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

 2021
 January
Reflections: January 1, 2021This Just In: The Ultimate ResolutionReflections: January 2, 2021Reflections: January 3, 2021Reflections: January 4, 2021Video Short: January 5, 2021Video Short: January 4, 2021Reflections: January 5, 2021Reflections: January 6, 2021Video Short: January 6, 2021Under the Cross: Don't Look at the ListReflections: January 7, 2021Video Short: January 7, 2021Video Short: January 8, 2021Reflections: January 8, 2021Dean's List: The Catechism Really Is for YouReflections: January 9, 2021Reflections: January 10, 2021Reflections: January 11, 2021Video Short: January 11, 2021Helpful Things: Fundraising Essentials FOR YOUReflections: January 13, 2021Video Short: January 12, 2021Reflections: January 12, 2021Video Short: January 13, 2021Reflections: January 14, 2021Video Short: January 14, 2021Under the Cross: You Don't Belong to This WorldReflections: January 15, 2021Video Short: January 15, 2021Reflections: January 16, 2021Reflections: January 17, 2021Reflections: January 18, 2021Video Short: January 18, 2021This Just In: Martin Luther King, Jr.--The Man Who Had a DreamReflections: January 19, 2021Video Short: January 19, 2021Dead Christians You Should Know About: Saint SebastianReflections: January 20, 2021Video Short: January 20, 2021Video Short: January 21, 2021Reflections: January 21, 2021Reflections: January 22, 2021Reflections: January 23, 2021Video Short: January 22, 2021Dean's List: Jesus Hits the Spot!Reflections: January 24, 2021Reflections: January 25, 2021Reflections: January 26, 2021Video Short: The Conversion of St. PaulHelpful Things: Effective Fundraising Through Midweek MealsVideo Short: Suffering Doesn't Mean God Doesn't Love YouReflections: January 27, 2021Video Short: Woke Wednesday: Karma, Karma, KarmaVideo Short: Abortion and the Church's WorkReflections: January 28, 2021Reflections: January 29, 2021Video Short: What Goes On In Your Pastor's Mind About Closed CommunionFoundations: You Need Your Pastor More Than EverReflections: January 30, 2021Reflections: January 31, 2021

Categories

Tags

1 Cor 11 1 John 10th Commandment 1525 1Tim 2 2000 2002 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021AD 20th birthday 2nd Adam Jesus 2nd Commandment 3rd Article 3rd commandment 3rd day of wedding 40 days 4th commandment 5th Commandment 8th Commandment 9/11 95 Thesis 9th commandment Abraham Absolution Acts 1 Acts 9 Acts Adam Adiaphora Advent Age of Accountability Albrecht Peters All Hallows Eve Alpha and Omega Ambrose Amen-I beleve Amen American Andrew Anointed One Apology Apostles Creed Apostles' Creed Areopagus Ascension Day Athens Augsburg Augustian monk Augustine Babylonians Bach Baker Bamsch Barabbas Beatitudes Beginning and End Benediction Benedictus Best Friend Jesus Bethany Bethel Bethesda Bethlehem Bible study Boaz Bondage of the Will Book of Life Book of Mormon Book of Prayer Bread of Life Buddha C.S. Lewis CDC COVID-19 COVID Caesar Calling Calvary Canaanite woman Canaan Capernaum Castillero Catholic Cath Changed form Chestfeeding Chief Sheperd Chief Shepherd Christ Jesus Christ crucified Christ death Christ fills repentance Christ raised Christ righteousness Christ the King Christ's precious blood Christ\'s precious blood Christ\\\'s precious blood Christ\\\\\\\'s precious blood Christian Church Christian Science Christological Christology Church Communion Compline Concordia Constantine Coram Deo Corinthians Corrow Creator Creeds Cross of Christ Cross of Jesus DCYSKNA DNA Daniel Dan Dare to be Lutheran Date to Be Lutheran David's decendant David\'s decendant David\\\'s decendant David Dawkins Deborah Diet of Worms Divergent Divine Service Dorothy Sayers Dr Seuss Drosendahl Dying to Live Earth Day Eastern Sages/Gentiles Ecclesiastes Eden Ehrhard Eighth Commandment Elijah Elisha Elvis Emmanuel Enlightenment Ephesians 2 Ephesians 3 Ephrath Epiphany=Gentile Christmas Esau Espinosa Eternal Son Eucharist Evening Prayer Eve Eyes on Jesus Ezekiel Ezkiel Father Fenker Fibbing Fifth Commandment First Article First Commandment Fisk Flood Following the Star Formula of Concord Fourth Commandment Fourth Petition France Frederick Friedich Wyneken Friend of Sinners From Above Ft Wayne seminary Gabriel Garden Gen Z Genesis Germany German Gideon Gifts of God Given God Helps