When you're lost, having someone to lovingly lead the way back home is a wonderful blessing.  That, not shaming or lecturing, is what teenagers need from their parents when they are lost.

A few years back I bought a GPS (Global Positioning System) device.  For me, it may be the single best idea since the invention of fire.  It always knows right where I am…it never judges my ability (or inability) to navigate…and more importantly, it knows how to get me to where I need to go, and back home again.  With as much as I travel, I don't know how I could function without it.

Likewise, parents need to be a GPS in the life of their teenager.  As teens strike out on their own, it is easy for them to get lost.  They may lose their way getting to where they want to go, and end up in a place they really didn't want to go (even if they won't admit they are lost). Unless their parents reach out to them in a loving and nonjudgmental way, they may remain lost.

Realize that the Roadmap Has Changed

When giving directions in life, parents tend to unfold an old roadmap and expect it to be valid today.  But the cultural landscape has changed.  It's like when I looked at a map of Europe the other day. Many of the countries I learned about in school weren't there anymore; a bunch of new names and new boundaries had taken their place.  In the same way, the life directions we give as parents may not fit the real world our children are living in.  We tend to say, "Follow these directions…they worked for me."  Then we get a phone call, "Mom, Dad I'm lost!"  Now you would think the first response would be, "Sit tight and I'll come get you."  But some parents shame their child —"What do you mean you're lost? I told you…"

Now, I've never met a child who wanted to be lost.  I've never heard a young person say, "I want to wander through life not knowing where I'm going."  What I have heard are things like: "I failed to listen because I thought I could find my own way." Or, "I tried what I through was a shortcut." Or, "I looked for the landmarks; but it was dark, so it didn't look the same." Or, "I asked for help and was steered in a different direction; now I don't know where I am."

Don't Shut Them Out

The reality is that many kids in our culture will get lost.  Maybe through curiosity, or trauma in their life, or the advice of their peers they'll get off the right path.  Whatever the cause, when our kids are lost, we as parents have to take the responsibility to help them find their way back.  The number one complaint I hear from troubled kids is that they feel so alone.  Yes, they may have pushed their parents and family away, but now they don't know how to bring them back.  Relationships are more important than ever at this point, but they may also be under more strain than ever.

It's vital that we as parents keep the lines of communication open, no matter how lost our teen has become.  Leave the shaming and blaming out of your conversation.  Yes, they've made mistakes and have lost their way, but it is no time to push them even further away with "I told you so's."  Don't allow any embarrassment you are feeling to block or shape your reaction.  Remember they want your time and attention more than ever (even though they may resist it a little at the same time).  Most of all they are looking for someone to just listen.  Short of compromising your own values and beliefs, be willing to do whatever it takes to lead your child back to the right path.

Listen and Find Unique Solutions

My friend Dr. Jim Burns has worked with young people for many years.  He pointed out to me that the teen years are supposed to be something of an experimental period-which he and his wife experienced first-hand with their three daughters.  One of the girls in particular was rebelling, so on the advice of their youth pastor they decided to take her out of a Christian school and place her in a public school instead. That way, they reasoned, instead of her rebelling against the conservative rules of the Christian school and Christianity in general, she would shift her focus to rebel against the culture of the public school.  And it worked!  It worked for her, that is.  It was a unique solution to helping her find her way back home-one that many parents might miss if they followed the old road map and forced her to conform.