Art, Faith, and Family: Dan Scott Shares Strategies for Engaging Kids

Art, Faith, and Family: Dan Scott Shares Strategies for Engaging Kids

by Chris Tompkins | March 21, 2024

Dan Scott is Executive Director of Life Stage Content Strategies at Orange — a team of leaders, educators, researchers, counsellors, writers, editors, artists, and musicians, all committed to supporting churches and families as they nurture the faith and future of the next generation. Dan dedicates his time, professionally, to figuring out how and when to introduce various topics to kids over the course of their childhood and to examining the age gap that exists between Gen Z and Gen Alpha and older generations, specifically as it relates to faith. Informed by both his work and his most important role — as a dad — Dan also wrote, Caught in Between: Engage your Preteens before They Check Out. Dan lives in Atlanta with his wife and four kids.

The strengths of a new generation

Dan explains that while the emerging generation has experienced adversity from the pandemic and everything that came along with it — including barriers and setbacks to their education — there are two areas in particular, where generations Z and Alpha are excelling.

“They are much more in tune with their inner life and how they feel about things,” Dan explains on the Shaping Our World podcast. “[They] are growing up in a culture where they are given freedom to express how they’re feeling about things rather than stuff them down.”

As a result, young people are learning how to handle those emotions more efficiently, too. Dan also singles out the emerging generation’s ability to mobilize and solve problems.

“While adults are meeting in committees to try to figure out how to raise money, they’ve already been on Venmo,” he says. “They’ve already been on TikTok and Snapchat and have mobilized their whole cohort of friends to do something great for whatever the thing is that is needed.”

Modern vs. postmodern

Dan explains that kids are having trouble finding their identity in church because of differences in ways of thinking across the generations. In his experience, he has found that many churches are led by an older generation with a linear, modern way of thinking.

“We grew up with a centre of gravity that was based on [the idea that] there’s a right way, there’s a wrong way,” Dan says. “Life is black and white.”

He goes on to explain that our kids are growing up with a postmodern, global way of thinking that is much more nuanced. This approach can result in a stalemate between the church and the youth they are serving, because, as Dan points out, they aren’t even speaking the same language. But Dan is optimistic because of young people’s ability to problem-solve. He explains that whether in church or outside of faith, “inviting [young people] into any process of problem-solving and ideation around anything, honestly, can go a long way.”

Engaging kids more meaningfully

Judging by the fact that Orange partners with thousands of churches on their mission to bring the church and home together in nurturing the faith and the future of the next generation, they have obviously mastered the art of getting through to kids. When asked about some of his tried-and-true ways of communicating with young people, Dan explains that it is important to remember how kids learn. Only roughly 10% of the population are auditory learners, and doing something while talking, like playing cards or sharing a coffee, can help the conversation flow more easily. He also points to active listening as a valuable tool in engaging with kids, so that they feel they can steer the conversation.

Finally, he underscores the importance of being aware of the developmental stages.

“We really look at child development at Orange,” Dan says. “We really try to see what a kid can handle at which stage of development and knowing that by this age, they’re trying to do this. By this age, they’re trying to do that.”

Dan confesses that being cognizant of what kids are going through at various developmental stages has helped him manage expectations — and therefore, communicate more effectively — with his own kids as well.

For more on what Dan has to say about strategies for engaging youth, listen to the complete episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:11.840] – Speaker 2
Well, hey, everyone. I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My goal is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode, we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth today. If you’ve been tracking with our conversation over the previous episodes and seasons, or even if you’ve just been paying attention, you probably can recognize that the world our young people are living in today, for them, it’s moving really quickly. It’s becoming extremely complicated and complex, and it is quite different than the world that I was raised in and that many of us listening grew up in. That’s why I’m really excited today to have Dan Scott joining us. Dan is a friend of mine who spends a lot of time paying attention to the world that youth are living in and just how to come alongside and input in and to journey with them. Dan Scott is a writer, speaker, educator, and is currently working as the Executive Director of Life Stage Content Strategies at Orange. Orange is a team of leaders, educators, researchers, counsellors, writers, editors, artists, and musicians, all committed to supporting churches and families as they nurture the faith and future of the next generation.

[00:01:36.380] – Speaker 2
The main aspect of Dan’s role at Orange is aligning how and when certain topics are talked about throughout a child’s life, from preschool to high school. Dan is also the author of Caught in Between: Engage your Preteens before They Check Out, which was informed by his most important role, Dad. Dan lives in Atlanta with his wife, Jenna, and their four kids. Dan’s experience lies in Generation Z and Alpha and the increasing generation gap that many are feeling, which is defined by a shift in centres of gravity from a more modern way of thinking, like ours and our parents’ generation, to a more postmodern ideology on behalf of our kids. He wrote Caught In Between in response to wanting to help parents and kids make the most of every phase of their kids’ lives, and is now thinking about what it means as both a parent of high school and college-age kids. Dan is also interested in spiritual formation for kids who are in tune with the inner life but don’t subscribe to a specific religious tradition, and helping parents who have gone on a faith journey and are trying to raise kids without the baggage they experience.