God forgives sin God hides himself God of grace God of mercy God on the cross God saves losers God saves God the Father God who saves God works good from evil God-man God's Church God's I will God's Law God's Word God's justice God's kingdon God's nos create trust God's plan God's sight God's will God's wisdom God's work God\'s I will God\'s Law God\'s Word God\'s justice God\'s kingdon God\'s plan God\'s sight God\'s will God\'s wisdom God\'s work God\\\'s I will God\\\'s Law God\\\'s Word God\\\'s justice God\\\'s kingdon God\\\'s plan God\\\'s sight God\\\'s wisdom God\\\'s work God\\\\\\\'s Law God\\\\\\\'s Word God\\\\\\\'s kingdon God\\\\\\\'s wisdom God\\\\\\\'s work God\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s Word God\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s wisdom God\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s work God\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s work God Gof's glory Gof\'s glory Gof\\\'s glory Gof\\\\\\\'s glory Golgotha Goliath Good Friday Good News Good Sheperd Goodman Goodness of the Lord Gospel = forgiveness Gospel requires hearing Grace Greeks Greek Hagar Halloween Han Solo Happy Lent Haughty Heavenly Father Hebrews Hebrew Here I Stand Hiding Place Hill His Name Hogwarts Hokana Holly Innocents Holocaust Holy Baptism Holy Communion Holy Land Holy Sacrement Holy Saturday Holy Week Holy name Hosanna Hull I am Immanuel Independence Indulgences Isaac Isaiah 66 Isaiah Islam Jacoby Jacob Jeremiah Jesus juatifies the ungodly Jesus Christ Jesus body Jesus calls Jesus died Jesus fixed sin Jesus forgives Jesus is Lord Jesus is Truth Jesus is Yaweh Jesus is future Jesus is present Jesus is the suwwer Jesus is true God Jesus is true man Jesus is with us Jesus lived Jesus on the Cross Jesus os past Jesus peace Jesus reveals God Jesus rose Jesus saves Jesus shines like the sun Jesus suffering Jesus the Crucified Jesus the Sent One Jesus took God's anger Jesus took God\'s anger Jesus took God\\\'s anger Jesus took all sins Jesus travels to sinners Jesus washing feet Jesus-access tot he Father Jesus" peace Jesus' baptism Jesus' love Jesus' will Jesus\" peace Jesus\' baptism Jesus\\\" peace Jesus\\\\\\\" peace Jews and gentiles Joanna John 12 John 6 John the Baptist Johnson John Jonah Joseph Smith Josephus Joseph Joshua Joy/suffering Jubilate Judah Judgment Day Judica Sunday Karma=get what you give Keith Kenobi Kieselowsky King Solomon King of Kings Kingdom of God Klages Kosche LGBTQ Laban Lamb of God Lamb Lamentations Lamg of God Last Day Law requires doing Law shows sin Lazarus Leah Lent Levi Life or death Lincoln Lord's Prayer Lord's Supper Lord\'s Prayer Lord\'s Supper Lord\\\'s Prayer Lord\\\'s Supper Lords's Prayer Lords\'s Prayer Lords\\\'s Prayer Lord Loss Luke 11 Luke 17 Luke 18 Luke 1 Luther Lydia Maggie Karner Magnificat Maiwald Making Waves Margery Kempe Mark 7 Mark 8 Marr 3 Martha Martin Luther Mary Mass Master Matt 13 Matt 20 Matt 3 Matt 6 Matthew 2 Matthew Matthias replaces Judas Matthias Maundy Thursday McCrorey McKenna Melanchthon Memorial Day Messiah Micah 7 Micah Middle East Monica Mormonism Mormon Mother of God Mt Zion Muhammad Muhlenberg Muslims Myers Nagel Nazareth New Testament New Year Nicene Nicodemus Nunes Office of Ministry Old Testament One tru God Ostapowich Palmarum Paradise Passion time Passover Paul/greatest apostle Pauls Peperkorn Person of Jesus Peter's confession Peter\'s confession Pharaoh Pharisees Pharoah Philip Philistines Phillip and James Phillip Phoebe Pierson Pilate Polycarp Pontius Pilate Populus Zion Potiphar Pray ye Preus Proverbs 31 Psalm 13 Psalm 25 Psalm 43 Psalm 51 Rachel Rahab Rebekah Redeemer Reuben Revelation Riley Risen Lord Rogate Roman persecution Romans 1 Romans 3 Romans 4 Romans 5 Romans Rosebrough Ruth Sabbath Salome Sanchez Sanctus Sarah Saul/greatest preseutor Savior of all Savior Schools shouln't lead prayer Schuldheisz Sebastian Second Article Seed Septuagesima Shakespeare Simeon Simon Sin-Bearer Singing Sinner team becomes Jesus' team Sinner team becomes Jesus\' team Sixth Commandment Sletten Smalcald Sodom Son of David Son of God Son of Mam Son of Man Son of the Living God Sons of God Son Spirit of God St Patrick St. Joseph St. Matthias St. Paul Staupitz Supper Table of Duties Te Deum Ten Commandments The Feast The Son of God Theotokos Third