Two things every parent should know about their kids and technology

I am blown away at the amount of resources that are available to parents to help them navigate the technological world that their kids live in.  It seems that the more that is out there, the less equipped our parents are to deal with the never ending onslaught of new technology and clever ways around old technology. There are many opportunities for youth workers to communicate with parents and educate them on this subject.  But every year that goes by the technological gap between parents and kids seems to grow exponentially.    As an older youth worker, I am starting to feel the effects of the distance.

For the longest time, it seems that the approach of concerned parents and youth workers was to simply protect our kids from the darker parts of technology.  This worked well when we only had tv and video games to worry about.  Now there is the online component to video games, and those video games involve graphic violence and sex.  Add to the mix every and all social media platforms and it starts to get scary.  And that ipod you bought your kids, that is a thoroughfare of unregulated technology.

Obviously protectionism alone can not solve this problem.  There is too much and too many ways around it for parents to adequately control it all.  So what is a parent to do?  I think the answer begins with understanding two fundamental truths:

1) YOUR KIDS KNOW WAY MORE ABOUT TECHNOLOGY THAN YOU:

Many parents I talk to are really impressed with how much they are with it. For some reason 50 year old parents haven't gotten the memo that they are 50.  While they are way cooler than their parents and are now on facebook and listen to music on their iphones, they are still parents and totally unaware of their kids' world.

The amount of technology that is available to our kids is overwhelming. From the time they were born they have had access to technology. Instead of being raised on tv, they were raised on the internet.   Technology is so much part of their DNA, it is like breathing.  This means that they are fully comfortable in this world and use it in ways that we don't understand.

Many parents would be shocked with how much information is on the internet about their children.  From facebook to twitter to youtube, to sites that I have no idea about because I am part of the old skool, their lives are open and exposed to the entire world.  Privacy is becoming a thing of the past, and the definition of friendship is undergoing a transformation.

Keeping up with all this information is impossible.  It is in students very nature to rebel from the dominate adult culture.  And even through the dominant adult culture is a youth culture, students will always find a world beneath to inhabit and live.   We are lying to ourselves if we think we are keeping up with our kids' technological appetites.

Recognizing this truth allows us to actually begin to walk with kids through the abyss of the internet.

2) YOUR KIDS ARE NOT DEVELOPMENTALLY ABLE TO HANDLE IT:

With all the technology available to students, they are actually becoming more and more dumb.  We live in a world that values data and access to it.  But data is not what makes people smart.  Data is the first step.  Data needs to be organized so that it can be used as information.  Information needs to be implemented to grow knowledge.  And knowledge needs to be tested to grow wisdom.

We are raising a generation of data consumers who have little to no wisdom.  We celebrate and lift up google and the ability to answer any question that might arise.  But data alone does not help our students develop character and wisdom.  The process from data, to information, to knowledge, to wisdom takes time and effort.  It can only happen in the context of relationship with real people.  Community is where data gets worked out and will lead towards wisdom.

Many parents unintentionally think that because their child is taller than them, harrier than them, and can even drive that they are basically adults.  While they may be biologically adults, mentally they are far from it.  Parents must engage with their children and help them navigate this technological world their kids live in.  Because of their still developmental stage, they have no ability to process all this data.  They experience chat, violence, sex, gossip, music, all at the same time.  How are they going to know what boxes to put each of these experiences?  Parents must walk through this perilous and confusing world alongside their children to help them process all this information and give them the tools so they can one day navigate it themselves.

Without you, unlimited data and disconnection from actual human community will continue to lead to a self-absorbed generation with little to no regard or empathy for their fellow humans.  This is an issue that is overwhelming for sure.  But we can not put our heads in the sand.  If we can own that we are already behind and that our kids need our help to navigate this world, then we are at the correct starting point for some action.

NOW WHAT:

