Helpful Things: Get Your Youth Talking!

By Erica Jacoby

Get your youth talking! Their mental health may depend on it. Forgive the obviousness of this statement but there are a lot of scary events going on in the world right now! We are dealing with a global pandemic, racial tension and rioting, contentious politicking, and a frightening economic forecast. Now try to imagine going through all of the major physical and mental development that occurs during the teenage years at the same time. Sounds pretty stressful, doesn't it?

Before the pandemic, the mental health data on Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2015) was concerning. Anxiety, depression, and suicide among teens are at an all-time high and climbing; and this data was all collected long before COVID-19. All you have to do is Google "anxiety and depression in Generation Z" and numerous articles pop up. This uptick in mental health concerns among teens is not surprising considering up to two-thirds of American children have experienced at least one sort of serious trauma in their childhood: abuse, neglect, natural disaster, and violence, according to the Center for Disease Control.

As an adult who interacts with and teaches youth, you may appreciate having some ideas in order to facilitate conversations about  the feelings and struggles your teens are dealing with as they try to process what is going on around them. We aren't all trained psychologists, counselors, and social workers, and that's okay! That is not our vocation! But God has put you in the lives of the youth around you so that you may be a gift to them. He knows what He is doing! Keep teaching them the faith in your Bible studies, continue coordinating those fun events, fundraisers, and trips. But perhaps, in the meantime, you can become watchful for the effects current events might be having on your youth,  and can acquire some tools for your youth leader "toolkit."

I humbly offer the following tips from my experience as a former middle school and high school youth group leader and public high school teacher. Make them your own; adapt them as needed. And if they don't work perfectly the first time you try them, don't give up. Try, try again!Ask your youth how to improve on what you did. Remember, your youth do not want a perfect pastor/parent/youth leader. They want someone who cares about them no matter what. You already are someone who cares about them. Now you just need to make sure they know it!

Focus on building relationships.

 I can't emphasize this enough. I used to be very task-oriented. I'd coach myself with things  like, "Make sure you complete all the material in the hour,"  and "Sell all the sub sandwiches at the fundraiser so we don't waste money," and "So-and-so seems upset--I'll just talk to him/her next time I see them if they still seem upset." The problem with being a super type A personality and task-oriented was that I was sort of missing the mark. Had you asked me why I was volunteering as a youth leader I would have told you that I was there to help the youth continue to learn the faith and to form positive, lasting relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ. But how was being task oriented about trivial things accomplishing that? In short, it wasn't. Sure, they got through the material during Bible Study and yes, the youth account had enough money in it, but the kids needed and deserved more from me.

So I will say it again: Focus on building relationships. It should be high up there on your priority list. We know from scientists who study the brain and human behaviors that children who are anxious and fearful have impaired cognitive ability. In other words, their ability to learn and process are affected when they are in a negative emotional state. To counter this phenomenon, work toward becoming one of those rare trusted adults, and don't sweat the time it takes away from other things. Get to know each kid and listen to him. Really listen! Below are a few of my favorite go-to suggestions to help build relationships.

Do icebreaker activities! Why? Because they foster communication, team spirit, and even help develop empathy. There are a million suggestions on the internet ranging from simple to very complex, depending on your participants. Honestly, even introverts have been known to enjoy some of these:
  1. If you have internet service where you are, play a round of Kahoot. Most students have played this in school. You can make up your own questions or you can select an already created  trivia game. If you aren't tech savvy, don't worry, one of your youth will have the skills to help you do it. 
  2. "Rare Birds" or "Three Truths and a Lie": Pass out notecards to each youth. Without showing their cards to anyone, students should write three truthful things about themselves and one lie. You should also fill out a notecard. Collect all the cards. Read the student's name aloud and each of the statements in random order. Have the other students guess which statement is a lie. Feel free to ask the student to explain any of the statements on the card. I have learned some really interesting facts about my students this way.

Peers open the door to sharing.

There is nothing worse when checking-in with your youth group and asking them how they are doing or feeling about a recent event and hearing a chorus of "okays" in response. Or worse yet, only having one youth respond and dominate the entire discussion. It's difficult to get adults to share in a group setting, let alone teenagers! It really isn't as hard as you think because there is a trick to it. And like anything else, the more you practice, the better you will become at drawing out answers and fostering  good discussions. It will also have the added benefit that some of those shy youth might come seek you out later to talk to you privately about their issues because they've seen you handle the group discussions like a pro!

