6 Strategies for Connecting Parents to Your Big Events



by Jen Bradbury

Part of the “magic” of mission trips and events like the 30 Hour Famine is that they take place outside of the normal context of students’ lives. Often, they take place in a different location, away from teens’ family and friends. In so doing, they force teens to step outside their comfort zones, take risks, and in the process, learn to depend on God in new ways.

While we want teens to encounter God and learn how to depend more fully on him, there’s an inherent problem in this event “magic”: It usually doesn’t involve parents. Worse still, many parents cannot understand these spiritually formative events because they have never experienced them. As a result, even well-intentioned, caring parents can find it difficult to understand what happened during such an event.

Knowing this, here are six strategies to help bridge the gap that big events like mission trips and the Famine often create between teens and their parents.

1. Work to increase parents’ knowledge quotients before your event. Suggest books to read or movies to watch that relate to what you’re learning and doing. For mission trips, also suggest books and movies specifically related to where you’re going.

2. A week or so BEFORE your event, send parents of the participants a detailed letter. In it, explain what you’ll do during the event. Then share stories that illustrate the impact such events typically have on students. Explain what they can expect from their child after returning from the event. Include things like fatigue, heightened emotions, and lengthy silence as teens process their experience. Knowing what to expect from their teens after the event will help parents deal with the thoughts and emotions that follow.

3. Equip parents with questions. While some teens will want to give parents a detailed account of your event, others will not. To help parents of less talkative teenagers, provide them with a detailed schedule or itinerary as well as a list of questions they can ask teens.

Such questions might include:

  • What gave you joy?
  • What made you angry?
  • What confused you?
  • What injustices did you encounter?
  • Who’s one interesting person you met?
  • Who or what most impacted you?
  • What made you think?
  • What stretched you?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • When did you get annoyed?
  • When were you thankful?
  • What was your favorite day or part of the event? Why?
  • When did you encounter Jesus?
  • What’s one thing you want to do or change as a result of the experience you just had?

Encourage parents to ask teens these questions over time rather than in one sitting.

4. Share pictures. Utilize your ministry’s social media accounts to post pictures from your trip or event in real-time. Blog your way through mission trips. Seeing pictures and reading first-hand accounts of people’s experience during your event will help even those who weren’t present to relate to and understand it.

5. Host an informal gathering for parents after the event. Prior to our first international mission trip, a family offered to host a BBQ for our team the day after we returned. I jumped at the opportunity. Less than 24 hours after returning from Rwanda, our team – and their parents – gathered together. Teens hung out in their friend’s basement. Meanwhile, parents sat outside and talked. For nearly two hours, they asked the adult leaders and I questions about our experience. Doing so gave us the opportunity to talk about our trip, share our experience with parents, and relieve some of the pressure that builds between parents who want desperately to hear about their teen’s experience and teens who aren’t yet ready (or aren’t yet able) to put their experience into words for someone who didn’t experience it firsthand.

6. Host a celebration with a formal program for parents, friends, and parishioners. During the program, invite each participant to share about one aspect of the event. Also ask each participant to share how they encountered God during your event. End with a Q&A. Doing so will help parents better understand what transpired during your event and give them the ability to continue to ask good questions to help teens further process their experience.

Taking time to help bridge the gap that big events often create between teens and their parents is a worthwhile endeavor that will help translate the “magic” of such experiences into long-term faith formation.