[00:02:54.550] – Speaker 2
I think you’re going to enjoy the conversation we have today. There’s so many things you can pull out from it, so let’s listen in as Dan and I chat about the young people in our lives today. Dan, it’s great to have you.

[00:03:11.040] – Speaker 1
Thanks so much. I am looking forward to this as well. We don’t get to hang out enough, Chris.

[00:03:16.670] – Speaker 2
I know. It’s totally true. So this is like a different version. And it’s interesting, Dan, because it’s almost like you and I are doing what we normally do, go for a drink or go for dinner. You’re in Atlanta, I’m in Toronto. We talk about this stuff. We talk about a whole bunch of other things, but this is the stuff that you and I are interested in. It’s almost like we’re letting them into a dinner meeting today.

[00:03:38.280] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that actually had me excited about this.

[00:03:42.060] – Speaker 2
Yeah, so that’s great. I know some of these things, but let’s get into for our listeners. Awesome. What shaped your world when you were growing up? What were the big influences as a kid, teenager? What were important things in your life?

[00:03:54.180] – Speaker 1
Yeah, for sure. For sure, my family. I grew up in New Jersey, and we were just a big old New Jersey family. And so much of who I am is based on that DNA. But I would say beyond them, I had a couple of teachers that really shaped my world. One in particular saw that I was a communicator and tapped me to do some speech competitions. And because of that, I ended up going to college on a speech scholarship and just set the trajectory, where now I speak in front of people. But for sure, my teachers, the people around me, mentors, were definitely shaping who I became.

[00:04:39.500] – Speaker 2
Yeah, those are always formative things. I know for you, Specifically, I love hearing about the speaking part of it, too, and what we’re exposed to and what shapes us when we’re young just continues often into life. So on that note, what’s shaping your world today? Personally, what are you in your free time? Help us to get to know you beyond… We’ll talk about your bio in a minute, but tell us a bit about you.

[00:05:07.000] – Speaker 1
Yeah, for sure. You know what’s really shaping my world today? We have four kids. As they are entering into adulthood, my oldest turns 21 this year. Just watching them interact with the world has me responding to that in a way that’s like, oh, man, I would not have responded that way. So what is it about this culture? What is it about this generation that’s emerging and is really becoming that is different than how we were raised as Gen X And so they are definitely shaping my world for sure. I have several really good friends who are continually pushing me to not ever get stuck in the way I think. And that has been really important. So, yeah, podcast, books. I love knowledge and wisdom and new ideas and innovation. And so I just am constantly reading and listening.

[00:06:15.050] – Speaker 2
And still a season ticket holder for Atlanta United FC?

[00:06:21.660] – Speaker 1
No, we’re not. No? We’re not. No. Coming out of the pandemic, it just got hectic. And so we’re not.

[00:06:32.390] – Speaker 2
But soccer fan nonetheless, right?

[00:06:34.440] – Speaker 1
We are soccer fans nonetheless. We are soccer fans nonetheless. I’m an Arsenal fan on one level. We’re Atlanta United fans down here in Atlanta. So, yeah, we have fun watching soccer.

[00:06:52.280] – Speaker 2
Okay. I don’t know if I… Did I know you’re an Arsenal fan? Because I’m a Tottenham Hotspur fan, Dan, and I feel like we’ve never We talked about that because we actually should probably hate each other at the end of the day. We should hate each other.

[00:07:05.050] – Speaker 1
No. Yeah. You know what? I went on a… So one of the things that shaped my world is a mission strip to England way back in the day, like I was in college. And The people I stayed with were massive Arsenal fans. And so I just adopted that and just it continued. There’s some Arsenal fans here on staff. And when we were in England with our family just a few years ago, we actually I saw them play West Ham at Emirates, and it was a blast.

[00:07:36.410] – Speaker 2
Well, for those listeners who don’t know in premiership football in North America called soccer, Tottenham Hotspur, my team, and Dan’s team, Arsenal, are both in North London and are bitter arch-rivals. Bitter arch-rivals. Now I know, Dan, I will be texting you when the North London derby is on. Oh, good. A little friendly on that. And funny enough, when I was in London, I saw Tottenham play West Ham as well. So we’ve seen our teams play West Ham, which neither of us like them either. But we’re totally digressing and off the topic. Yeah, But jumping back in, what are you doing now that is shaping the world of teens and young people beyond your own kids? I’ve gone through your bio, but give us an in your words.

