“It’s time for camp!”

“It’s time for camp!”

These four words are the highlight of our family’s year every summer. I have had the privilege of serving as a camp leader at Camp Bird in Crivitz, Wis., for many years. Camp Bird is a weeklong Christian youth camp for kids in fifth to eighth grade. This year my son Josh will be in his last year as a camper and my daughter Kayla will be in her third year as a camp counselor. For nearly 30 years my wife and I have been volunteering at Camp Bird. We have seen kids create memories and friendships that last a lifetime.

We are blessed to have a great network of Christian youth camps in our synod. As thousands of families prepare for their children’s camp experiences, this question comes to mind: How can parents help prepare their kids for a youth camp experience so their kids can have a terrific time? Here are a few things I have noticed over the years as I have interacted with families and seen some excellent examples of encouragement:

• Go with a friend—This is perhaps one of the best ways to help kids feel comfortable with a new camp experience. Knowing just one other person can help them not feel alone and make it easier to meet others.
• Know the camp—It’s easy to be afraid of what is unknown or unfamiliar. Review the camp website or printed materials with your child. Look at the pictures and videos. Check out the daily schedule. Review information on the staff. Find out what to pack, etc.
• Talk to others—Talk to parents and kids who have been at the summer camp in the past to find out what their experience was like and what to expect.
• Meet the staff—Before you leave the camp at drop-off time, introduce yourself and your child to some of the staff. This can not only help you feel more comfortable leaving your child with others, but it can also help the child know exactly who he can go to if he has questions.
• Focus on the experiences your child can have—Talk about all the fun experiences the camp has to offer! Swimming, kayaking, basketball, hiking, ropes courses, campfires, archery, kickball, singing, crafts, and all the other activities.
• “But what about . . .” —Acknowledge the things that may be concerns for your child and reassure him that you will find answers to the “what about” questions. Your child may be worried if he has special dietary needs, medications, or other concerns. It’s helpful to get specific answers so your child knows what to expect.
• Communicate—It is helpful to have boundaries and expectations set regarding communication with your child while at camp. There may be limits on the ability to communicate with phones, but maybe cards, letters, postcards can be used. Find out the recommended communication procedures and let your child know how you will use them.
• Stuff—What’s one of the simplest ways to make sure your child has a great time? Make sure she packs the right things. Get a supply list from the camp and go through it with your child. Packing itself can be a fun experience, but make sure she has the essentials like mosquito spray and sunblock.
• Food—What’s top on the list of the best parts of a camp experience? The food! What’s on the menu at camp? I remember one child who came to camp worried about what he would make himself to eat! Not too many camps I know would ever expect a fifth-grader to make his own meals! He was pretty excited to hear the meals would be all prepared for him. But this was a concern that he never expressed to anyone until arrival.

Parents, these are just a few ways to help your children prepare for their summer camp experiences. Separation from our kids can not only be anxiety-provoking for our kids but also for us as well. Seeing them prepared and excited can help alleviate some of our anxiety. You also might want to ask the camp if there will be Facebook posts or other updates so you can see how things are going at the camp.

Take advantage of the opportunity to see your child enjoy a Christian summer youth camp. Consider using some of the techniques above to help her prepare for her time away as she expands her experiences with new activities and meets new friends. Use this time of preparation to communicate with your child and be understanding, encouraging, and reassuring.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.

Preparing for summer camp

I love camp! When I was a kid I went to soccer camp and basketball camp and Camp Phillip, a Christian camp in Wautoma, Wis. My love for Camp Phillip grew as I got older. I became part of the junior staff (high school volunteers) and then paid staff. It then moved into my full-time job when I graduated college. As a camp counselor, I saw hundreds of children get dropped off at camp—some for the first time and some who kept returning.