So what's the trick? Use their peers first in any discussion or sharing activity you do. I recommend showing students a visual aid to assist you either on a screen or printed out ahead of time and taped on the wall. The sharing activity is called by different names by different educators (I know it as "Think, Pair, Share") but the gist of it is that you ask a question, show a visual, have students talk to a partner for a limited amount of time (about 2-3 minutes, depending on the issue). Then you let them know that they will be called on to share something important from their discussion with the entire group. Be sure to walk around as discussion goes on so that you can encourage them as needed. You will be amazed at how this opens up the sharing floodgates. The reason it works is that the kids feel more comfortable processing their ideas and feelings with someone their own age first. The response of their partner emboldens them to share with more people.

Where do I find visuals? On the internet!  Here are a couple I have used to get you started:

Mental health check: Generation Z tends to be the most open generation about mental health. There isn't the same stigma attached as there was in previous generations. I found this visual on Facebook and you can use it a couple of ways. If you want to download it and show it on a slide to your entire youth group and have them share their response with their partners, that's a good option. If you have a social media group set up with your youth group you can share it with them digitally and have them respond to you privately or to the group. It is important to check in!

Courageous Conversations Compass: This visual was made with the purpose of facilitating a classroom discussion about racism. It can be used for more than that if you wish. Sometimes students struggle to put into words how they are processing an event. This tool can help them articulate how they are working through their thoughts and feelings by giving them the words to use. Maybe they are processing stress in their body and their muscles are tense or they can't sleep. Perhaps they are in the feeling quadrant and are angry or sad. See if you can get them to move to the other quadrants or ask them where they would like to end up at the end of the discussion. You may be surprised by what you hear and learn about your youth. Be careful to listen and moderate the discussion so that no one puts down the thoughts or ideas of another person.

The Feeling Wheel. If you think your youth need further help articulating how they feel, Google a feeling wheel image. There are a lot of words to help them describe their thoughts, and sometimes that is all they need! There are also versions that they can color if you have a group that likes to do that. I recommend using the Think, Pair and Share activity after showing them the feeling wheel.

"I don't know" and "I made a mistake" are perfectly acceptable responses.

Let's face it. We don't know everything as adults and we can't even fake it. The kids can just go fact check us on the internet. This is real. It happens to teachers all the time! It happens to parents and pastors. No one expects you to be the expert on everything! Your priority is teaching the Christian faith and developing those relationships. When the youth see that you are secure enough and honest enough to say, "I don't know," it goes a long way towards building their trust in you. This is especially true if you follow through by finding answers or helping them research the answer with your pastor or other authority in the field.

My former youth group and students taught me the most in the midst of my biggest mistakes. If something you do flops, don't worry about. And feel free to say, "I made a mistake," and laugh about it with them. They will respect you and learn to emulate your honesty. Solicit their opinion about how to avoid the same mistake next time. If they love you and trust you, they may even tease you about it.

The bottom line is, God has placed you in a unique position to faithfully point your youth to the Good News in Word and Sacrament, no matter how crazy or chaotic the world around us happens to be. And the good news for you is you are not alone in this vocation. Higher Things is here to help!

Erica Jacoby is the executive director of Higher Things. She believes that youth and young adults should never be pandered to or patronized but can and should be taught the Christian faith so rigorously that they are enlivened to share that faith in love with others.  