[00:08:27.540] – Speaker 1
I mean, it is my day job. I work — we work — for this organization. We’re called Orange. Our mission statement is basically we influence those who influence those who influence the next generation. The people, the those in that is Basically, we influence leaders at executive staff level who influence volunteers, parents who influence kids and students. That is basically our mission. We just want all kids to have a better future. We are a faith-based organization, so that for us is attached to we want kids to have a relationship with Jesus that transforms the way they love God themselves and the rest of the world. Very holistic way of looking at faith. That’s literally what I get paid to do. I get paid to help create content that makes that possible. I’m out speaking to leaders. I’ve worked as Muskoka and just all sorts of stuff. But I primarily am not boots on the ground with kids and teenagers. I’m two levels above that in how I approach that.

[00:09:56.480] – Speaker 2
We’re going to talk a little bit down the road in the interview just a bit more about that. But because of the curriculum nature of Orange as well, you’re spending a lot of time researching and getting to understand kids to shape the curriculum that the leaders that you’re leading will be using and more than that beyond that as well, right? Yeah, exactly. You might not be boots on the ground, but you’re spending a lot of time in their world. Can you just give our listeners a little bit of the scope of Orange across the US, particularly, and even in Canada?

[00:10:30.480] – Speaker 1
Yeah, for sure. We are primarily in North America, United States and Canada. We also have a significant population in Australia, New Zealand, and then in Europe. But we have about 10,000 churches. We reach about, I think the last number was a little over half a million kids just in our life stage curriculum, which is birth through high school. We’re 80 different types of denominations, different types of churches that all think a little bit nuanced in the way they approach their faith in God. But yeah, it’s great. It’s a cool organization. We’ve been around since 2006, and we have a conference every year where a few thousand people come into Atlanta, and we have fun just wrestling with big ideas related to faith and the next generation.

[00:11:39.740] – Speaker 2
That’s great. So because of your experience, we want to dive into a few things. So in your 20 plus years of working with kids in ministry, education as a speaker, and even as your role as a dad, it’s given you a front row seat as far as observing what’s happening in the lives of young people today. Also, you you get to see what’s changed over the course of your career. In your book, Connie, between you dig down into terms of what’s happening with preteens, specifically. So can you tell us what are some of the issues that you see coming up-time and time again? What are our kids struggling with? And those of us who listen to the show know even my bias a little bit is, and maybe even more importantly, what are they exhaling at? Because I think sometimes it’s easy in generation to go to the negative and maybe even start there. What inspires you about kids today? What have they worked out that we never worked out when we were kids? And then what are some of the things that you see come up?

[00:12:38.640] – Speaker 1
No, that’s good. I think every generation of kid, as they’re growing up, there are for sure nuanced issues that arise for every generation. We just got through this massive global pandemic or whatever, and that definitely has had an impact on kids and the way they learn, specifically some kids. They missed pieces of their education. They missed learning foundational issues depending on what year of school they were in. At least in the United States, a statistic was recently released about fourth graders that about 64-ish % of fourth graders are not fluent readers because they, during the pandemic, missed some core learning related to comprehension and fluency and all of these things related to that. So that’s a specific issue that a micropopulation is dealing with. But all kids are going to struggle with, what does it mean to be a friend? During the pre-teen years, especially, kids are moving from a very egocentric to a more global-centric way of looking at the world. They will struggle on how to navigate that. And so part of what we do as parents and as influences in their lives is either model that for them, but also help them understand, well, this is what it means to be a friend.

[00:14:22.460] – Speaker 1
This is how it means to work with someone else. You go to school and all of a sudden you’re in this paired up partner group where this person sitting next to you is going to influence your grade. And you’re like, wait a second. We don’t even get along, and now we have to do this project together. So they’re just dealing with a whole new scope of relationships. Of course, they’re all going through puberty, which is just- It adds so much complexity. That’s a podcast in and of itself. Totally. But I would say one of the things that they’re excelling at, which I do think is a very positive thing with the emerging generations, is that they are much more in tune with their inner life and how they feel about things and are growing up in a culture where they are given freedom to express how they’re feeling about things rather than stuff them down or don’t cry about that or suck it up. Where we’re saying, no, feel your feelings. It’s It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to… And then they’re learning strategies on how to handle that well. I think that’s a really positive thing that the emerging generations are getting to do that.

[00:15:43.460] – Speaker 1
Even the two of US maybe didn’t have that same luxury as we were growing up. The other thing I think that’s really important, that they’re at least learning to do well. I think teenagers are really doing very well at this is that they are all very resilient, first of all. And then second of all, and related to that, if they see a problem, they will mobilize themselves to figure out how to fix that problem. While adults are meeting in committees, to try to figure out how to raise money, they’ve already been on Venmo. They’ve already been on TikTok and Snapchat and have mobilized their whole cohort of friends to do something great for this for whatever the thing is that is needed. And that, to me, is inspiring because they’re like, who cares about a committee? Let’s just do the work. Let’s just help people. I think those two things are just super inspiring to me.

[00:16:48.040] – Speaker 2
Anything that makes you really concerned?

