Editor’s note: This summer, we will be highlighting success stories from the field. Let’s share our stories of what works to inspire each other to great things in faith formation ministries! Today, Megan Arteaga tells us about Parent-Teen Date Night in youth ministry.
As youth ministers, we want more parental involvement. We want more parents as adult leaders; we want more parents driving carpools; we want more parents as chaperones; heck, we’d be happy with more parents at Sunday Mass!
After a couple of conversations with my fellow youth ministers about our teens’ parents that ended with, “If we could just get them to see what goes on around here…,” I decided to plan a high school ministry night that would do just that. We would develop a session to show the parents what their teens do on any given Sunday evening at our parish.
But how would I get them in the door?
Should we bill a parents-only night (for example: “Escape from the house and experience a youth night for adults!”)? Should we split up the evening and have parents in one room, teens in another, and run parallel sessions (for example: “Come see what your youth are working on!”)? Or should we just go whole hog and bring everyone, youth and parents, together in one room for a super session in which they’d do everything together?
The opportunity for family bonding won out—we’d plan an evening for the parents and teens to come together, where they’d do all the activities for the session (icebreakers, discussions, Scripture studies, whatever) with each other, and we’d call it a “Parent-Teen Date Night.” Four words to sum up who should come, how much fun they’ll have, and that they’ll do it all together.
We chose to extend a personal invitation by e-mail to both the teens and the parents. One of the lines read: “This PTDN (Parent-Teen Date Night) is a great chance to spend some quality time doing normal youth ministry stuff, but with your parents! So make sure you grab your date (any parent works), prep for prayer, and get ready to spend some time with Christ!”
What hooked the parents was the fun-sounding evening in a no-pressure atmosphere that gave them a chance to pray together with their teens and talk honestly about “the joys and challenges of family life” (another line from the invite e-mail). We gave them the forum for an experience of faith and deep communication with their teens that they really wanted, but maybe weren’t sure they had the tools to tackle by themselves.
The Evening’s Activities
It was great. Since it was planned for February, our theme was “Real Love,” and all our activities got our families to dive deeper into what that means for a Catholic family. We had a poster at the door with a big heart and the question, “What is Real Love?” written on top, where they could share and read the group’s collective wisdom and experience on the topic. We played a version of “The Newlywed Game” as our icebreaker, in which the teens and parents would determine how well they knew (or didn’t know) each other, with questions like, “What is your teen’s/parent’s favorite TV show?” or, “What would your teen/parent say is the best family vacation ever?”
We led families in a modified version of lectio divina, which many of them had never done before, featuring the First Corinthians section on love (1 Cor. 13:1–13). They discussed in small groups when they’d seen this kind of love in action and how loving could bring someone closer to Christ.
My favorite part of the evening was the “Five Things” activity. We split up the teens and parents, and they were given a few minutes to write down “five things that drive me crazy about my teen/parent.” Then the parents shared with the other parents what they’d written, and the teens with the teens. They all got a chance to share their (often humorous) challenges with someone who understood exactly what they were going through! Then we again paired up the parents and teens, and they discussed with each other what they’d written. It was a good airing out of some concerns in a safe space, with a new understanding of what love is.
For the next half of the Five Things activity, they split up again into parent groups and teen groups to write down “five things I really appreciate about my teen/parent.” This was the best part; watching parents share what they really enjoyed about their kids and watching the teens be honest with their friends about how much they loved their parents was really rewarding. When the time came for the parents and teens to join together to share, there was no shortage of astonished smiles and even a few tears as teens heard their parents affirm them in five concrete ways, and as parents realized that their teens really did pay attention to them and looked to them as role models.
We ended the evening with a guided meditation—another new activity for almost everyone present—about the abundance of God’s love, which led into our closing prayer for the evening.
The evening had followed a typical ministry night outline—icebreaker game, Scripture study, an activity that tied it together, and closing prayer—but it seemed to have been a little more meaningful to everyone who was there. Between 90 and 100 people attended, including both parents and teens—remarkable for a program of our size. Over half of the kids in the program came, when we usually have 10 to 15 for an optional event.
After Parent-Teen Date Night
The following Monday, I found no shortage of e-mails from parents, and even a couple from my teens, who were so thankful to have had the chance to really connect with each other. One of the dads said he got more communication out of his son over that hour and a half than he normally did in three months!
It was so rewarding to have stumbled across a way not only to get the parents in the door to see what our youth ministry program is like, but also to see them grow in their faith with their kids, and for the teens to see and hear their parents giving positive attention to their own faith journeys. I definitely can’t take credit for it—there was some serious Holy Spirit action motivating Parent-Teen Date Night, from planning it to the night itself.
And you know what? We even saw some familiar faces at Mass the next weekend.