As a former teacher-turned-youth director, I can attest to the power of sharing ideas among trusted co-workers. Why re-invent the wheel when you can “steal” great ideas from others and apply them to your own situation? I had the opportunity to do just that recently when I sought ways to improve communication between my high school youth and their parents, and I remembered an article I’d read by my Certification class colleague, Kevin. His premise was simple—separate the youth and parents and ask them to create questions that the other group should answer honestly, then bring everyone back together for sharing and discussion. You can check out the procedure here.
As a means of encouragement to try this with the families you work with, I’d like to share our questions and answers with you. I was blown away by the amount and intensity of conversation these topics created, and by the willingness of each group to share personal examples and stories. It’s hard to capture the feel and flow of our conversation on paper, but here are the questions each group created, followed by a short summary of the “answers” they came up with. Enjoy!
Parents: What do we do well as parents, and what can we do differently?
- If we make good decisions on our own, we should earn more freedom.
- Don’t be so hard on us when we make mistakes–we’re still learning!
- Let us have some de-stress time–don’t bug us right away.
- Don’t take out your bad day on us.
- If you say you’ll do something, do it. We have to do things for you right away!
- Have a better reason than “I told you so!”
- We like when you try to comfort us and give us advice, but know when to back off.
- You provide for our needs, and help when you can to provide things we’d like to have.
- You love us unconditionally.
Daughters: What is a mistake you’ve made that you want to prevent us from making?
- Take time to find happiness on your own and figure out who you are before investing in life with others.
- Be comfortable in your own skin.
- Don’t hesitate to go to your parents for advice.
- Set goals for yourself and see them through–don’t get sidetracked or act on impulse.
- Don’t tie your own identity to someone else.
- Don’t be in a hurry to know everything!
- Don’t think we can’t handle it if you make a mistake.
- Be selective in your relationships–you’re worth it!
Parents: How would you like us to respond when you make choices that may not be in your best interest?
- Talk to us about the situation and let us know why you feel our actions were inappropriate.
- Bad choices have their own natural consequences–let us learn from our mistakes!
- Explain your concerns, but please don’t yell.
Sons: What do we do that disappoints you?
- Making poor choices, when we know you’re capable of making the right ones.
- Not working hard or living up to your potential.
- Not appreciating the blessings in your life.
- But know that nothing you do can make us or God love you less!
Parents: What can we do to help you be successful now, and to help you prepare for life after high school?
- Let us have responsibility and fun.
- Let us have some freedom to make our own decisions.
- Let us make our own mistakes, and learn from them.
Youth: Why do you not trust us? (…when we’ve done nothing wrong?)
- Just because we ask questions doesn’t mean we don’t trust you.
- We know your impulse control is still developing, and it’s our job to hold you accountable so that trust is built over time.
- If you don’t give us information about what you’re doing, our imagination takes over and we fill in the blanks on our own. The more we know, the more we trust.
- We were your age once and know many of the pressures you face. Our concern is motivated out of our love for you!
This last question by far brought about the most discussion on both sides. We talked about choices that lead to serious consequences like drinking and driving, and teen pregnancy. Kids talked about wanting to be given credit for making good decisions – parents listened. Parents shared about friends whose lives were changed forever by poor decisions as teenagers, youth listened.
The seating arrangement for this session really created an atmosphere of open sharing – we used concentric circles of chairs with adults and kids mixed together, so everyone could see and hear without creating a “this side” against “that side”. And the best part, of course, was what happened later. Many parents shared with me that the conversation continued in the car on the way home, which was the goal to begin with. Thanks be to God!
As Youth Workers, our days are crammed full with to-do lists and the routines of caring for the youth and families we serve. Do yourself (or someone else) a favor and steal (or share) an idea today – the impact just might be life-changing.
Lori Richey has been privileged to walk with the awesome youth at Calvary UMC in Wichita, KS for the last five years. She has completed four of five classes in Youth Ministry Certification at Perkins and hopes to become Certified (or is it certifiable???) by 2013. Lori lives in Wichita with her husband, Steve, and their three wonderful teenagers – Preston, Colleen, & Brittan.