As familiar as I am with camp life, it was a crazy different perspective to be the one dropping off her child. As a mom, I have been dropping off my children at camp for the past ten years. Every year comes with excitement and anxiousness. How do I prepare myself? How do I prepare my child? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Let him help pack. Go through the list so you don’t forget anything. And let him pack it so he knows where everything is.
  2. Make writing to you easy. Pack paper and self-addressed stamped envelopes. That way it is easy for her to write to you if she would like to. Also know that she might be having way too much fun to write, so give her permission not to write. After all, we want our children to focus on where they are and enjoy that!
  3. Write a letter to him. I’ll be honest, I always think about this one too late. But maybe this can help you. Write him a letter and send it a day or two before camp starts. That way he gets a letter right away (see point #5 when writing).
  4. DON’T LINGER! When you drop her off, introduce yourself and your child to the counselor. Help her get situated (make her bed, etc.), give her a hug, and go.
  5. Leave your child with confidence. As a counselor I could pick out the kids who would probably be homesick.

Why? Because their parents gave them permission to be homesick by saying things like, “If you get sad, you can call me” or “I am going to miss you soooo much!” or “I can’t wait until I see you on Saturday!” Instead say, “You are going to have such a good time” or “I can’t wait to hear all about the fun you’re going to have this week.” Put the focus on why they are there instead of “missing” them, even though you are going to miss them. Cry after you are gone.

I truly believe in the camping ministry. It allows children to be who they are. It gives them the opportunity to see young adults model loving Jesus and loving others, including your child. It also gives your child a small piece of independence. After all, our goal as parents is to teach our children how to fly.

Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, currently have six children in their clan ranging in age from 10 to 18 as well as their crazy dog.

Helping your child navigate the dating scene

I remember when my oldest son went on his first date as a high school freshman. It was hardly the stuff of romantic legend. Since neither he nor his girlfriend could yet drive, their “date” consisted of sitting in a corner booth at Culver’s while I parked myself in a booth nearby and tried to be inconspicuous. I think the date may have ended with an awkward handshake. If only dating could remain this innocent! But as our teens get older and their relationships become more serious, what’s a parent’s role as a child dates? How much—or how little—do we get involved?

From the outset, be very clear about dating parameters. Ask where, when, and what questions. Give firm expectations about rules and curfews, and enforce consequences when rules are broken.

Meet your child’s date, and connect with his or her parents, if possible. Even if you can’t meet in person, connect via phone call or text and communicate often. It’s very important for both sets of parents to be a “team” when it comes to dating expectations and guidelines.

Have THE TALK with your child—again. Sorry, I know it will be cringe-worthy and awkward, but your child needs to learn about sex from you, not the Internet or peers. Look at what God says about purity in relationships (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), and read together Galatians 2:20 to remind your teen that Christ lives in him. Discuss the very real consequences of a sexual relationship outside of marriage—everything from STDs to pregnancy to emotional and spiritual impacts.

Be your child’s “brain.” It’s a scientific fact that the brain isn’t fully wired until about age 25. So . . . the developing teen brain + raging hormones = the opportunity for some very poor choices. Parents can help be their child’s surrogate brain during the teen years. Although teens have to learn to make their own choices and understand the consequences of their actions, we can help guide them through the dating minefield.

Model healthy and loving male/female relationships in your home. Dads, cherish your wife in front of your daughters. Moms, hold your sons accountable by teaching them to respect you and respect women. Also talk about what is and is not acceptable in a dating relationship. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are NEVER OK. If your child is uncomfortable or injured in a relationship, teach him to speak up.

Be realistic about your teen’s dating journey. Are you married to the first person you dated? It happens, but it’s not likely. Keep in mind that dating for our teens is about exploring who they are and what they are looking for in a future spouse. Don’t push too hard or encourage your child’s dating relationship to be more serious than it should, yet don’t be so hands-off that you are unaware of what is happening.

Pray continually. I recently told a friend, “I will pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” She gently corrected me, “No, it’s the most you can do.” She’s right. We forget how powerful and effective prayer is. Bring your child’s dating relationship to God in prayer. Ask him to help your child remain pure, make wise choices, and stay safe. Also pray for a God-fearing spouse for your child someday, if they choose to marry. Finally, pray for patience and understanding and to be able to lovingly keep the lines of communication open with your teen as he navigates the world of dating.

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.

One dad’s guide to surviving the dating years

I’m a parent of 2 boys and 2 girls ages 15 to 22. I have a front row seat to view the corn maze called courting. I admit to thoughts of electronic surveillance, homing devices, and background checks. Making it more complicated is that the way my kids date is as unique as they are. They open up to my wife and me in different ways and to varying degrees.

