Thursday, June 16, 2011

Checking the codes

“So give Your servant an understanding heart… to discern…” -1 Kings 3:9

Something unexpected happened to me this week. When I started my Trailblazer SUV, a message stayed lit up on my instrument panel, “service engine soon.” At first I thought, “Oh great, the engine is going to blow up.” Then I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that I might have over 100 possible problems with my vehicle, from a loose gas cap to a worn spark plug. I also discovered that I needed to “read the code” left by my car’s computer to diagnose the problem. This made me think about how teenagers also release a “code” when they encounter problems. The ability for parents to “read the code” has everything to do with the knowing the cause of the “malfunction.”

There are several different ways to read codes. You can take your vehicle to a dealer and they will gladly diagnose the problem (for a fee). Another option is to purchase the code reader on line or at an auto parts store (for a bigger fee). But the best option is to take it to an auto parts store and have them read the code for free (no fee). That was my frugal choice. It reminded me that when those we love are struggling, it’s important to correctly “diagnose” the problem. It’s easy to jump to subjective, emotional conclusions when we neglect to seek out help in “reading” our teenager. Consulting with youth workers, coaches, teachers or professional Counselors can help parents be sure they’re correctly diagnosing their struggling teen.

As we read my vehicle code at the auto parts store, the parts specialist taught me an important lesson. He read the code (it was a coolant issue) and he commented, “The light will go off now. If it comes back on, go to the dealer. If it stays off, it was probably just a one time deal.” A one time deal. Yes, I had a problem with my car and the light came on, but that didn't mean I needed to have my engine overhauled. Parents don't need to minimize issues with their kids, but they don't need to overreact either. The proper reaction to kid issues requires prayer, self-control, a level head and a mature perspective on the situation. Sometimes our kids light up but it’s not necessarily an indication of deep issues. Being a kid can be tough sometimes and if we’re just there to support our kids, they often can work through the issue on their own.

But other times the lights continue to come on. One humorous person on the internet offered his “fix” to any light coming on in the instrument panel: simply place duct tape over the light. Of course, hiding the light doesn’t fix the reason the light came on. But covering the light removes the annoying message being conveyed. Denial of problems is as old as mankind and though a good temporary solution, it doesn't fix anything. When our kids’ lights continue to come on, address the issues, as painful as they may be at the time. Treating the initial wound will avoid the bigger infection later on. The same is true emotionally. Take the time to listen to your teen and let them tell you about their “engine.” Many times, the dialogue with mom and dad is a huge part of the solution.

Even the most reliable car will have problems at times. When that light stays on, don't run out to sell the car. Read the code and appreciate that you’re able to address the issue before it damages your vehicle. Normal teens have problems too. How you deal with your kids will determine how well they are able to deal with life later on. Listen to them. Be there for them. Offer sound advice. Pray for them.

And don't use duct tape.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

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