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The bliss of summer is upon us. School is out, and students have been set loose for the long-awaited summer. For a long, rainy spring (at least around here), they’ve been dreaming of more time with friends, more free time, and probably more sleep. Some students are working, and some are counting down the days until their first day of college.
The beauty of summer is that it gives students some of the reins in making decisions about how to structure their time. This is powerful and nerve-wracking for them at once.
In the Roots Student Ministries, we have seen students have a blast during their summer break. We have also seen students go through their summers with unanswered questions, and unfortunately end up with more negative than positive stories.
The tension here is that students are excited for summer and the promise it holds, but they have questions that need to be answered. Some students might actually ask these questions outright. But many students don’t—they often don’t realize on a conscious level that they have these questions, but they do. The same questions have surfaced time and time again—sometimes verbatim, and sometimes obliquely—in the many conversations that we have with students leading up to and during the summer.
Here is a list of questions that we encourage you to answer for your student:
1. What are my boundaries?
Every student, even if he or she never admits it, desires boundaries. Students want the freedom to do what they want to do, but they desperately need guidance about how much freedom they have. When they don’t know their boundaries, they’re forced to test them, which results in a lot of unpredictability and angst at home. Providing students with boundaries is critical, and as they grow and earn trust, their boundaries can loosen.
2. What are we going to do as a family?
One of the questions I used to ask my mom almost every night in the summer was, “What are we doing tomorrow?” When she had an answer for this question, it left me feeling confident and secure going into the next day. Not every student I know asks his or her mom this question. But it reveals that students do want to know what the family schedule is during the summer, at least as much as it’s possible. Many want to know so they can plan time with their friends or other activities. The encouraging thing is that they ask because they truly do want family time.
We encourage parents to plan family time, and then fight to keep it. Ask your student what he or she would like to do as a family this summer. If your student is concerned about time spent away from friends, you can have your student invite friends along from time to time.
3. Can I please sleep more?
This one always cracks me up, maybe because I definitely asked that question, especially in the summers during middle school. Students have definitely earned some rest after the forced march of the school year. But we observe that students who make a summer habit of sleeping until noon and later not only appear lethargic but are noticeably less engaged in anything during the summer. Granted, sometimes knowing you can sleep until 1 p.m. is freeing the night before! But our experience with students suggests that those who wake up at an early (or at least reasonable) hour in the morning are more productive and more engaged over the summer.
4. Can I go to youth group?
This is not a shameless plug. In real conversations that I’ve had with real students, they talk about asking their parents this question. It’s one that they do ask outright! For some reason, the response they get in the summer is sometimes different from the one they get during the school year. Sometimes parents choose not to take their students to youth group over the summer. We don’t know every family’s circumstances, but summer is an awesome time for students to connect with friends who also want to know Jesus, and to grow deeper spiritual roots. Barring any family conflicts or things that pop up, I highly encourage students to check out Roots during the summer, and I also encourage parents to try and make that happen.
5. How am I doing?
No matter a student’s age and stage, he or she is wondering, am I okay? Summer presents an incredible time for students to get some solid one-on-one time with parents and youth leaders. During this time the best question you as a parent or youth leader can answer for students is, “How am I doing?” This is one of those questions that students aren't likely to articulate, but they are thinking it. They need someone to encourage and lead them. This is not rocket science. Give them some reassurance that’s relevant to wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Keep it up throughout the summer, and they’ll begin to open up to you more, and your conversations with them in the fall and winter will be deeper.
Every summer I am blown away at the work that God does in the lives of students. Students take steps forward in their personal growth and make deeper connections with their friends. Also, some students hit some pretty hard walls in their friendships and in their relationship with God, and learn how to work through them.
As a parent or youth leader, you have an opportunity to lead your students by answering questions that they may not know they have. In doing so, you can give them a summer that is deep and not just wide.
What tips could you offer as a parent or youth leader about answering these questions for students? What has worked and not worked in the past regarding boundaries? How have you spent family time with your middle schooler or high schooler? Let us know in the comments below! And join us at Roots for a summer of fun! Visit the Student Ministry page for more information.