Triangulation at Youth Group: Parents, Youth, and Youth Leaders


At St. John’s, it is our tradition to open youth group with lighting a candle. Our candle has 3 wicks and we light the candles in the name of the Trinity, Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit as we light each wick 

We often try to come up with Trinities in our lives too, like red, white and blue; paper, rock and scissors; Neapolitan ice cream; the 3 corners of a triangle, to name a few.

But it’s another trinity that I want to focus on today – actually, a triangle: Parent, Kid, and Teacher. Or as we have it in our ministry, Parent, Youth, and Youth Leader. 

In my experience, parents are often want to use our relationship with the youth to triangulate, to use me to communicate with the youth instead of talk to the youth directly.  Rarely does a kid ask me to do the same. 

I’m tempted to do it myself. As a parent of a youth I often think, “Well, If I can get her teacher to put this idea in her head or push to take a harder class or…” Fill in the blank. I think to myself I am doing it to help her. But rarely is that true! 

So when a parent comes to me with a request to talk to their kid about school or drugs or family, “but don't tell them I asked you to talk to them!" a buzzer goes off in my head.  What does this parent really want from me? What does parent want me to try to change in their kid? 

When this happens, I say to the parent that I look forward to meeting with their kid. But I will be honest that their parents are worried about them. NO SECRETS. 

I often will suggest we all meet together. Many kids are more open to this group conversation then we realize. They want to be heard and to hear their parents. A third party (us) often makes it a safe way to hold a real conversation 

But please know our ministry does not call for us to be their therapist. If this is a situation that requires more than one conversation, I usually suggest that the family attend family therapy with a trained therapist. 

A youth often puts us in a triangle position when they share in group about an "illegal issue" such as drinking or drugs at a party, etc. We want our youth group to offer a safe haven to be honest and open. Yet if we don’t share with their parents about their illegal activity are we saying to them it is ok to drink and do drugs? 

What I do is offer parents and youth workshops on a lot of these HOT Topics. Then I offer the youth and parents a safe and controlled place to explore, talk, and hear from others. Everyone’s voice is important and equal. I always make sure there is time for the parents and youth to talk alone during the workshop. It a safe place. 

And I never miss a chance to remind youth about the gift God gave us: our body and life.  

It is so easy to get caught up in a youth’s issues because we care about them. But our ministry is to pray with and for them, not to fix them. 

Each part of a relationship triangle is often looking for drama, and/or our support. My goal is to empower each of them to move forward to a healthy relationship with each other today.

The Trinity is at the heart of our faith but triangulations are not healthy for any of us in ministry. It is important we remember the difference.