[00:16:52.390] – Speaker 1
I don’t know if it’s a concern. It may be a concern because we’re not so We’re not as aware, but there’s a cultural trend. It was talked about in Forbes. Harvard Business Review has talked a little bit about it, but this idea of a hyper-reality, where Basically, we’re living in this space where the technology around us is advancing more quickly than our ability to assess the the unintended consequences of the technology. We’re just trying to keep up with learning that the technology exists without really figuring out the implications of the technology. That could be artificial intelligence and all of that. It could just be what we, at least in the United States in the past several years, have realized that these algorithmed echo chambers of all of a sudden, just because I was sharing something, liking something, spending time reading something, all of a sudden my phone has me and my social media feeds have me and pegged as this type of person, and I’m only seeing this side of this issue. So I guess the concern would be, how aware are our kids and teenagers of that tendency of the technology to shape their world without them even knowing it’s being shaped, that they’re just like, no, I just like this video.

[00:18:35.280] – Speaker 1
I just like this thing. And all of a sudden you’re like, Oh, I only listen to lofi music. I wonder why that is. Well, because you listen to lofi music, and that’s what Spotify is telling you you need to listen to now. It’s one of those things of trying to help teenagers see that they have control over shaping their world, that they can choose to read, listen outside of the algorithm, but they have to be intentional about it. But I think the adults in their lives need to learn that, too.

[00:19:13.370] – Speaker 2
Well, yeah, 100 %. Totally. And we always talk about that, right? We can be concerned about kids being indiscriminately using social media, but we’re maybe not that different ourselves. But that also brings at the point of we’ve talked about on this show a little in the more recent episodes, just like what you talked about, social media as well. The surgeon general in the United States has put out a warning for youth mental health and social media just around like, kids walk into this every day, and it’s so part of their world. But have we really understood what it is doing to their mental health being compared or comparing themselves every day to imaging and to getting messages and being bombarded by TikTok. And so this is adding into what you talked about, the echo chamber and AI and all that stuff. I think we’re slowly starting to go like, oh, man, we might need to take a deeper look at the consequences of this stuff. Yeah. And again, not freaking out and banning it everywhere, but having some real thoughtful conversations and taking a deeper look at what we’re now learning about technology that moves at a rapid pace.

[00:20:29.400] – Speaker 2
And so as leaders and parents, that’s what we’re doing. And again, not to just say it’s all bad, but this stuff has an impact for sure. And poor kid, we’re letting young people who are their brains Their brains are developing, their hormones are off, and we’re saying, Yeah, figure out this really sophisticated thing that you don’t even really understand, and I don’t, and just use it for whatever purposes you want. We wouldn’t do that with anything else. So I think it is interesting. So because of your context and where you’ve worked, there are probably are some listeners whose kids are growing up in the church world, faith-based upbringing. What do you think is different for those type of kids today than maybe… I grew up in the church, right? When I went to Sunday school and youth group, what’s it like for a Christian kid today that maybe is different than some of the parents listening going? Again, and yes, all of these things are global as far as young people, but I think the subculture of Christianity also has its distinct challenges and unique opportunities. How would you answer the same question about a bit of that subset group?

[00:21:46.340] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Just a couple of days ago, I was talking to some church leaders here in Atlanta, and I was talking to them about cultural shifts impacting the church and therefore impacting how they work with kids and students. I think maybe the one thing that keeps rising to the surface for me, what we’re seeing is a shifting centre of gravity. What I mean by that is you and I, as part of Gen X, many of the parents that may be listening or even grandparents that may be listening, grew up with a modern mindset. We grew up with a centre of gravity that was based in there’s a right way, there’s a wrong way. Life is black and white, and there is You play to win. All of that, the industrial revolution, all of those things. That was our centre of gravity. That was even how we have grown up in the church with a very If you talk philosophically about the church, you hear about the Christian industrial complex. Here’s the thing. I’m a part of it, you’re a part of it. You’re Muskoka Woods, you’re a camp. I’m a curriculum organization. We’re entrenched in it and part of it, but we’re also trying to see beyond it, I think, at least in my world I am.

[00:23:27.620] – Speaker 1
Our kids who are growing up and are going to these churches, their centre of gravity is not modernism. Their centre of gravity, we have reached a tipping point where they are growing up in this postmodern global mindset in how they look at the world. That isn’t bad. I don’t want there to be any value statement attached to that, just that it is what it is. They see the world through the idea of narrative and story and culture, and that each of those stories, each of those cultures has value in and of themselves. If we’re not paying attention to them, then we’re missing a crucial part of the human story. What’s tricky in our churches is our churches are still primarily led by people with a modern mindset, trying to serve these kids who are their centre of gravity is postmodernism. And literally, they’re not even speaking the same language. Neither side can really get at the heart of the conversation because they can’t understand why things are so exclusive. And they’re like, Well, why can’t my friends come? Or why can’t? They’re like this. And so that gets tricky for those kids who are growing up in these institutions that are so entrenched in really a way of thinking that is slowly moving out.