  • GET ACCESS: You should be aware of what your kids are up to online.  For middle schoolers through the beginning of high school, I think that parents should have unlimited access and control over their kids online world.  Computers, smart phones, ipods all have access to the internet, and therefore you should have access.  This is not a privacy issue or even a rights issue.  Especially if you have paid for all of this access, you should re-claim your rights.  WIthout this sort of access you will have no way to know what is going on.  Of course there are ways around it and what they experience on their friends' phone while at school can not be protected against, having clear boundaries at homes begins to create appropriate boxes for your kids to place these experiences.
  • GET INFORMED: Because all adults are behind the ball when it comes to technology, this becomes an opportunity to reengage with your kids.  Ask questions?  You will be amazed at how much your kids will want to talk when it is about something they are interested in.  It is a full time job to understand this technological world kids today travel in.  Think of all the time and effort that gets put into researching good schools and colleges.  We put time and effort into the things that we think are valuable.  We need to reawaken to the value of character development for our children.  This is no small task, but our kids have to be worth it.
  • GET TALKING: Your kids still need you.  I know they come off like they don't, but that is a facade.  It is the adults in their world that must help them process all this data so that they gain wisdom.  Shutting down all the technology we can is not the answer.   Living in fear or denial won't help them develop into the godly women and man God designed them to be.  Walking with them through their life, pointing out pitfalls, processing disasters and heartbreak, affirming good choices, helping them connect cause and effect, this is how students take data and turn it into information.  Having access, discovering their world and helping them shape their experiences then allows our kids to take the information and turn it into knowledge.  My prayer for the students I work with and for my own kids is that this growing knowledge will ultimately turn into wisdom.
This is an overwhelming topic and there are a million helpful resources out there.  Would you be willing to share them?

Mid-Summer Letter to Parents

Bored-teenage-girl-on-couch-jpg Dear Parents,

July is already upon us and summer is in full swing!  I hope that you are soaking up a little rest and relaxation in between the continual complaints of boredom from your kids.  As you are look for places to keep your kids occupied and out of trouble, I would like to offer you a couple of simple ideas to help you thrive this summer.

1) Boredom is part of being an adult.  Feel free to affirm this reality.  Don't let them off the hook to easily and make them come up with their own plans.  Like all things, pushing through seems impossible, but when you break through there is success.  Your kids are incredibly smart and I a always impressed with how they always find a way to do exactly what they want to do.  Make them work for it.  Build some character!

2) Try not to just program you time and actually connect with your son or daughter.  I am amazed at how much of summer is going from one event to the next.  Even vacations are set up going from point A to point B.  Just like in student ministry, programs are not the final goal.  Programs are simply a tool to build relationships and memories.  Don't get too preoccupied checking off the programs of summer, but make sure you actually "see" your kids.

3) Don't let up in your's or your child's faith development.  Faith is very similar to our muscles.  The more work we put in the better shape we are in.  When we stop exercising for even a week there is a noticeable loss in ability and strength.  Take off a month and there is actually visible change.  An entire summer and now what once used to be a natural part of life now seems difficult to even jump back in.   With all the change in schedule and vacations it is easy to skip out of church and youth group for the summer.  The break might seem great at first, but getting back in can be next to impossible.  This is especially true for your kids who are relational maniacs.  And once a place doesn't work relationally for them, they are out.  You have a much higher tolerance for relational discomfort, but your kids don't.  Keep this in mind as you have conversation and make decisions as to how many times your son or daughter is going to take a "break" from church and youth group.

4) Your kids are still kids.  They are minors and believe it or not you have a say.  You get to shape what and why you do what you do.  You get to communicate that youth group and church are part of your family rhythm.  When they move out and pay their own bills and raise a family of their own, they can make whatever decisions they want.  If there is some pushback, please help your son or daughter find a way to make youth group and church a win.  This is most important for you middle school parents.  By the time your child is in 8th grade, habits are formed, relationships are made or not made, and it becomes next to impossible for your child to engage if youth group has not been a natural part of their life and rhythm.  There is not "when school starts," "next year," "when they get into high school."  This is the summer to help your kid engage!

5) Every day this summer ooze hugs and kisses on your kid.  They will externally hate it!!  But in their heart, physical touch and affirmation are the number one need of our souls and your kids aren't any different.  Love them, hug them, kiss them!!!

Ok, that is it.  My top 5 ways to help your summer be a win for you, your family, and your child's faith development.  Don't forget that all youth group happens on Wednesday night's at the Kroner's home from 5:30-7:30.  Bring $5 for dinner!  Be sure to check out our summer calendar on our church's blog for all the latest and greatest options to keep your kids connected and not bored.

I am praying for you and for your kids!!!

Have a great summer! Keep in touch! Don't ever change :)

bk

 

Helping your kids thrive at youth group

shutterstock_76832221Dear Parents, It is hard to believe that summer is rapidly ending and just as fast the ramp up to school, sports, and other activities. If your family is anything like mine, then you probably feel pretty frazzled and wondering what happened to the summer. All of the intentional things we wanted to do as a family seemed to got lost in the shuffle of vacations, travel, and activities with friends. It seems that every season brings with it its own unique challenges as we try to grow in our love and trust of Jesus.

But thankfully with the change of seasons comes an other gracious opportunity for a fresh start, and many of us need another reboot. For our family we are already locking down some of the extra activities, rediscovering family dinners, and jumping back in to the community and life of the church.

