The first weekend in March, I had the privilege to facilitate a retreat for a group of 5th & 6th grade students AND their parents. It was a first time event for Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa and the staff leaders and I all agreed it was a tremendous experience for both kids and parents. During a short dialogue with parents just before the final session, one father summed up what everyone was feeling, “Thank you for giving me twenty-four hours with my kid where there was no competition with the tv, nintendo ds or computer.”
Last spring, I spoke for a Mother/Daughter Retreat at New Life Ranch in Colcord, OK. Both events gave moms and dads the chance to interact, play and love on their kids for a dedicated amount of time. I came away from both events thinking I’d seen what some of our youth ministry should look more like, more often. So, here are some ideas for planning an event that parents and children can experience together:
1. Create memories. That can happen through challenge activities like zip lines or adventure races. They can be tangible in the form of making an event tshirt or decorating a keepsake memory box. You can include a personal component like parents writing letters to their kids or planning a scripture prayer walk they take together.
2. Keep things moving. It was important for me to engage both parents and kids during the time I was teaching. So, I adapted my typical speaking outline to include short, fun, and relevant breaks from the sound of my voice in their ears! There was a mad lib intro at the beginning that they helped to fill in, a short rap from Fred Lynch’s The Script: A Hip Hop Devotional Through the Book of John that some students and parents performed together, a few 5 minute segments to turn and dialogue about the topic and one quick parent/child creative writing assignment. The best part is that we were able to get everyone tracking with the same themes and I didn’t even once look out and see a 5th or 6th grader squirm out of boredom!
3. Build on the experience. These kinds of events are the best launching pads for more good things to occur at home. So, give parents and children a chance to reflect on what they will face at home together and commit to needed changes that have been recognized on the trip. Also, send parents home with tools to keep spiritual conversations going with their children and maybe even an invitation to participate with their child in some kind of regular Bible Study or worship experience.
4. Impose a hiatus on electronic devices. Although you may not want to go nuts and completely ban bringing ipods, phones, and handheld gaming systems, you can certainly ask that all electronic devices be kept packed or stored until the vehicles depart from the retreat. Another option for addressing internet and texting addictions would be to just pick a remote retreat location with absolutely no cell phone coverage or internet access! Parents and even kids will appreciate this rule – eventually! Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that when there was a real emergency requiring contact with the outside world at a camp, we just used the camp office phone!
5. Offer a chance for kids and parents to vent a little. I don’t mean a gripe session, but I do mean an opportunity for moms and dads to interact and receive encouragement for the crucial role they play in their kids’ lives. And I also mean a gathering for kids to share frustrations and get new understanding on why their parents are the crazy way they are! Adolescence is not for the faint of heart – for kids or parents – and the sooner we help them handle the obstacles they’ll encounter in a healthy way, the more they’ll be able to enjoy the journey together.
The most important thing is that we help students and parents experience Deuteronomy 6:4-9 together:
Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only! Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)
I’d like to facilitate that kind of legacy in every family!
For more ideas on how parents and youth workers can walk the adolescent road with students and create memories along the way, you can check out my book, Mile Markers: A Path for Nurturing Adolescent Faith (YS/Zondervan). You can also find out more on my website, www.denisemckinney.com or find me on Twitter.