[00:25:08.210] – Speaker 1
But we’re now in this transition. We’re going to have a lot of generation gaps, and we’re going to have a lot of a lot of conversations with kids who are like, you’re literally not even speaking to what my generation cares about. If they’re growing up in the church, and by the way, the Bible itself is a pre-modern text, right? Now you have all these three things competing against each other. But no, for that kid, I would say our goal is to keep conversations happening and listen to understand, not listen to respond. I think it’s very easy for the church to defend their way of doing something without really taking into account why a kid is thinking the way they are about what’s happening in the context of church. I’m seeing that with my own kids, for sure. But the more I talk to my friends with kids in these spaces, they’re all just questioning, why should I do this? Why should I hang on to this thing called church It takes a lot of patience.

[00:26:37.590] – Speaker 2
When I grew up, we made things simple. Whether they were simple or not, it was like, you do these things and you’re going to be heading down the right path. I would say now it’s way more nuanced. The issues are more complicated than… Like I said, they may have always been, but we sure didn’t make them. It was like, do these things, don’t do these things, and be in good standing, either in the faith context or just living a good life. Yeah. Now it’s like, wow, there’s so much nuance to some of this stuff. That’s exactly what you’re saying around the modern way of thinking in the postmodern. I think it’s a continuous reminder to me me when… And I think this applies even outside of faith. What you said there at the end is like, I can’t come in to whatever issue my kids are wrestling with, whether it’s in the church, whether it’s if nothing to do with that, and just have these these prescripted ways, do this, do that, and we’ll fix all the problems. Because I don’t know if that is really how it works anymore. And that requires me to gain understanding, like you said, right?

[00:27:45.640] – Speaker 2
Yeah, absolutely.

[00:27:47.170] – Speaker 1
Absolutely. I feel like when I was growing up, I wasn’t always brought into the solution process, the innovation process. I I was just told, Here’s what you do. Just do this. Where I feel like the emerging generations are demanding ownership of creating solutions for the problems that exist. So it’s not just do this because they’re like, No, that’s what you’ve been doing and look at the world around us. We’re the ones that are going to be living here longer than you. Can we be part of this? And they may not be explicitly asking to be part of the solution, but when you really sit down with them and talk with them, it’s just like, oh, you have an opinion and your opinion has value, and we need to be listening to that. I think inviting them into any process of problem solving and ideation around anything, honestly, can go a long way.

[00:29:05.500] – Speaker 2
Yeah. In postmodernism, the journey is more important than the solve at the end of the day so often. Even going deeper into that, that church world, tell us a little bit more about orange. The imagery of church and faith representing yellow light, family home representing represented by love, red, the red colour. They overlap to make orange. And you’re talking about this integration between the institution, for lack of a better word, or the church and the family it. Talk about why your organization, Orange, has presented what happens in that model, with that model of orange. And how does even the curriculum move beyond the Sunday into the family? Talk a bit about why that’s important and how that whole idea of religion, faith, and family life integrates together.

[00:30:11.460] – Speaker 1
For sure. When the company was first started, Back in the day, our founder, Reggie Joyner, did some math, and he discovered that a kid is only coming to some form of religious instruction at a church building. Roughly, and at the time, this was early 2000s, 40 hours a year, which now is probably 25 hours a year, give or take. But in contrast to that, a parent has about 3,000 hours a year with a kid. It’s It’s just one of those crazy… When you look at it that way, it’s so exponential, the time that they are with their families and compared to what is in the church. We firmly believe that what happens at home is more important than what happens at church because they’re there more. The parent, regardless of the generation, regardless of how old they are, regardless of whether they’re going to tell you or not, the parent is still, or whoever is in that role of parent, is still the number one influence in that child’s life, and they will tell you that. If given the chance. So there’s that. Then we also adhere to this idea that two combined influences are better than two standalone influences.

[00:31:58.980] – Speaker 1
So If the church and the family can get on the same page, the kid has that much more of a chance of life change and transformation Because what is being said in this religious institution matches what’s being said at home. Now you’re seeing the combination of influences, not just these, well, there’s the church, and then there’s the home, and they don’t meet. We’re saying, no, they can, they should. That’s how we structure our whole curriculum plan for churches is that, yes, there’s something for you to do with kids when they may show up on any given Sunday. But we also have pieces that either can be sent home via old-school paper, print it off, or we have an app. It’s called the ParentQ app. On the ParentQ app is everything a parent needs to continue the conversation that started on Sunday days all throughout the week. That can be a game changer for a family, especially if the family really isn’t even attached to a church but wants some influence in their child’s spiritual formation. The ParentQ app can stand alone. You can just download it and put in your kid’s age, and it gives you content that you can work with and share with your kids.

