Summer is a great time for our kids to let down and create memorable experiences with new friends, especially if they are attending our awesome middle school and high school camps!
At these camps, we work to help middle schoolers and high schoolers develop a personal relationship with God and to build lifelong friendships. It’s a memorable and life-changing experience for many kids, and even though as a parent you won’t be at the camp yourself, you actually play a very important role in helping your teen make the most of the experience.
So as a parent, how can you prepare your middle schooler or teen for their camp experience? Here are 5 helpful hints that will help your student have the best camp experience possible!
1. Focus on your own friendships
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25
My husband and I have been involved in teen and middle school camps for many years – as counselors, speakers, and later as directors of the camps. Every year, students have shared with me that the most memorable part of camp for them was the relationships they built.
As parents, one of the best ways we can help prepare our middle schooler or teen for a spiritual camp experience is to model for them how to build relationships! Spend time talking with other parents whose kids have gone to camp before. Ask lots of questions about what helped them prepare their student for camp.
Work with other parents to set up times for your camper and their potential camp roommates to hang out before camp! Even if you don’t know yet officially who their roommates will be, set up some fun hang out times with other kids who are going. This is a great way to have them familiarize themselves with a few established relationships before camp, which can make the experience a little easier – especially for first-time campers!
One of the main relationships to establish before camp is with the camp counselor. Usually, a few weeks before camp, you will be notified who your child’s counselor will be. Introduce yourself and get to know them. Introduce your teen to the counselor at a church service to help your child get familiar with them. Getting a chance to meet the counselor ahead of time allows your child to know this is someone they will be able to confide in at camp.
2. Interested conversations
Getting information from someone can be like getting water from a deep well. If you are smart, you will draw it out.Proverbs 20:5 ERV
The Bible teaches us that people’s hearts are like deep wells of water; it’s not always easy to draw out information and emotions from another person. As parents “if we are smart” (as the Scripture says) we will draw that information out!
This can be a challenge because our middle schoolers and teens often communicate to us that they really don’t want to tell us anything of depth. As a mom of a middle schooler myself, I can definitely feel this battle. But the truth is, every middle schooler or teen has things buried deep inside their heart. Taking time at home to practice having their hearts and emotions drawn out prepares them for small group settings at camp when they will have time to talk with their peers about what is going on inside.
I’ve heard a lot of campers share that these chances to talk are some of the most impactful times at camp. Help your teen practice being open by spending some special relaxed time with them. Take them out to breakfast, take a walk, or talk about how you are doing at dinnertime. Practicing at home will make your child’s camp experience much better.
3. Engage disinterested campers
Sometimes, there are cases where middle schoolers and teens are disinterested in God. Also, some teens appear disinterested when they’re really not. As a parent, what do you do in this situation? I surveyed some former campers who were disinterested in God before they went to camp. They shared that what helped them most was when their parents asked questions like:
- What do you think you want to get out of camp?
- What thoughts do you have about God?
- Which friends are you looking forward to hanging out with?
- What are different activities you might be interested in (drawing out a strength they might showcase at camp)?
You can share these thoughts with your teen’s counselor before camp. Knowing your teen’s heart and thoughts can help their counselor know what questions to ask.
4. Prepare campers with special needs
No, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually very important. And the parts that we think are not worth very much are the parts we give the most care to. And we give special care to the parts of the body that we don’t want to show. The more beautiful parts don’t need this special care. But God put the body together and gave more honor to the parts that need it.1 Corinthians 12:22-24
My son has ADD, and he can often feel “weaker” or less important than his peers. One of the attributes that I love about this camp is that these kids are treated with special care. Their weaknesses are turned into strengths through inclusion.
As a parent, here are a few things you can do to prepare your camper if they have special needs:
- Get advice from other parents whose kids have special needs and how they’ve prepared their camper. Take time to consider what would be most beneficial for your camper. Sometimes as parents of kids with special needs we want to “keep up” and we don’t want our kids to miss out on anything. In my experience in running these camps, the kids that I have seen do the best are those whose parents spent time before camp talking about boundaries that will allow their camper to have the best, most tailored experience for them – based on their specific needs. Some campers may do better not staying the night at camp and only coming for day trips. Other campers may need their parents to be nearby during the camp. Or, they may need a one-on-one buddy to be with them during camp to help with transitions and handling new situations.
- Communicate with your camper and talk through a game plan that will allow your camper to communicate their needs, their thresholds, and their limits.
- Communicate with camp staff if your camper needs a “buddy” at camp. You can also talk through this with your camper so he or she knows that there is someone looking out for them if they need a little extra help during the camp.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.Luke 18:1
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.Romans 8:26
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:6
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.Colossians 4:2
…pray continually…1 Thessalonians 5:17
We cannot underestimate the power of prayer. Parents who don’t pray enough will be filled with anxiety, and anxious parents will have a hard time helping their kids relax. Spend time praying for your middle schooler or teen. Initiate prayer with them. Pray about what they want to get out of the camp. Encourage them to pray about their friendships. As we pray God moves our kids’ hearts. If they will pray about anything, DO IT!
Spend time praying for your middle schooler or teen. Initiate prayer with them. Pray about what they want to get out of the camp. Encourage them to pray about their friendships. As we pray God moves our kids’ hearts. If they will pray about anything, DO IT!
I hope these hints have been helpful as you prepare your middle schooler or teen for camp. We look forward to seeing your campers at this year’s middle school and teen camps!