As you begin to think about the transitions ahead for your child and all the intentional work you are about to do in the next two weeks to get them set up for a successful school year I wanted to leave you with a thought.

It is obvious that you value school being a success for your child. You go clothes shopping so they will survive socially and because they are growing up and maturing and need clothes that will allow their outside lives to match their inside lives. You will be buying new school supplies because academics is important an a good start means good grades, and good grades opens all sorts of doors for the future.

And for you parents who have children entering middle school or high school for the first time, you will go to the campus early, scope it out, find the classrooms so your child will feel comfortable with their new surrounding.

We work really hard to make our children’s academic and social careers a success. We spend countless hours being anxious about their success and failures in these areas. As I look in the mirror, I need to be once again reminded that above their social success, their sporting success and even their academic success needs to be their success in faith.

Unlike those other areas, our children will get absolutely zero help and support from the people around them at school. And it is for this reason that I, as a parent, and you as a parent, must be just as much if not more proactive in helping our children find success in our community of faith here at MCC and in their personal walk with Jesus.

We can not be passive or think others will carry the ball for us. It is on us as parents if our kids are going to land at MCC and land in the student ministry.

Think of the strategy you use when your child gets a teacher they don’t like or the push back you get when they don’t want to wake up for school. Those complaints don’t matter because school is a non-negotiable.  Imagine the different kind of conversations you would be having with your children, the different battles you would have, the conversations that you would no longer entertain.  Imagine if your child's spiritual development and community were a non-negotiable.

If the parents of MCC had this mindset for our student ministry program we would have a base of 45 middle schoolers and 60 high schoolers. That is not even counting friends and new people. Think of the impact we can have for Christ in the lives of your child and their friends if we really get after it this fall!

Ok, enough preaching :) We have a month until fall kick off. Let’s get our heads n the game and encourage each other towards a life in Christ that is the smell of perfume to our kids and to this world.

Blessings!

An easy way to score huge points with parents!

orange

I started youth ministry back when mailing flyers with clip art out of a book was the best and most effective way to communicate with parents.  As I grew in skills I began to make calendars on Microsoft Publisher and would occasionally send out letters to parents to promote special events like a trip to Mexico or a parent meeting. Because this was the time that formed my communication world view, I came late to embracing all the technology available to me to communicate to parents and to students.  This is my excuse.  What is yours?

I am shocked at how many of my youth worker friends do not have regular communication with parents.  In an age of technology, email, databases, etc, communicating regularly with parents is the number one way to score big points for you and your ministry.

Perception is Reality

The biggest gripe I hear from parents is that they don’t know what is going on.  As a youth worker who is a great planner, this excuse chafed on me big time.  All the information for events would be in the bulletin, on the quarterly calendar, on the website, and sent home on flyers.  But with all of these outlets, parents still managed to miss what was going on in our ministry and the details about events.   And the biggest bummer is that perception is reality.  So if it was perceived that the information was unclear, then it was.

How parents perceive your organizational and communication skills is the true test of how you are doing in these two categories.  We cannot be scared of this feedback.  Instead, we must embrace it and address it.  Here is how my team did it.

Email Parents Once A Week

Like I said at the start, this is easy.  It is not rocket science  If you already do this, then good job, quit reading, and check out one of my fellow Orange bloggers.  If you aren’t, SHAME ON YOU!!  This is a must, and a huge win for you and your ministry.

In our weekly emails we :

·      Get to share the vision and purpose of our group.

·      Encourage parents to love their kids.

·      Encourage parents to pray for me and for our ministry.

·      Empower parents to take away excuses for their kids to miss youth group or events.

·      Share resources that they may find helpful.

·      Share stories of how God is at work in our ministry.

·      Communicate upcoming lessons for both follow-up and open dialogue in case it gets a little spicy.

·      Highlight upcoming events and communicate details.

·      Remind parents of RSVP dates and links so they can sign up right there on the spot.

·      Provide an easy way for parents to get a hold of me, because my email is always in their inbox somewhere.

·      Give the impression that I am easily accessible.

·      Become a weekly reminder that their church has a youth pastor and a youth program that is worthy of their consideration.

Logistically, this can be a challenge.  This is how we did it:

We spent a lot of hours contacting every parent in our youth ministry’s database and added a field for parents’ email.  This is a long and awful task.  But once this is done, the maintenance is super easy.

Now, whenever a new person comes to youth group we collect their contact information.  But we added a step where we mail home a letter to their parents explaining what their kid showed up at, explaining our youth ministry, who I am, and how to contact me.  We also invite the parents to share their contact information with us so they can stay in the loop with our weekly emails.

