This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Parenting Teens magazine. To learn more about this publication, please visit www.lifeway.com/parentingteens.
As I’m writing this, we’re in that sweet window between Spring Break and summer vacation. Kids in my offices are just returning from spring mission trips and getting geared up for summer trips. I am hearing so many kids talk about how and where they can make a difference. And it makes my counselor heart so glad.
In our parenting seminars, we talk often about how kids today feel more curiosity than they’ve ever felt…and less real connection. They feel more entitled and less equipped. They feel more power but less purpose. They feel less confidence, less strength, and less hope than in any stretch of time since I started counseling children and teenagers 26 years ago.
I believe mission trips are an antidote to almost every one of those issues.
On mission trips, your son or daughter gets out of his or her comfort zone. He gets to know people he didn’t know before. She gets to stretch her legs and muscles—literally and figuratively, as she builds houses and serves in orphanages. They see children and families who have significantly less and therefore see past the narcissism that envelops life as a typical teenager. They grow spiritually, emotionally, and socially. I believe wholeheartedly that every teenager should do at least one mission trip as a part of their growing up years.
Here’s the problem. Some kids might not be interested. How can you help? What do you do if they’re not involved in a youth group, or your youth group doesn’t offer any kind of service experience? First—you can change that. Call your pastor or youth director. Offer to help chaperone a mission trip yourself. It doesn’t have to be out of the country. It honestly doesn’t even have to be out of town. Just serve people who are in need.
A few questions can help, too. Ask your teenager:
- What is a cause or mission you believe in?
- How do you want to make a difference in the world when you’re older? What about today?
- What’s a part of the world you’d like to go to help?
- Why do you believe mission trips are important?
And then let them be a part of the decision. Would they like to go out of the country or closer to home? Do they want to go with friends or family? Not only does your church have options, but many teenagers I know have served with organizations like Show Hope and Justice & Mercy International. I also know families who spend holidays or a portion of their summer going together to different countries to give together.
It will make a difference, I promise—in who they are socially, emotionally, and spiritually. And will also make a difference in your relationship.
Sissy Goff, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP has been counseling girls and their families since 1993, with the help of her counseling assistant, Lucy the Havanese. She’s the Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Tenn. A sought-after speaker for parenting events, she is also the author of eight books, including her newest, Are My Kids on Track?, as well as Raising Worry-Free Girls (releasing September 3). Follow her blog at raisingboysandgirls.com.