Related Posts

Recent

Archive

 2020
 June
Reflections: June 2, 2020Under the Cross: Living in the Light of ChristReflections: June 3, 2020This Just In: Countering Chaos with ChristReflections: June 4, 2020Dean's List: Jesus Ain't Done YetVideo Short: The Athanasian CreedLive Bible Study: June 4, 2020Reflections: June 5, 2020Debunked!: The Unreachable CarrotLive Bible Study: June 5, 2020Live Bible Study: June 6, 2020Reflections: June 6, 2020Reflections: June 7, 2020Reflections: June 8, 2020Video Short: June 8, 2020Foundations: You Are What Jesus Says You AreHymnal 101: June 9, 2020Live Bible Study: June 9, 2020Reflections: June 9, 2020Under the Cross: Baptized, Not GayVideo Short: June 9, 2020Reflections: June 10, 2020Foundations: Preface and Proper PrefaceVideo Short: June 10, 2020Reflections: June 11, 2020Speaking of Faith: How to Defend Infant Baptism and Have Fun Doing ItVideo Short: June 11, 2020Live Bible Study: June 11, 2020Reflections: June 12, 2020Video Short: June 12, 2020Foundations: No You-Gotta with JesusLive Bible Study: June 12, 2020Reflections: June 13, 2020Reflections: June 14, 2020Reflections: June 15, 2020Video Short: June 15, 2020This Just In: The Real EnlightenmentLive Bible Study: June 15, 2020Live Bible Study: June 16, 2020Reflections: June 16, 2020Helpful Things: Spilling the Tea on Generation ZVideo Short: June 16, 2020Video Short: June 17, 2020Reflections: June 17, 2020Live Bible Study: June 17, 2020Foundations: Your Father's LoveReflections: June 18, 2020Video Short: June 18, 2020Live Bible Study: June 18, 2020Dean's List: You're Covered on Judgment DayReflections: June 19, 2020Video Short: June 19, 2020Debunked: I Don't Think This Verse Means What You Think It MeansLive Bible Study: June 19, 2020Live Bible Study: June 20, 2020Reflections: June 20, 2020Reflections: June 21, 2020Reflections: June 22, 2020Video Short: June 22, 2020Under the Cross: Hope in Suffering, Not Apart from ItLive Bible Study: June 22, 2020Foundations: Better Than BulletproofReflections: June 23, 2020Video Short: June 23, 2020Speaking of Faith: Tell What Jesus DidVideo Short: June 24, 2020Reflections: June 24, 2020Live Bible Study: June 24, 2020Reflections: June 25, 2020Musica Sacra: College Hymn FailVideo Short: June 25, 2020Live Bible Study: June 25, 2020Reflections: June 26, 2020Digging Deeper: By Design: Creation and RedemptionVideo Short: June 26, 2020Reflections: June 27, 2020Live Bible Study: June 26, 2020Reflections: June 28, 2020Live Bible Study: June 29, 2020Reflections: June 29, 2020Video Short: June 29, 2020Under the Cross: The First Time I DiedVideo Short: June 30, 2020Foundations: Can, Cannot, and VocationHymnal 101: Church SeasonsReflections: June 30, 2020
 July