We have been going at this strong for several years now and the response has been amazing.  I have not heard one complaint about communication or about the lack of information regarding an event.  Parents can simply look in their inbox to find everything they need to know.  The only down side is that all of our parents know I am a horrible speller and have no sense of grammar.  (Just like my fellow blog readers.)  And like I said before, if you already send out these emails, you should have stopped reading 300 words ago.

Why is this post part of Orange week?

The Orange philosophy has solidified my conviction that parents must be partners in student ministry.  I have spent many years being scared and intimidated by parents.  Truthfully, I still am.  But by keeping them in the loop, respecting their rightful place in the lives of their own kids, and inviting a partnership with them has opened up conversation, deepened trust, and made for some of the most fruitful seasons of ministry ever.

If you are unfamiliar with Orange, I would encourage you to check it out.  They are an amazing resource for youth workers and for families.  I can not wait to get out to Atlanta for the annual convention.  I hope you consider coming along.   Sign up this week and save some money.  No matter if you are an Orange Kool-Aid drinker like me or not, communicating with parents is a no-brainer and a must.

This is how a technological newbie does his communication.  How do you do it?  What templates, software or programs do you use?

featured friend friday: phil steiner

It is Friday, and I have the pleasure of sharing with you a blog post from one of my best friends in ministry.  Phil and I have served in the same community in the the Bay Area as fellow youth workers, running partners, neighbors, and friends.  Not only is Phil a gifted youth worker, he is also gutsy.  He has taken a huge leap of faith to start up a service oriented non-profit which uses justice and service as a touchpoint with our culture to share the love of Jesus with those inside and outside the church.  Enjoy his post, and please take a look at his website to get a taste of this unique ministry. We are not as important as we think we are!

3-4 hours a week.  On average that is how much time we spend with students in our ministry.  That is roughly 2% of a student’s life per week.  Granted, some weeks are more and some weeks are less.  Sure, we attend awesome events with students and have various appointments with students.  But what sort of influence happens in a teenagers’ life with, at best, 4 hours of contact a week?

When I first began working with teenagers I spent countless hours with many students, youth group meetings, appointments, games, band concerts, you name it I was there. Yet how many deep meaningful conversations did I have during the week with students?  Looking back, not as many as I thought I did.  Over the course of the past few months I have really started evaluating my ministry.  I think we all know that statistically parents are the most influential people in a student’s life- not us youth leaders.  Yet as I look back at my 15 years of ministry how many meetings did I have with parents to encourage, provide resources or just listen to them?  How have I supported the most influential people in a student’s life?  I can honestly say I have for the most part failed in this area.

This past year I have tried to be proactive in supporting, encouraging and resourcing the parents of the students I work with.

Here are a few ideas that I am applying:

  • Monthly parent gatherings – We meet the first Wednesday of every month while the students are having their meeting.  The purpose-a time for parents to share their struggles, success and ideas with each other on various topics.  Each month I suggest a topic for discussion.  (i.e. Boundaries with Social Media, pace of life, dating/sex, discipline).  My role is facilitator, listener and resourcer.
  • Bi-monthly to weekly communications – These range from the youth calendar to what we are discussing in our meetings.  Sometimes I offer questions for parents to ask their students about what we are talking about so they are better informed.
  • Offer Resources – I have learned that many parents are not aware of the great resources that are available to them.  I connect them with different resources from parenting to spiritual disciplines.
  • Be humble – I communicate with the parents that I do not have all the answers nor do I pretend that I do.  I am understanding that my role in their students life is another voice, but not the dominate voice.  I've found that when I put myself in this humble position I learn much more and I gain more credibility with the parents.

Ephesians 4:11-12 – Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelist and the pastors and teachers.  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church the body of Christ.

As a parent of a 4 and a 6 year old I understand more fully now the responsibility I have in raising my children.  I know that I need all the help, equipping, I can get.  I believe that I’m not the only one.   We need to help, encourage, listen and equip our parents.

What do you do to partner, encourage, resource the parents of your youth?

Mindy’s and mine journey together has taken us many different places over the past 11 years and we never dreamed we would be living in California with two beautiful children Caleb and Chloe. After we got married in 1998 we worked together leading a Campus Life program in Angola, Indiana. We had opportunities to co-lead trips to inner city of Washington DC, the hills of Kentucky and Nicaragua.

We have always had a heart for leading people on service trips to care for and love others. We have seen how experiences like these have changed how people view life and God. People have grown closer in their relationship with him Jesus and have seen how their lives can change things for the better. Now God has opened a door for us to focus our attention on leading students and adults into experiences that we hope God will use to form their hearts.  You can learn more about our ministry at our website: be2live.org.