Building Relationships at Family Camp and in the family home
Our annual Family Camp is the most critical week of our students’ time at Rock Solid Refuge. Our students and their families come down to Camp Elim for five days of building relationships. It’s not always easy, growth means heartbreak and healing. The heart of our mission is restoring the relationship between our students and their families.
We want to tell you a few things about how we build relationships at Family Camp and how you can apply this to your journey with your teen.
Meet in a neutral Environment
At Family Camp: We thought we’d start here because it’s often wondered why Family Camp takes place off site. We could billet out families to the homes of our staff and meet during the day at the main building. Surely this would save some expense.
While this would cost less, one of the big reasons we rent out Camp Elim is to make sure that we are meeting in a neutral environment. We want to make sure that nobody feels like they’re imposing on someone else’s space, no one feels like they have a “home field advantage”, and no one is spending time in a place where they have a pile of baggage. The camp is neutral territory and we desire to provide a safe place for relationships to develop. Camp Elim provides an atmosphere that makes it easy for those relationships to occur and that atmosphere creates an arena for change for teens and parents whom are both often lost and broken.
In the home: Being in an unfamiliar environment changes how we interact with others. Neither party feels like they have the upper hand because neither party has control over the environment. If you’re having a conversation with your teen at the park or in a restaurant, there is no “go to your room!” option available. There is no “my house, my rules”, only the relationship.
By meeting in a neutral environment you are relinquishing power. It is important to meet on neutral ground because they won’t be living in your house, under your authority for much longer. You are laying groundwork for influence beyond the temporary living arrangements.
Explosive blowups are also less likely to occur in neutral environments. The space doesn’t have the emotional weight a bedroom or living room does, which may be filled with unspoken and unknown baggage. Both parties will think twice before overreacting in front of strangers. You and your teen are more likely to listen to what was said instead of jumping to conclusions.
At Family Camp: Each day the chores associated with running a camp are given to family groups. This gives the families an opportunity to work together and get small tasks done for the betterment of everyone at the camp. As much as we can get families to spend time together outside of conflict, the better!
Everything is designed to bring the families together. We want the families to operate as a unit and accomplish everyday tasks by working together. This prepares the student and parents for the transition home and creates a family culture that serves together.
In the home: Accomplishing a task together forges a sense of accomplishment and teamwork. You’re not simply completing a task, you’re completing a task together. This means that instead of “Mom cleans the kitchen, dad cleans the bathroom, Suzie cleans the living room, and Tommy cleans the garage.” Mom can do the dishes while Suzie clears the table and sweeps, Dad can scrub the toilet while Tommy wipes down the bathtub.
Instead of giving out rooms to each person and working alone, you work together to get each room done. Even if you’re not talking, being in one another’s presence is important. Being around a person, even without speaking, grows bonds.
Don’t believe me? Why do you sit by your friends at a movie theatre? It’s not like you’re going to be talking (I hope). It’s because just being in the presence of others forges connection and builds us up. Once these tasks are complete, it’s a great time to move into the next tip…
Having fun together
At Family Camp: Let’s face it. When you’re out camping, spending time at the lake, and not having to worry about what to cook for supper, it’s easy to just let loose and have some fun. Time for fun is built into the schedule, and we encourage, even implore families to embrace it.
At Home: One common response when we recommend this is “I try! I signed my son and I up for a pottery class, but he just wanted to stay home and play video games!” or “I tried introducing my boy to the noble art of fly fishing, but he refuses to go!”
We’re being a little satirical here to prove a point. When we say “have fun together” we’re not saying “have fun your way with your teen”. It’s about finding something that they enjoy doing, and doing with them, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy the activity.
Find a video game that you can play with them. Think of crossover skills your activities share with your teen’s activities. Look for concerts nearby that they would be interested in. Maybe it means going to comic-con with them. Be interested in what they are interested in rather than forcing them to suffer through what you love.
Family-Fun-Nights can help bring everyone together. Set aside time each week to spend having fun as a family. This can be as simple as choosing a comedian and watching one of their specials together. Again, just make sure you’re choosing to do something that your teen actually wants to do.
If your teen is very resistant to this, start small. Say, “I’m going for ice cream, but I have to be home in 10 minutes. You want to come with me? I’m buying!” You’re including them in something good. You’re giving them a short time frame to be with you. You’re paying for it. There’s not much sweeter a deal. If they still say no, go get ice cream anyway. Be back in 10 minutes.