Reflections: July 1, 2020Digging Deeper: Mixing It Up with Religion and PoliticsLive Bible Study: June 30, 2020Video Short: June 30, 2020Live Bible Study: July 1, 2020Live Bible Study: July 2, 2020Dean's List: Your Permanent RecordReflections: July 2, 2020Video Short: July 2, 2020Debunked: Enough Isn't EnoughReflections: July 3, 2020Reflections: July 4, 2020Reflections: July 5, 2020Reflections: July 6, 2020Video Short: July 6, 2020Under the Cross: Beautiful, Heartbreaking WorldVideo Short: July 7, 2020Live Bible Study: July 6, 2020Flex: Christ's Cancel CultureReflections: July 7, 2020Speaking of Faith: Third Article EvangelismReflections: July 8, 2020Live Bible Study: July 7, 2020Video Short: July 8, 2020Live Bible Study: July 8, 2020Video Short: July 9, 2020Under the Cross: The Sophia Worthy of ReceptionReflections: July 9, 2020Live Bible Study: July 9, 2020Helpful Things: Get Your Youth Talking!Reflections: July 10, 2020Video Short: July 10, 2020Reflections: July 11, 2020Live Bible Study: July 10, 2020Reflections: July 12, 2020Reflections: July 13, 2020Video Short: July 13, 2020Digging Deeper: Approaching Feminism with the Mind of ChristLive Bible Study: July 13, 2020Musica Sacra: Hymns Are for ProclamationReflections: July 14, 2020Video Short: July14,2020Video Short: July 15, 2020Live Bible Study: July 14, 2020Foundations: Stand by MeReflection: July 15, 2020Live Bible Study: July 15, 2020Dean's List: Your Vote Is a Gift for your NeighborReflections: July 16, 2020Video Short: July 16, 2020Live Bible Study: July 16, 2020Debunked: The Truth about Jeremiah 29:11Reflection: July 17, 2020Video Short: July 17, 2020Reflections: July 18, 2020Reflections: July 19, 2020Video Short: July 20, 2020Reflections: July 20, 2020Foundations: The Life You Now LiveReflections: July 21, 2020Video Short: July 21, 2020Foundations: Heaven on Earth TogetherLIVE BIBLE STUDY: July 21, 2020Speaking of Faith: The Curious Case of AgnosticismLive Bible Study: July 22, 2020Reflections: July 22, 2020Live Bible Study: July 20, 2020Video Short: July 22, 2020Video Short: July 23, 2020Reflections: July 23, 2020Under the Cross: Pushing Back with CompassionLive Bible Study: July 23, 2020Video Short: July 24, 2020Digging Deeper: SpiriligiosityReflections: July 24, 2020Live Bible Study: July 24, 2020Reflections: July 25, 2020Live Bible Study: July 25, 2020Reflections: July 26, 2020Live Bible Study: July 27, 2020Flex: Lutherans on FacebookReflections: July 27, 2020Video Short: July 27, 2020Video Short: July 28, 2020Foundations: CrucifloodLive Bible Study: July 28, 2020Reflections: July 28, 2020Video Short: July 29, 2020Speaking of Faith: Campus ChristianReflections: July 29, 2020Live Bible Study: July 29, 2020Dean's List: Baptized, Ready to DieLive Bible Study: July 30, 2020Reflections: July 30, 2020Video Short: July 30, 2020Video Short: July 31, 2020Debunked: The End Times--Still All About JesusReflections: July 31, 2020