[00:33:42.990] – Speaker 1
So that’s been the game changer, at least in the church world, of saying the church may be an expert on content, but we are not an expert on each individual family that shows up in our church. That family is an expert on the story that they’re telling the world and what they’re experiencing. We are like, No, we partner with you. You don’t partner with us. The posture of the church should be, we want to come alongside families, and they are in the driver’s seat, and we’re going to resource them to do the work of family. So Yeah. So it’s hard work. It’s easy if you’re just putting out content. It’s harder when you try to make the content fit into a strategic message that’s holistic, but it’s definitely worth it.

[00:34:47.510] – Speaker 2
I love that imagery of two significant influences in a kid’s life. You talked about how together there’s more impact than standing alone, even with the shaping and influence. And I love that. And I think it’s a great reminder for us as parents, particularly, is to say, I’m actually not in this alone. Yeah. And how could maybe the church in this example, but even other things like education, sports teams, like-100 %. Older adults that my kids might look up to rather than just having these separate but distinct influences. And man, I wish schools and other other places actually had this same mindset because I think, and forgive this analogy or phrase, go further, faster. Because it’s not all about that, but that’s the imagery of with our kids or go deeper and more significantly when we’re partnering with other agencies, again, for lack of a better term, that care about kids and have their best interest. Actually, our kids want to be a part of as well. How How do we integrate some of that? I think as a reminder of a parent sitting there going, who else is standing with me and blending the colours as orange is?

[00:36:10.930] – Speaker 2
And so, yeah, if it’s church, that’s great. But it can also be other things. And to say, we’re not in this alone, and our kids are being shaped by other things. And what would it look for them to not be separate and distinct, but integrated together into what we’re doing for the best outcome and so that our kids thrive?

[00:36:32.680] – Speaker 1
Yeah, there’s actually… We have some parenting resources, and one of the tenants of that is what you just talked about. But the phrase that we put to it is widen the circle. That it’s not just you doing this with your kid, it’s you plus whoever you choose to put in. And hopefully there’s some intentionality. We can’t always choose our kids’ coaches. We can’t always choose. But once we know that they’re the coach, once we know that they’re the dance captain, once we know that they’re the small group leader, once we know that they’re the teacher, that we start to have intentional conversations with those adults in that kid’s life and say, Hey, just so you know, these are some of our values at home. I don’t expect all of these values to align across the board, but just so you know, you’re now part of Team My Child’s Name, right? And we’re all in this together. We’ve had to do that. Chris, you know our story. You know that we have a son with some special needs. And the game changer for us was when we reached out to the people and said, You know what?

[00:37:47.790] – Speaker 1
We need you to be part of team Dan and Jenna’s kid. And that, A, it shifted our mindset that we weren’t alone, but it also gave some open-handedness to the other people that were working with him to say, No, we’re not competing against each other. We all have the same goals in mind, and we’re all working together to get this kid into adulthood and to get this kid into some form of success. And that, sure, for us was exacerbated by the fact that there were some special needs involved. But for For our other three kids who don’t have those same needs, it is still as important for us to have a team around each of those kids, because at some point, they’re not listening to me the way they’re going to listen to that teacher, that professor, that- Camp counselor. Yeah, camp counselor. No, for sure. Absolutely. But honestly, choosing that camp is one of those circle winding things, right? You know that when When they’re dropped off, they’re not only going to have a really good time, but they’re also going to get training on what it means to be a good human. And I’m such a huge fan of what you guys do.

[00:39:14.920] – Speaker 1
And when my daughter was there, when she left with that card, that was like, this is where we saw you succeed this past week. I mean, for me, that was fantastic. But for her, it was like, oh, I really am. I’m really on the right path. She did the cooking track that you guys have. She’s going into culinary school. I don’t know if there’s a straight line between those two things, but there is a line between those two things. And so that absolutely is what you’re talking about and what we should be doing for our kids is helping them make connections that they otherwise wouldn’t be making.

[00:40:06.160] – Speaker 2
There’s some gold in there. Even just talking about the model of Orange for parents. It’s great. So you clearly at Orange and with the work you’ve done, have found a way to successfully engage kids. You wouldn’t be in so many churches if you haven’t found out how to engage kids in meaningful conversations, in whatever whatever that looks like. So what are some strategies or tools that you go to, either as a dad or in your role at Orange as a curriculum developer, or your current role as executive director of Life Stage content strategies? What are some things that maybe you pull off the shelf to go, man, because I know there’s a lot of parents that are like, Well, I can’t get my kids to pay attention to this, to engage in this, to choose to go to something. What do you go to as a few things that really get kids involved or engaged?

