Our family enjoyed the privilege of sending our daughter off to camp this long weekend, and we are preparing to welcome her home. While it has been a great couples weekend, it will be fun to hear the life-change stories emerging out of camp.
We often spend much time preparing for camp, and praying for our children while they are away at camp. But some of the best fruit from camp can be cultivated best by parents after camp.
Here are some simple tips on helping your son or daughter return home from camp well. My suggestion is that you pay attention and pick and choose from this list as you seek to maximize the positive spiritual impact of this outstanding journey at camp.
- Listen attentively. It is inevitable your son or daughter will return home tired. For some the fatigue makes them excited and talkative, for others it leads to grumpiness and silence. Be sensitive to trying to drag out too much information on the ride home. Pace the feedback. The next best activity for your son or daughter may be rest.
- Filter your questions. Let your student guide the conversation. Pay attention to what they are saying, and also to what they are not saying. Look and listen for a few key nuggets.
- Offer them their favorite meal. Though camp food might be good [or it might not], your child is likely longing for something to eat that is familiar and substantial. A meal is a great place for the family to listen to their stories.
- Temper your expectations. Parents may be hoping for a significant life change, but it’s likely not to show up all at once. Try not to communicate unrealistic expectations about spiritual life change, but rather applaud any movement toward spiritual sensitivity and growth. Ask in your own words, “What do you think God was teaching you at camp?”
- Remember the [pre] adolescent journey. By definition, pre-teens and adolescents are very self-focused and most of their experience at camp will be defined through the filter of “me.” Use this as an opportunity to affirm their journey of self-discovery and the unique identity you sense God is helping them grasp. Avoid exasperating [Ephesians 6:4] them with a sharp critique of their “selfishness.”
- Ask about friends. It is almost impossible for a developing adolescent to separate their relationship with God from their relationship with friends. Teenagers grow in Christ in groups. Who did you hang out with? Did you make any new friends? When will you see them again? It is likely there will also be some drama between friends to report. Hopefully you can guide them to not let this push them away from friends or the group. Or maybe you may walk them through changing friends due to new spiritual convictions gained at camp. If you have a high school student they will most likely want to go hang out with camp friends as soon as possible.
- Look at pictures. Having your son or daughter show you their pictures, even if just the big camp photo, is a great way for them to share their memories and experiences. Have them point out friends and adult leaders they enjoyed.
- Explore themes. Ask your son or daughter to tell you what the speaker, cabin times, and devotions were about. Keep it simple and look for or guide them into articulating one key lesson they grabbed from the week. Gently guide them to express a couple ideas they might want to act on in practical ways in the coming weeks. Ask what they want to change as a result of being at camp [in their relationships, in their family, in their beliefs, in their habits]. Don’t pry too much since these changes may be something they would rather share with their friends, small group, or other adult leaders.
- Affirm your support. Be very positive about their experience at camp and affirm your ongoing support of their relationship with God. This time at camp can be powerful but it is also one smaller part of a bigger and longer journey in their emotional, physical and spiritual development. Your child needs a fan that is cheering them on as they grow up.
- Keep them connected. An experience at camp is often times a launching pad for new friendships within the youth group at church. Maximize the partnership between you as a parent and the youth group leadership. Be sure to find a way to thank your child’s cabin leader. Do the extra work to help them get to a weekend worship gathering and the next meeting of the youth group. For those with a Junior High or High School student, encourage getting plugged into a smaller discipleship group. The older your student gets the more strategic support from the church gets.
- Model an intimate relationship of trust with Jesus. Your [pre] adolescent is looking to see what a relationship with Jesus looks like. They possess a keen radar system that sniffs out hypocrisy. They will be looking to see if you have an honest faith that trusts Jesus with daily life. Be the kind of person you want your child to become. Model love and grace, an intimate relationship with God, involvement with other believers, and a servant lifestyle.
What additional tips would you add from your experience as a parent?