Categories

Tags

1 John 4 1 Peter 3 1 Peter 5 1 cointhians 1 1 corinthians 10 1 corinthians 1 1 corinthians 3 1 corinthians 4 1 corinthians 5 1 corinthians 6 1 corinthians 7 1 corinthians 8 1 corinthians 9 1 john 1 1 kings 19 1 pete 3 1 samuel 10 1 samuel 12 1 samuel 13 1 samuel 14 1 samuel 15 1 samuel 16 1 samuel 17-18 1 samuel 17 1 samuel 18 1 samuel 19 1 samuel 1 1 samuel 20 1 samuel 23 1 samuel 24 1 samuel 25 1 samuel 26 1 samuel 28 1 samuel 2 1 samuel 31 1 samuel 3 1 samuel 4 1 samuel 5 1 samuel 6 1 samuel 8 1 samuel 9 1530 1corinthians 1 1corinthians15 1corinthians1 1john 2 1john 3 2 Nations 2 corinthians 5 2 samuel 1 2 samuel 20 2 samuel 21 2 samuel 22 2 samuel 5 2 samuel 6 2020 2peter 1 9/11 ;unishment Abimelech Abraham Absolution Acts 10 Acts 11 Acts 12 Acts 13 Acts15 Adam Air Force Angelou Apostles' Creed Areopagus Athens Augsburg Augustine Ben E King Benedictus Bethel Bethlehem Bethuel Bible study Blesses Jacob Boaz Boggess Book of Life Book of Prayer Broadway Buddha CDC COVID CTCR Called Out Culture Canaan Catholic Charles V Christ crucified Church Communion Concordia Corinthians Corona Corrow Curry DNA Daniel Daughters of Canaanites David Divergent Divine Service Drosendahl Eden Ehrhard Eighth Commandment El Capitan Emmanuel Enlightenment Ephesians 2 Esau maries Ishmaelite Esau marries Hittites Esau Eucharist Eve Exodus 3 Ezekiel Facebook Father Fenker Fifth Commandment First Article Fisk Flood Galatians 2 Gen Z Generation Z Genesis 12 Genesis 13 Genesis 14 Genesis 16 Genesis 17 Genesis 19 Genesis 1 Genesis 20 Genesis 21:10-21 Genesis 21 Genesis 22 Genesis 24-25 Genesis 24 Genesis 25 Genesis 50 Genesis 5 Genesis 6 Genesis 7 Genesis 8 Genesis George Floyd God's Word God's promise Good Friday Good News Goodman Greek Grim Reaper Hale Han Solo Hill Holy Baptism Hosanna Hunger Games I am IGen Instagram Isaac lies about Rebekah Isaac Isaiah 64 Isaiah Issues Etc Jacob flees Easu Jacob sent to Laban Jacobs ladder Jacoby Jacob Jairus Jeremiah Joanna Joel 2 John 15 John 17 John 18 John 1 Johnson John Joseph Joshua 10 Joshua 23 Joshua 24 Joshua 4 Joshua 6 Joshua 7 Joshua 8 Joshua Judges 2 Judges 3 Judgment Day Kahoot Keith Kopitske Kosche Kruschel LCMS-U LGBTQ LSB Laban Last Day Lazarus Leah Lord appears to Abraham Lord's Supper Luke 15 Luke 16 Luke 1 Luke 6 Luke 9 Luther Lydia Magnificat Mandelbrot Mark 13 Mark 5 Mark 9 Martha Martin Luther Mary Mass Matthew 15 Matthew 16 Matthew 4 Matthew 7 Matthew Memorial Day Micah 7 Michelangelo Minneapolis Mize Monty Python Morales Muhammad Nain Nicene Creed Nicodemus Nones Nunes Old Testament Onesiumus Ostapowich Paradise Passover Patmos Pauls Pelikan Pew Research Pharisees Phil 4 Philemon 17 Philemon 18 Philippians 2 Philistines Pierson Plano Polycarp Preface Preus Proverbs 14 Proverbs 15 Proverbs 16 Proverbs 17 Proverbs 20 Proverbs 22 Psalm 123 Psalm 18 Psalm 23 Psalm 27 Rachel Rebekah Revelation Romans 1 Romans 3 Romans 5 Romans 6 Romans 8 Rosebrough Rouser Ruth 2 Ruth Sabaoth Sacraments Salome Salomi Sanchez Sanctus Sarah laughed Sarah Sayers Siddhartha Sletten Snapchat Social shaming Sodom Son St Paul St. Paul St.Peter Star Wars Supper Taylor Swift Ten Commandments Test Texas Third Article Tribulation Trickery Turkey Twitter Uzziah Vieker Well of Shibah Woelmer Word Zachariah abortion absolve academic active acts 14 acts 15 acts 16 acts 18 acts 19 acts 20 acts 21 acts 22 acts 23 acts 24 acts 25 acts 26 acts 27 acts 28 acts 2 acts 8 acts 9 acts2 acts addiction adultery adults advice aerospace agnostic alcoholic all christians who have been baptized almighty altar guild altar angels animal answer anti-christian antinomians antioch antiphonal anxiety apologetic apostles apostle archaeology archangels arius ark assurance athanasian atheism atheist audience augustana authority babies babylon baby banquet baptism baptized barnabas beliefs betray bible bigots birthright blessing blind blood blues body bonhoeffer borghardt borg borhgardt bread bride of Christ bride brothers brown buetow burial calendar cancel culture cancel candle casket catechism catechize change chant children choir christianity christ clerical cling codependency coin college colors colossians 1 colossians 2 colossians 3 colossians 4 comfort of forgiveness comfort compassion conferences confessions confession confess confidence confirmation conversion coronavirus corporate council covenant creation creed cross crucified crucifix cruciflood culture current events cwirla daily bread dan brown danger darkness dash dead dean death debtors defense defensiveness deistic deliverer demons depression deserve destroy deuteronomy 18 disagreement disaster disciples dishonesty dispensational disruption diversity divorce doctrine donkey door doubt doxology dream dystopian earthquake easter