[00:41:05.350] – Speaker 1
I think it’s important to remember one of the big things that we really work on here at Orange, and it’s important for us to remember how kids learn That most kids are not auditory learners. If you’re trying to have an engaging conversation with them and you’re just talking to them, chances are they’re not going to engage because 10% of the human population are auditory learners. We are by far visual or kinesthetic, like movement-based learners. When you want to have engaging, meaningful conversations, it does help if there’s something else happening at the same time, whether it’s you’re playing cards together or you’re on a drive together or you’re whatever it is, eating dinner together, sharing a coffee or whatever. That tends to make it easier for the kid to relax and engage more, especially if they’re not a face-to-face. It feel like they’re in an interrogation. So that’s always helpful. I think I did Earlier, I talked about active listening. Really allowing the kid to steer the conversation is really helpful to let them know that they have a say in the moment if you’re talking with them. We really look at child development at Orange.

[00:42:52.920] – Speaker 1
We really try to see what can a kid handle at which stage of development and knowing that by this age, they’re trying to do this. By this age, they’re trying to do this. I think it helps set our expectations for what the kid can do. And it doesn’t mean you don’t stretch kids in certain areas, you absolutely do that. But at least it gives you a realistic expectation of what you can, of what they can most likely definitely do, and then you stretch them. So that, I think, has been helpful. That’s a good strategy for me. I have high expectations of myself, and so it’s easy for me to put those on a kid or on my own child, on my own children, and then have my expectations shattered and I’m depressed Oh, my word, they’re the worst, and I’m the worst. And it’s like, No, that expectation is completely realistic. And so we really try to look and say, Okay, here’s this kid, and here’s this thing that they can do, and let’s work towards that. Probably the biggest one we have, the biggest strategy we have, is that we work backwards from the end in mind.

[00:44:22.810] – Speaker 1
So if you’re looking at a kid, if my child is born and I try to imagine them being 18, 19, moving on to whatever’s next after they’ve been through their primary school, secondary school stuff. Who do I want them to be? Not what I want them to do with their life, but what is the human I want them to be? Do I want them to be kind? Do I want them to be generous? Do I want them to be compassionate and loving? How do I want them to be successful Is success driven by this or is it driven by this? Then I work backwards, what are the experiences that I need to give this kid throughout the course of their life that gets them to be to that 18, 19-year-old at the end of the day? I think we tend to forget that we as parents and leaders and camp counselors are like, We are raising adults. We’re not raising kids. We’re not raising teenagers. When we think about that end in mind, even if it’s like, I I have… I’m thinking about a camp counselor. A camp counselor has a kid for a week.

[00:45:35.140] – Speaker 1
Okay, well, that’s a week. Yes, I have a goal for this week, but ultimately that week is playing out in the greater story that the kid is telling with their life. And so as a parent, I’m saying, Where am I putting my kids at these significant moments of their life that are leading towards the person I hope they become as an adult? Because I I think if my parents did anything… My parents did so much good, but one of the best things they did for me was they said, If you want to play piano, yeah, we’ll play piano. If you want to do this? Yeah, that’s good. They gave me these opportunities to do these things, and they said, Oh, you’re really good at music. Why don’t you get a job doing something in that space? Rather than, Hey, just work at McDonald’s and do the thing, if there’s a way to attach your kids gifting with some work, even if that work is volunteering, that you’re starting to help them see purpose in your heart, starting to help them see And that was one thing that my parents did so well. But yeah, there are things that I keep in mind while I’m interacting with my kids.

[00:46:57.000] – Speaker 1
What is the ultimate goal of this conversation? Yes, right now I’m so upset with you that you made this decision, but I’m responding to that in the way that I hope they will respond if they have kids of their own. And I can’t add any more negativity and any more whatever, trauma to this situation and make it worse in the long run. We’re all on a journey to give Right. So I think that’s where the strategy plays. It’s not necessarily a tool. It’s just things that I’m keeping in the back of my mind.

[00:47:41.750] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that makes sense. And I love the last one you were sharing there just about having the end in mind, because I think so much of parenting or youth work is deal with what’s in front of you. Let the issue come up, let the developmental stage come up, and then work through it. And I love the idea of like, okay, when they launch out into adulthood, what kid do I want them to be? Not just whether they play an instrument or get into this school program or get this career. Absolutely. But who are they becoming and how does their experiences shape in and how can we be proactive? An example of this is we chose early on in our journey with Sloan that in our North American culture, we don’t have a lot of rights of passage. And we decided that we wanted to do a significant trip with me and a significant trip with her mom at 13. And it was going to be 16, but the pandemic came up and it was 18. And it’s 18 now. And so I went with her at 13, and her mom’s literally in next weekend taking her away on her 18th graduate high school trip, just the two of them.

