I Visited Operation Parent
In this series, we're visiting Southeast's Mission Partners to understand their vision and how God is using them in the community.
By Carla Williams
It's been a very long time since I was a teenager, but as I pulled into the Oldham County High School parking lot to meet the Operation Parent team, all those familiar feelings of insecurity mixed with anticipation rushed through me. Those are complicated years in the best circumstances, and I can’t even imagine navigating those feelings in today’s culture. Clearly those students are going to need all the help they can get.
That’s where Jean and her staff come in. When she was a parent of teenagers, Jean felt overwhelmed. A series of incidents caught her off guard, and she didn’t even know where to look for help. One thing was clear: her children were facing situations she was unequipped to handle.
This realization led Jean to ask more questions. She met with the counselors at a high school and asked them, “What percentage of your time are you helping kids navigate social issues, and what percentage is spent on academic help?” Jean was shocked to learn that those counselors were spending most of their time tackling the social needs of the students, largely because the parents didn’t know how to help their own kids.
Jean asked the guidance counselors to take 30 days to make a list of the top issues they were observing. She wanted to be able to create some kind of basic handout for parents. That list became the table of contents for the first edition of the Operation Parent Handbook and Jean soon found herself leading a new non-profit organization to equip and educate parents in preventing some of the biggest issues teens and preteens face today.
Now, Operation Parent has a full staff and they’ve produced and printed seven editions of the original Parent Handbook, plus a Spanish version, a faith-based version, and versions for parents of younger children in both the original and faith-based options. They also teach workshops, create resources, and host a monthly topical webinar where parents and school leaders join in from all around the country. They partner with schools, coalitions, parent groups, churches, and others.
In many ways, Operation Parent has just scratched the surface of ways they can be helping parents fulfill their roles with wisdom and grace. There are always more parents who need help, more partnerships they can forge, and more mediums to disseminate resources. The team is exploring the use of ebooks, podcasts, videos, social media, more webinars, and additional language translations.
Operation Parent hopes to connect with parents when their kids are in fourth grade and then travel with them through high school. Operation Parent can equip families to broaden their knowledge, engage in vital conversations, set appropriate boundaries to protect kids, and hopefully prevent some major issues like violence, addiction, suicide, and more.
In short, they’re helping parents be the protectors and caregivers their kids need them to be.
The Heart of the Matter
While everything I learned at Operation Parent was interesting and engaging, my favorite part of the day was when Jean invited me to sit in on a meeting about their Bible study curriculum. They already have one version of the study, which they’ve loved sharing and teaching, but they’re making some significant revisions to the core handbook, so they wanted to use this opportunity to revisit the Bible study as well.
The study targets parents, but teens could easily participate. It’s designed to help parents walk their teenagers through the core heart issues behind the major struggles. It follows the general issues in the Parent Handbook, but it also stands on its own.
In the meeting, the man who writes their handbooks and another local youth pastor who wrote the first version of the Bible study came to meet with Jean’s team. While they brainstormed how to approach this new version, it was clear that everyone at that table cared deeply for the hearts of the students and their parents, and not just about the behaviors.
They wanted the study to really dig into the Bible, using the stories of Old and New Testament men and women. Rather than talking about an issue and pulling verses to support a solution, they were determined to talk about the Bible and see how that illuminates the issues. It was a refreshing and energizing discussion, and I found myself hoping that I’d have the opportunity to participate in that study when they finish.
At Operation Parent, they know for certain that though the specific issues change, the heart issues that trigger these problems have been the same since the beginning of time. It’s only when we approach the root spiritual issues that we really begin to experience transformation and hope.
Hope for the Future
As a mom of very young children, it was both overwhelming and encouraging to spend a day with Operation Parent. I had very limited understanding of what teens and pre-teens are encountering, and it was a little terrifying to realize that’s only going to get more complicated by the time my kids are in those ages.
However, I realize those issues were going to be there whether or not I was ready, so it’s comforting to know that Operation Parent exists as a valuable resource. I love that they strive to have the most current information and that they partner with other experts for ongoing information and solutions.
I know I’ll be returning for their expertise often, and I can only be thankful for the ways they are serving parents and families all over the nation every single day.
For more information or to get involved, visit operationparent.org.