ecclesiastes 1 ecclesiastical egypt election elizabeth embarrassment emotions endure enemy engineering enlightened ephesians 4 ephesians 5 epistle equilibrium estates eternal life evangelism evil evolution excuses exhortation exile exodus 20 experience extra nos ezekiel 1 failure faithful faith fall false teachers false teaching family famine fate fear feast feeling wheel feelings feminism fire font foolishness foolish for you foreigners foretaste forgiveness of sins forgiveness forgiven forgive fortress fractal freedom freshman fringes fulfillment funeral fun future galatians 1 galatians 3 galatians 4 galatians 5 galatians 6 gay gender generations generosity genesis 15 genesis 2 genesis 3 genesis 4 genesis11 genetic gerhardt gifts gift girlfriend gloom gnosticism golf good fruit good work good gospels gospel government grandma gratitude greatness groom guard haiti happiness harmony healingl heinz heirs hell heresy high school historic history holy spirit holy trinity holy homework homosexuality honor hope hostility humility hurt hymnal hymnody hymn hypocrites i never knew you i samuel 15 iPad iPhone identity idolatry image-bearer imitate imposters imputed incurvatus inheritance intentional forgiveness internet interpretation invitation irreducible complexity isaiah 6 isolation israel jeremiah 23 jerusalem jesus jewish job38 job john 10 john 12 john 13 john 14 john 16 john 19 john 20 john 21 john 3 john 6 john the baptist joshua 1 joshua 2 joshua 3 joy judas judgement judges 13 judges 14 judges 15 judges 16 judges 4 judges 6 judges 7 judging judgment seat justification justin martyr karma katrina keep keseman keys kind kingdom kohlmeier kuhlman lange large catechism laugh law lectionary legacy lemon lentil stew lex credendi lex orendi liberation life-changing light lion liturgical liturgy live lord's prayer lord\'s prayer lord\\\'s prayer lord\\\\\\\'s prayer lord\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s prayer lords prayer lords supper lost love your neighbor love lowly luke 11 luke 14 luke 18 luke 19 luke 21 luke 22 luke 23 luke 24 luke23 luke24 luke5 lust lutheran madden magruder manifestation mark 10 mark 16 mark 6 mark 8 martyrdom martyr mary magdalene masks matthew 28 matthew 5 matthew28 matthew3 means of grace measure mental health merciful mercy metaphor mietzner millennium missionaries missionary modernism money moses mountaintop movement multiply offsprings murder musician mythology myths name nations nation natural disaster natures nature negative neighbor new life new man news nicea noah non-masked numbers 21 numbers 22 numbers 23 numbers 24 numbers 35 numbers27 numbers32 obedience obey old Adam omans 3 omans 6 onesimus opposition orders ordinary ordination overcome pandemic panmillennialist papacy papyrus paraments passive pastoral care pastors pastor patriarch paul peers pentecost people perfection persecution persons person peter philemon 8-9 philemon philippians 4 philosophy politics poor pope positive post-Christian postmodern poverty power practices praise prayer pray pregnancy pregnant presence pride procrastination prodigal son prodigal professor promised land promises promise prophecy prophets prophet proverbs 10 proverbs 13 proverbs 24 proverbs 25 proverbs 27 proverbs 31 proverbs 3 proverbs 5 proverbs 8 proverbs 9 proverbs22 provision psalm 13 psalm 20 psalm 25 psalm 28 psalm 2 psalm 48 psalm 51 psalm 54 psalm8 psychologists public punishment punish purity questions quid pro quo racial racism rags ransom rapture receiving reconciliation record reformation refuge rejoice relationship relativism religion repent rescue response resurrection rich man richard rich righteousness riots risen rock romans 11 romans6 routine rubbish rubies ruth 1 sacrament sacrifice sadness saint salt salvation sanctification satanic saul school science scripture seasons sea self-esteem senior seraphim sermon servant service sexual immorality sexual orientation sexual shaltanis shatlanis sheep shepherd shield shrewd sight singleness sing sinners sinner sins sin slavery slaves small catechism snowflake social distancing social media sola sophia soul speaker sphere spiritualists star steward strength stress strong student loan substance suffering suicide supernatural surreal task-oriented teach technology temple temptation tertullian tetelestai texts the Promise thomas time titus 3 titus3 toil tomb tongues tragedy trap trials trinity triune trust in God trustworthy trust truth tweets type A unbelief unbelievers unity university unjust steward unwoke vestments victory video vine virgin virology visitation vocation voice vote waiting watermarked water weakness weak wealth wedding wept why will wisdom wise witness woke womb working worldview worship yahweh youth ministry youth zealots zechariah