Article Timothy Titus Tolkien Transfiguation Transfiquration Tree of Cross Tree of Knowledge Tree of Life Twelve UFO Valentine Vieker Visitation Weedon Winter Wittenberg Woelmer Word and Sacraments Word and Sacrement Word of Christ Word of God Word Yaweh Zachariah Zacharias "Not" "you are god" \"you are god\" \\\"you are god\\\" abortion is evil abortion abram absolve abuse academic acceptable sacrifice active ad te levavi adultery adults advice affirmation agape agnostic alcoholic aliens all have sinned all powerful almighty altar guild altar always anabaptists angel anger animal anna anouthen answering prayers answer anti-christian antinomian antioch antiphonal antithetical to Christianity anxiety apocalypse apologetic apostle appearances appearance archaeology archangels ark armed forces artist ascension athanasian atheism atheist atonement augustana authority awake babylon baby baggage banquet baptismal grace baptism baptized baptizing barnabas barren bartholomew beginning being made holy belief believes believing is recieving benjamin best construction betray between you bible bigot birth of Jesus birthright blessing blind blood boast body and blood body bonhoeffer borghardt born again bound will brandt bread breakup bride of Christ bridegroom bride brother buetow burial cain calendar cancel culture cancelling the past cancer candle casket catechesis catechism catechize celebration centurion chant character of God chastity child abuse children of promise children choir chosen christianity christmas christ circumcision clean clergy clerical cling coin college colossians combat comfort commandment command compassion concupiscence condemn conferences confession of Trinity confession of fITH confessions confession confess confirmation connection conscience conspiracy theory context conversion cookie cornerstone corrupting sin council counselor covenant coveting covet creation creed critical theory cross crown crucifiction crucified crucifix cry culture shock culture cupid curb/guide/rule curb current events curse cwirla daily bread danger darkness dating de-platform deadly sin dead dean death debt cancelled debt decrease defeat delivered demon depression descriptive vs prescriptive destroy devil disappointment disaster disciples discipline dishonesty dispair disposition of delight disruption diversity divorce doctrine dogma domestic violence donations donkey door doubts doubt doxology dream drew driven by the Spirit drugs earthquake easter ecclesiastical egypt election elizabeth embarrassment emotions empty tomb encourager encourgement endure enemy engineering enlightened enlivening entertainment envy epiphany epistle equality equal equity escped forced idolitry estates eternal life for us eternal life evangelism evangelist evil evolution examine example excuses exercise love exhalted exhortation exiles exile extra nos extra-biblical eyewitness failure faith alone faith in Jesus faithful faith fall false gods false preachers false teachers family famine fasting fate father's house father\'s house father\\\'s house father\\\\\\\'s house fear feast feelings fellowship of believers female feminism fiery serpent filial fear fire firstfruits flesh flowers font foolish for you forerunner foretaste forgiven in Christ forgiveness forgiven forgive fornication forsaken fortress fraud free gift free will freedom frees us freshman friendship from scripture fulfilles fulfillment full pardon funeral fun future games gaudete gay gender inclusive gender geneology generations generosity genetics genetic genocide gentiles gerhardt gift of justification gift girlfriend given not earned glory of God glory gnosticism goats godliness godly husband golden rule golf good gifts good samaritan good works good work good gospel gossiping government grace repents us gracious gratitude great commission grief groom guarded tomb guardian guard guest guide guilt by association guilt habitual sins hannah happiness harm to win hatred have mercy healing hearing/listening heart hear heaven heinz heirs hell heresy herod high priest high school history holiday holiness holy spirit holy trinity holy homosexuality honor parents honor hope against hope hopelessness hope hostility house of israel humble humblw glory humility hurt husband hymnal hymn hypocrisy hypocrites iPad identity idol worship image imitate