[00:48:58.630] – Speaker 2
And for that That’s been planned for years. She knew about them when she was little. And there are these markers into you’re becoming a young lady, you’re becoming an adult, and you get to go away and have fun and spend time. But part of that was also us deciding that our relationship with her was really important, not just as a family, but as individual parents. And so that’s why we did it just with each of us. There was no other strategy other than we want to develop the intimacy one on one. And yeah, there was other stuff about experiences and exposing stuff and having fun. But that was intentionally chosen because of the output, right? At the end of the day. And that’s just a small example of what you’re talking about with parenting is saying like- No, I love that. Start with the end in mind, We want Sloan to be this, and we want our relationship to look like this. So honestly, I think I heard about it when Sloan was four years old, and I was like, Oh, we’re going to do this. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard another parent talk about it and what they did, and I’m like, We’re going to do this.

[00:50:01.580] – Speaker 2
And so since four years old, we have been talking and planning about these monumental time. And there’s nothing magical about it, but it creates this looking forward to experience marker that are all part of it.

[00:50:18.340] – Speaker 1
Well, no, for sure. And ultimately, you want to be friends with your kid, ultimately. And you need to know… I think one of the things that those Those experiences are building into that friendship. They’re creating those memories that Sloan will have that, Oh, when we did that thing, remember all those… It’s like that fun over time thing that, Oh, now we have this core memory about this experience that she’ll be able to call on. Even those moments where she’s probably ticked off at you, she still knows like, Oh, but dad loves me, and we had this thing, and I remember this. That’s every Every family needs that thing. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. But that memory marker is going to be really important.

[00:51:08.980] – Speaker 2
We talked a lot, and you shared so many good observations and insights and tools, and There’s so many things I’ve jotted down as we’ve been going through. But maybe to wrap up, just a couple of questions. Number one, what resources, opportunities could you suggest to parents who are wanting to help their kids engage more in faith in a way that suits their family, them? You talked a little bit about a couple of orange things. Maybe give us more info on that. Anything else? And then even beyond that, as a parent, what have been some really helpful resources and tools around some of the stuff we’ve talked about today.

[00:51:46.540] – Speaker 1
Yeah, for sure. If you’re interested in Christian faith, obviously, Orange has a lot of resources through the parent queue you. Com. You have to do the the or it doesn’t get to us. And there’s all sorts of stuff on faith and character that we want all kids to have a better future. We realized that for some parents, faith in Jesus isn’t necessarily part of that. But we know that we all want our kids to be good kids. We want to whatever that means to you. There’s a lot of resources for all age groups about building faith and character. If you just search parentQ, Orange, you’ll find it. We have an app.

[00:52:43.460] – Speaker 2
And Q being C-U-E C, just in case, right? Is that- Yes, C-U-E, the parent Q.

[00:52:49.640] – Speaker 1
Yeah, good call. Christian-specific, and maybe even other faiths, but definitely Christian-specific, if you’re interested in getting them more in touch with the Bible and scripture and all of those things. I mean, really look at Bibles that are really attached to their age group. Don’t let them read certain stories too soon. I think that that’s really important. So like storybook Bibles, the YouVersion Bible app has a lot of great plans that you can read together. One of the tools that has been super helpful for my family as they’ve been emerging into adulthood, and Chris, you know I’m huge into the Enneagram. And this past Christmas, we actually all took the Enneagram and we did a team test together. And that was so helpful for my family to see, Oh, this is why we respond to the the world a certain way. And that has been just… And that’s not necessarily faith. That’s just inner life motivation, who I am and what I’m bringing to the world and how I’m responding to it. That has honestly been, for our older teenagers, a game changer in the way they even start to talk about their own journey as humans.

[00:54:30.330] – Speaker 1
So, yeah, I would say in those spaces, for sure.

[00:54:34.120] – Speaker 2
That’s great. And then any final thoughts, words of encouragement for parents who are working through challenging situations in your work? I know. And even in your parenting, it’s not always been an easy ride. So any encouraging thoughts for parents who are like, This is all nice, but I’m in over my head right now. What would you say to them?

[00:54:59.480] – Speaker 1
I think it helps me to remember that it’s a long game. It’s not a war. It’s not something I’m trying to win at. And also, I’m not competing with the family next door in how they do family. I guess my encouragement would be, Keep showing up however you can show up during that long game. There are going to be times when you can sprint and you are full of energy and you can attack it. And there are other moments where you’re going to need to rest and pause and still parent, right? But it changes and it evolves. There are times when we’ve had to work on our own stuff in order to help our kids with their stuff. And that wasn’t us being a bad parent. That was actually us being a really good parent to go to therapy ourselves, to get help ourselves in order to do these things. So I would just say, keep showing up. Your kids will not always take advantage of you showing up. But the fact that you’re just showing up and you’re there will speak volumes to them.

[00:56:19.950] – Speaker 2
Well, Dan, thanks for sharing those thoughts, and thanks for sharing so much insight and sharing a bit about your journey and what you do and how you see the world, and how you see young people. And thanks for doing what you do. It’s always a pleasure to be with you, even in this context. Yeah, so thanks for your time. Really appreciate it.

[00:56:38.800] – Speaker 1
Absolutely. Same. Same.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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