Along the way, I have learned a few things:

  • First crushes are an innocent way of saying, “I like you and want to spend time with you.” Young teens are practicing their dating legs. They are learning social skills. The early years are building the skills they need for future and more serious relationships.
  • You can never prevent them from getting hurt. Sometimes a parent sees and offers caution such as, “Does the person to whom you’re giving your heart make you a better person or bring you down? Liking someone is one thing, but if he makes you feel worse about yourself, ditch him. I don’t care how good-looking he is.” Yet they still get hurt . . . and your heart breaks when your child’s heart breaks.
  • Take their feelings seriously. I never joke or make light of their feelings. I may view it as puppy love. But when seen through the lens of a teenager, those feelings of the moment are under a magnifying glass. They are huge and all-consuming. Validate that their feelings are real . . . and realize that they may change at any moment.

I’m still learning:

  • To know when to quit talking so I can be a better listener. A good listener will be able to repeat everything back. A deep listener internalizes it, mulls it around, and empathizes with a child. A note of caution—being a listener doesn’t qualify you as their “relationship fixer.” Parents can’t fix relationships. I may want to offer advice on every conversation point. But more important than getting my point across is allowing them to share. Which means your tongue may bleed from biting it.
  • Not to be afraid to ask the hard questions: “Does your boyfriend drink?” “Are you getting in the car with him?” “Will there be parents supervising that party?”

Sometimes, a boyfriend/girlfriend can be controlling, like when you see a child with ONLY this one person and no longer with his friends. But differentiate between a red flag and a child who is just private. There’s a difference between hiding things and not wanting to talk about things.

Finally, I believe that the best way to model dating for your children is to treat your spouse well. It’s like the map that helps them through that corn maze. . . .

Donn Dobberstein and his wife, Beth, have four children ranging in age from 15 to 22.

What’s a parent’s role in dating?

Ah, the halcyon days of dating! The excitement, the romance, the mystery! Will he call? Does she like me? But now, you are the parent, and the word “dating” seems more worrisome than wonderful. What is your role as a parent in Christian courtship?

Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17): God would have us pray about everything. Certainly early and often prayers for our child and his or her future spouse and all things dating fall under this category.

Teach (Proverbs 22:6): Godly conversations about the blessings of dating, marriage, and sex should also start early and continue age appropriately as your child matures. Not entirely comfortable with these conversations? Christian books to the rescue! Always remind your child that he or she is a special and loved child of God—single, dating, or married.

Model (1 Corinthians 13): Actions speak louder than words! Pray that God gives you the strength to make your marriage a Christian model of sacrificial love. Show your child that your marriage is a priority and a blessing. Fathers, show respect to your wives and daughters. Mothers, encourage your husbands and sons in their Christian roles.

Advise (Psalm 119:105): As dating age approaches (in our family rules, that’s approximately age 16, because that seemed like a good age, and it’s no fun to have your parents drive you on dates), look for moments like car rides or walking the dog that are good talking and listening times. You can regale them with stories of your own courtship and marriage but also remind them that while dating can be fun, the ultimate purpose is to look for a husband or wife, and that is serious business. Most importantly, continue to point them to God’s Word. How about a Saturday coffee outing that includes a Bible study with your child, looking at passages on God’s love for us, our love for God and others, friendship, marriage, God’s timing, temptation, true beauty, forgiveness, what to look for in a marriage partner, how to handle a break up?

Host (1 Peter 4:8,9): As dating age approaches, plan gatherings for your child’s class—boys and girls—at your home. Encourage your son or daughter to have their boyfriend or girlfriend over for game nights, baking, movies, and devotions. We call this “family dating.” It’s a cheap date, but it’s also a way for the boyfriend/girlfriend to get to know you, the other siblings, the dog (a true test!), and the Christian values your family holds dear.

Dating. Ever since God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” in Genesis 2:18, men and women have been seeking the perfect partner. Welcome to this exciting/scary/exhilarating/wonderful phase of parenting! God’s blessings as you pray, teach, model, advise, and host your dating child of God, relying on God’s good guidance and timing.

Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 23 to 14.