impossible improved imputed in Jesus incarnation inconsistant standards increase inheritance instigating faith institution internet interpretation introit invitation isolation israel issues james jerome jerusalem jesus jewish job joyful joy judas jude judge Jesus judge me judgement judge justice justification justify justin martyr kantor karma keep keseman keys kill kind kingdom king knowledge kohlmeier kuhlman lange language large catechism latin laugh law leaven lectionary legacy lemon lepers lept lex credendi lex orendi life-changing life lightning light lion listen liturgical liturgy live doubt live living bread living water lonely lords prayer lords supper lost sheep lost love your neighbor love-Christ on cross love lowly lust lutheran madden magicians magisterial magruder manger manifestation manipulative manna marked as redeemed marriage martyrs martyr mary magdalene mary/faith masks meals means of grace means measures measure mediator mental health merciful mercy and grace mercy metaphor microagression mietzner millennium miracles miracle missionary modernism money moses mountains movement murder musician myth name narrow door nation nature nebuchadnezzar need Jesus negative neighbor net of sin new command new creation new in Christ new life newborns news noah not blesses not condemned obey offering old Adam on our knees on the knees onesimus orders ordinary ordination organ orgiven original sin orthodox our neighbors body overseer pagan pandemic papacy parable of sower parable paraments parents represent God parents teach religion parents party passive pastors pastor patience patriarch paul payed the debt payment peace peers pentecost people perpetual forgiveness persecution person peter pharasies' bribes pharisee philemon philosophy physical touch place or vacation plagues plan plenary pope possible post-Christian postmodern poverty praise pray for leaders prayers prayer praying pray pre-Lent=prepare pre-emptive restraint preaching preach prepare for Calvary pride priesthood proclaim prodigal promises promise prophecy prophet psalms psalm punish purchased and won purity quarantine racism raised ram ransom rape rapture real presence reality reason rebel reconcile reconciliation redeemed sinners redemption reflection reformation refuge regenerated rejoice rejouce relationship relativism religion religious remember loving kindness renewal of faith repent now repentance repent resolutions restoration rest resurrection reverence with joy richard rich righteousness riots risen road to Damascus rock rorate coeli rule sacraments sacrament sacrement delivers Calvary sacrements sacrifice of presentation sacrifice safety saints saint salvation samaritan sanctification sanctified satan satis est saul saved by grace saved save scapegoat scholarship school science scripture seek God's salvation seek God\'s salvation seek God\\\'s salvation segregation self-centered self-esteem self-justify self-worth selfish human desire selfishness seraphim sermon servant serve ou neighbor served without fanfare service project servile fear set apart sexual sex shaltanis shame shepherd shield showed glory sick silas simul sinners sinner sins sin skeptic slavery small catechism social media shunning sojouner sola fide sola gratia sola soldiers sophia sorrow sorry enough soul soup supper speeding spiritual drink spiritual spirit star state steal stephen stewardship steward stottlemyer strength stress strong subjective suffer for...my name suffer/die/rise again suffering suicide is forgiven suicide support single mothers symbol synagogue tabernacle tax collectors teaching teach technology temple temptation tempted tenderness tertullian tetelestai the Christ the Church the Cross the Word theology things of God thomas throne through faith tomb tongues trinity triune God triune trust in God trust truth unbelief undeserved favor unforgiveable unity universal changing event universalism universe university unrighteousness unwoke veil vestments victim victoory victory video virgin virtue vocation voice war washed watermarked water weakness weak wealth wedding weeping wept widow will of God wine for wedding wisdom wise witness woke=aware of social justice wokeism=American civil religion woke works world's religion is transactional world worship wrath yahweh youth ministry youth zechariah zion zombie