. (2018). The grown-up’s guide to teenage humans: How to decode their behavior, Develop Trust, and raise a respectable adult . Harper Wave, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
  • “Key Concepts: Resilience,” Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, accessed June 22, 2023,

Topics: Leadership Education Youth