A bus full of middle school students, a 7 hour trip and about 10 adult volunteers.
If you’ve been in youth ministry for even a year or two, you may have experienced this situation. Kids pile in as far toward the back of the bus as possible, take their seats and plug headphones into their ears. Then your adult leader load the bus, sit together near the front and start talking with each other.
Two problems: 1. Kids are isolating themselves geographically and with technology. 2. Adult leaders are giving up and taking the easy route — adult conversation.
Without sounding repetitive… if you’ve been in youth ministry for even a year or two, you most likely have witnessed this situation.
So what can we do?
This is one of those situations where you can turn a problem into an opportunity. To many, a seven hour bus ride with 60 middle school kids might sound like eternal damnation. To me, it sounds like a perfect opportunity to connect with kids.
Think about this. Most weeks we only get 30 minutes to an hour with any given kid. We see them at youth group, or occasionally connect with them for ice cream or sit next to them at a football game. On a good week we might get a couple hours with a kid. But on a 7-hour trip… BIG TIME connect time!
Here are a few methods I’ve used to help my leaders connect during long bus rides, van rides and/or car rides:
1. Strategic placement of your adult leaders
Simply said, always mix your adults throughout the crowd of kids.
In my book, CONNECT, I talk about this concept at youth group and events. The concept is just as true on a bus. Load your adult leaders first if needed. Do whatever you have to do to spread them throughout the bus mingling with kids. This actually will help you twofold: one, you’ll pro-actively avoid the many problems that can happen when students are left unattended in the back of the bus (I can tell you countless stories of kids who rounded several bases with the opposite sex in the back seat of an unsupervised moving vehicle), and two, you’ll create opportunities for your adult leaders to interact with kids and engage in lengthy conversations.
7 hours and 10 volunteers can yield 70 hours of good bonding time.
2. Using the music to provoke discussion
Some see iPods as barriers. I see them as springboards for discussion.
Every time I took a trip like this I bought my adult leaders a simple little tool that proved to be very resourceful: a Y-jack. Yes… just a simple jack that you plug into an iPod that changes one earphone output to two.
It worked like this. My adult leaders would sit next to a kid with an iPod, pull out a set of headphones and a Y-jack and say, “Mind if I plug in?”
This little question in itself yielded great responses. Most kids responded, “Sure.” They actually liked the fact that an adult was taking an interest in their music. But some kids (Christian kids especially) are apprehensive to oblige to this little proposal. The reason? They don’t want us to know what they are listening to.
As you can see, the opportunities for conversation are great.
I always advise my staff. “Try not to lecture, try to ask a lot of questions.”
I like asking the following:
- Who is this artist?
- What is he/she singing about?
- Do you believe him/her?
- What do you think most kids hear when they listen to this song?
- Do you think it effects them? How?
- Do you think it effects you? How?
Music always provides great discussion jump-starters. It sometimes helps to jump on iTunes before a trip like this and review some of the top music, Google the lyrics and become familiar with some of the mainstream artists. This little bit of research can help you articulate some good questions, and eventually provide a few answers if the opportunity arises.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.