So Your Teen Just Came Home from the National Youth Gathering…

By now your teenager is probably back home and exhausted from a days-long bus ride or extra hours in an airport terminal. Maybe your teen isn’t home just yet (ahem, Southwest Airlines) but they will be soon. No doubt you’re all excited to see each other again and start swapping stories from the last week. It’s been a busy week! He’s been literally elbow-to-elbow with 22,000 of his newest friends. He painted, donated, built, raked, and loved in service to a big city. She walked… A LOT. She listened and talked, praised and worshiped, sang and cheered, laughed and cried. She maybe even touched and ate alligator (hopefully not the same one). He learned and prayed and wrestled and asked. 

The NYG really is life-changing. It’s a spiritual mountain-top experience, and if there’s anything harder than fundraising for the Gathering, or apparently traveling home from it, it’s transitioning off the mountain-top. It’s great to be around others your age who are excited about their faith and believe what you do. It’s uplifting and encouraging and there’s a part of you that doesn’t want it to end. Peter, James and John experienced that, literally on a mountain, when they witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. They were so filled with awe and wonder that they didn’t want to leave. Peter even offered to put up a few tents so they could stay. But they couldn’t. The mountain was good, but they couldn’t stay there. They needed what they saw on the mountain to help them through what they would face back in everyday life.

This is where your teen is right now – coming down off the mountain. he needed what God had for them this week, to help him with what he’ll face back in everyday life. The Gathering was good, but he can’t stay there. So while the experiences, stories and feelings are still fresh, you can help your teen make this transition. You can help him bridge all of last week into what happens in “real life” back home.

So while you’re wading through a week’s worth of his sweaty clothes and getting her bathroom supplies put back, think about how you can help your teen transition back to everyday life while keeping that mountain top experience alive in their hearts. Here’s a list of 9 ways you can do that:

Get cookin’! Your teen has eaten his way through New Orleans and more pizza and fast food than anyone should in a span of 8ish days. Treat them to "real food" and sit as a family looking at pictures, watching videos and telling stories from the trip.

Play 20 questions. Because sometimes that’s how it works with teens. Get them talking about their time, and really listen to their answers. Don't know where to start? Try these... What were the highs? What were the lows? What did you try that was new? What did you learn about another person in your group? How did you serve someone? How do you think your faith changed this week? What new thing did you learn about Jesus? How can you keep living your faith here at home? (Helpful hint when asking teens questions – steer clear of questions with yes or no answers!)

Get on YouTube. Grab your teen, hop online and start searching for videos and music from the Gathering. Take an interest in this amazing event in their lives. Talk about what they learned at the Bible studies and Mass Events.

Go to a mini-Gathering. Step 1: Talk to your Pastor about installing strobe lights and sub-woofers in your church’s sanctuary. Step 2: Relax and know that I’m kidding! Your church’s worship might look a little different than what your teen experienced at the Gathering, but there are also similarities. Talk to your teen about what she enjoyed about Gathering worship. What didn’t she like? What does she like or dislike about worship at your church? How is your church’s worship like the Gathering? The real step to take is just to get back to that family of believers – your church – your mini-Gathering every weekend. (Remind her she has all these new friends now who will be there too!)

Listen for the echo. Did you notice how he helped his sister without being asked? Acknowledge his humility. Did you hear the story of how she found joy when the flight was delayed – again? Compliment that quality in her. Tell them when you see them being a light and an echo of Jesus. Reinforcing the Gathering themes at home will help them stick! (And if you’re still confused about what it means to be an echo, add that to the list of questions to ask your teen.)

Shock your adult leaders. Take your DCE or Pastor out for coffee (they need the caffeine now more than ever). First, thank them for all they do for your teens! Then ask questions about what they noticed about your teen this week. Strengths and growth areas. Times they brought their leaders joy. How they noticed a change in your teen’s faith. Most importantly – how you as a parent can help your teen grow at home. Listen closely – then take action!

Get excited for Minnesota! No, really, you can be excited to go to Minnesota! Start thinking about the next NYG in Minneapolis and start saving funds now so your teen (and their younger sibling) can go again!

Practice being the echo together. Find a way to serve either as a family. Serve your church, serve your community, or just serve your next door neighbor. Your teen likely served in one way or another at the Gathering, and now is the time to take advantage of the willing heart to serve back home.

Take one small step toward a giant leap. Talk about how your teen could get more involved in your church and your family. Is there a way your teen can take on more responsibility at home? Is there a place at church where your teen could step up and serve? Ask your teen how they could be an echo of Jesus' love and help them make it happen!

The mountain top feeling doesn't have to come to a screeching halt as soon as the plane lands and the bus stops. Watch for ways you can encourage your teen to live out their faith in the days, weeks, and months to come. Ask questions, make observations, give affirmation - see how your encouragement helps your teen grow!