Once you’ve built up good rapport, and shown that you’re willing to do what they enjoy doing, they will be more open to that Art-of-Fly-Fishing retreat you’ve been drooling over. Not thrilled about it, but more open.
Remember if they don’t spend time with you they will spend it with someone else; if they don’t have a relationship with you, they will have it with someone else; if you don’t give them value, then they will find their value elsewhere.
Open lines of communication
At Family Camp: You’re spending four days in the same camp ground. The whole purpose is to build relationship. It’s hard to avoid talking! Of course, sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as we hope and a student refuses to speak with their parents. Opening the lines of communication, even just to the level of being able to speak with one another, is a critical first step.
Sometimes we want our teens to be completely open and honest with us, and they’re not there. They’re not ready for that for any number of reasons. Being willing to start small is important. Don’t underestimate the power of making your teen feel heard.
After chapel sessions, students and their families are urged to take some time to talk with one another. These are incredibly powerful times of reconnecting and discussing the struggles within the family as chapels dive deep into the reality of pain and forgiveness without pulling any punches.
Families sit together for meals with the Rock Solid staff sitting among them and often acting as intermediaries in the conversation between students and their families.
In the Home: Have you ever stopped and thought about how much you’re talking in a conversation? Always aim to say less than your teenager.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
Spend more time listen than talking and do not turn your conversations into lectures. Only give your opinion if your teenage asks you for it. Teenagers don’t need our judgments they need our time, they need our ears.
“But my teenager never talks!”
Yup. That’s OK
Be comfortable in silence if that’s what’s necessary. It’s selfish to talk if you’re just filling the air with words. The parent who has to fill every silence with their own voice cares more about feeling comfortable than they do about their child being heard.
Sometimes conversation doesn’t happen because everyone is too busy. If you know your teen’s schedule, if you know when they’re coming home, bake cookies. This lets you interrupt the usual just-got-home pattern. And remember: Conversation, not interrogation, so lead with questions. Questions have a great way of making the other person feel valued and they are the key to creating better connections.
At Family Camp: There is a lot of structured time of learning at Family Camp. This is primarily done through daily sessions and chapels. We sit down and learn from people experienced in working with troubled teens. There are sessions together, sessions just for parents, and sessions just for teens.
We also encourage parents to sit down with one another and hear each other’s stories. Hear the heartbreak. Hear the struggle. Hear the encouragement. Hear the love. Hear that you are not alone.
At home: Naturally, we don’t expect your time at home to be as structured as Family Camp. We don’t expect you to sit down every evening for an hour and a half chapel service. It doesn’t matter how well informed or entertaining you speaker is, that becomes exhausting. And what are you not learning about when you exclusively listen to podcasts and lecturers? Each other!
However, think about times you could use to play something for information or discussion purposes. What about the times you are driving and just end up in your own worlds with everyone on their own electronic device closed off to each other? Play something informative, and/or just use this as connection time in some way. Not every moment in a vehicle needs to be this, but why not some of the time. The younger your kids are when you start this, the more open they will be to it.
Learn about one another. And, here’s the kicker, you should be going first! Don’t expect your teen to open up if you’re not willing to do so first. Be open and vulnerable. Don’t share something that’s really a backhanded way of talking about them. (“I just feel like such an awful parent!”) Be careful not to share something that is not their burden to bear. (“I’ve been having feelings about a co-worker.”)
It’s a fine line, but your teen needs to know that you are human.
Your teen knows that you’re human. They need to see humility and openness.
Apologies go a long way in building trust.
The truth goes further.
The goal is to treat them like adults, and not like children.
This isn’t a quick fix.
In a lot of ways, what we are recommending is that you study your teen. Discover their interests and look for an inroad into their life.
Each teen is an individual. What worked for your first child won’t necessarily work for your second.
By watching, listening, and learning about your teen’s interests you can be more actively involved in their life. This means changing your own pattern of behavior, not trying to change theirs. If you can change just one thing you can change everything. Any movement is movement so make some changes in your approach to your teenager.
Understanding is essential in building relationships; this is why these things are critical at Family Camp and in our day-to-day lives with teenagers.
Running Family Camp is expensive. If this has been helpful to you, consider giving to Rock Solid Refuge to help make this event a success!
We hope that this content has been informative and helpful. It is our desire to help families and bring struggling teens back together. We encourage you to share this information with others who may be in need.
Our ministry is primarily funded by our supporters, both individuals and churches, who partner with us to bring about restoration in these young men's lives. To join them in supporting Rock Solid Refuge and our ongoing ministry, please click here to donate!
Thank you for your support.