If you haven’t figured it out, I work with students. As a student pastor, I’m around 12-28 year old people all the time. Often, I find myself a bit overwhelmed with the notion of partnering with parents and helping them get a picture into the world that their kids are living. As I talk with other student pastors, the idea of partnering with parents or working to equip parents with more than just information can make some of them sweat if its more than a calendar and a permission slip. But the value, relationally, is huge.
This past Sunday, I hosted my second parent seminar that was specifically geared toward helping parents understand critical technological advances and how they can protect their house. The first one I did in the Spring of 2014 (about 6 months into my tenure at my church) and we had up to 55 people join us for that conversation. Then this last one we did in September of 2016 and had 42+ attended. I got such feedback and requests for a second session that we followed it up with a second, identical seminar and had 24 or so attend. I’m not bragging about those at all. But, I do find it interesting that that many people attended a seminar on technology and youth culture put on by a 30-year old, non-parent.
Did I mention that we hosted Duffy Robbins in the meantime and promoted the snot out of that event, tried to help parents see why it would be important, made a number of announcements from all kinds of venues and we had a dozen parents show up. I’ll blame Colts football and hosting it in the afternoon as the competing variables.
Why equip parents?
I say all that to say this: If you are working with students, you can only win by equipping the parents of your church with information that they have no time to fully understand.
If there is anything that I have discovered it is that parents get on technology to watch their kids. Student pastors use technology to connect and engage with kids. So because we come at the medium with different goals and different motivations, we have different views on how that medium is used and the benefits and harms that come from it. While most kids might be doing everything they can to avoid interacting with their parents on social media, kids are more willing to let youth workers in because they simply aren’t the parents. That gives you an insight that parents may not otherwise see.
The previous paragraph is critical because it means that as a youth worker, you have an insight that the parents of your church could benefit from if you would just take the time and create a venue where you can help them understand it. I don’t know if you have noticed, but parents of teenagers are usually running around from place to place just trying to keep their head above water. That doesn’t include their own needs for social interaction and gathering, that’s just getting their kids to all the things that they need. So, the ease of simply sharing what you know and what you observe can be a huge shot in the arm to some parents.
What to equip parents with?
I started looking at some free resources. Walt Mueller and CPYU has some extremely helpful resources through the Digital Kids Initiative that I downloaded. I did this for two reasons: 1. Have a starting point for any research that I needed to do, and 2. have some simple resources that parents can go back and learn even more. By doing this we put the information into parents’ hands that they need but may not know where to get it or how urgent that information can be for them as parents.
Then came some additional research. There is plenty out there regarding social media and technology. As a matter of fact, there is an increasing amount of data and research that is coming out into the mainstream on the connection we have to our devices. Additionally, the goal of the seminar was intended to give parents tools for keeping them safe and protecting their kids from content and people that they don’t want connecting with their kids, so we did some additional research into those tools.
We purchased a couple Circle devices to give away, purchased a slew of 3(D) guides from CPYU for every family, and put together a select number of the CPYU documents together into a booklet for them to take home. The presentation took about an hour, highlighting four social media apps (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), demonstrating the Circle, providing some tips for starting the conversation, and answering questions.
Fact of the matter is that many parents were so thankful for the information. We got the chance to partner with parents and equip parents in a very tangible way that will hopefully reap relational benefits. But the biggest thing for me is this: When you seek to equip parents you speak value to their role as parents. The Church working with the Family. It’s part of our focus as a NextGen team and when we can do that we help parents see that we are on their side in helping their family space to become the safest place for a kid.
Ultimately, I cannot think of a reason why a student pastor wouldn’t do this. The value of simply sharing what you know with parents and what that does to bolster your reputation and relationship with those parents seems huge. Do it once a year unconnected to an event. Find a way to do it during one of your student gatherings. You’ll be glad you did and so will the parents that you are partnering with.