One of the foundational building blocks of any successful youth ministry program is solid relational ministry. Building personal relationships with the teens, meeting them on their turf, attending their games, showing up on campus to have lunch with them is absolutely imperative in relational ministry. But let’s take it a step further. You’ve built relationships with teens to the point were they now feel comfortable talking and sharing with you on a deeper level.. They trust you and feel that they can open up and talk with you about issues and situations that they find difficult to talk about. Then it happens….one day a teens walks into your office and asks, “Can I talk to you?”
Sitting face-to-face with a teen can be intimidating. No games to play, no PowerPoints to watch, no distractions, just you and a struggling teens, face to face. Let me share with you the basic attending skills that will assist you as you sit with a teen that needs to talk.
Basic Listening Skills to Know
As you convey to the teen that you are hearing them, journeying with them, and are present to them by using these basic attending skills, you can then begin to go deeper with them by implementing these Basic Listening Skills.
- Total presence: To “tend” to another is to care enough to work at being as present as possible with the person before you.
- Eye Contact: Be attentiveto the teen who is speaking. Look into their eyes for the eyes are the “windows to their soul”
- Body Language: Face the teen squarely, lean slightly forward, and have an expressive face. Keep your arms uncrossed
- Vocal Qualities: Your vocal tones indicate how interested you are in what the teen is saying. Think of how many ways you can say “I am interested in what you are saying” by altering your voice…
- Verbal Tracking: Keep to the topic indicated by the person. Be attentive to topic changes
Most importantly whenever we sit with a struggling teen we always want to show empathy. Some people get empathy confused with compassion or sympathy. Empathy is much more. To show empathy we actually become one with the other person to feel with them or to feel as one with them. I always think of the way Jesus approached the suffering and the marginal, he was always so connected to them on all levels, sometimes to the point of tears.
Understanding the Basic Listening Sequence
With a heart that is open and loving toward any teen will certainly provide the opportunity for them to continue to share, but you have to use the hright tools. Our main focus when sitting one-on-one with a struggling teen is to provide them with the framework and the opportunity to gain insight, understanding, and direction in their struggles. Remember to PRAY before and after your time with a teen, always make way for the Holy Spirit to continue its work in both of you.
- Questioning: Ask ‘open’ questions that begin with what, how, could. These types of questions tend to draw a response from the person. (Example: How do you feel about that, what is it that makes you respond like that, could you give me a specific example?)
- Encouragers: A variety of verbal and non-verbal means you can use to prompt a person to keep talking. (Example: head nods, open handed gestures, Tell me more, You bet, Oh?, Yes, Go on, So?, For instance?, Really, I see, And?, I get it, Gosh, Right, Then?, Sure uh hum, and repeating key words spoken by person.)
- Paraphrase: Feeding back to the person the essence of what has just been said by shortening and clarifying, using your own words plus the important words the person has used.
- Reflection of feeling: A short and accurate reflection of what the person is feeling. (Example: Sounds like you’re feeling… You seem to feel angry about…)
Know Your Limits: Making the Right Call
Sometimes when talking on a deeper level with teens, certain issues are brought to the surface, and we must be prepared to adequately deal with those issues. For example, how do we respond if a teens talks about suicide, or being sexually active, or cutting themselves? It is imperative that we respond in a loving, caring, nonjudgmental, professional way. When do we get the parents involved? How do get the parents involved? Listed below are some thoughts on this difficult topic:
- If the teen is talking about suicide, has a suicidal plan, in danger of hurting them selves or another person, involved is dangerous behavior…..MAKE THE CALL. Let the teen know that you have a responsibility, and care about them so much that you will at this time have to involve their parents. Set up an appointment with the parent and teen; sit down with the teen and the parent to act as a support for the teen yet handing over the responsibility to the parent.
- If a teen has indicated that he or she has been or is in the process of being abused either physically, emotionally, or sexually by anyone…MAKE THE CALL. We are mandatory reporters to the authorities when we are aware of abuse to minors. We will be held liable and charged if a minor is getting abused and we do not report it. File the report with the Child Protection Agency in your city and let the agency determine what action to take. Our responsibility is to file.
Dealing with Gray Areas
- If you continue to touch base and talk with a teen that is struggling, and he/she cannot seem to be free from whatever emotions have been bothering him, and / or the teen is obsessing over these emotions and is unable to focus on other aspects of his life. Talk to the teen first privately and get a sense of what is going on with the teen. Monitor emotional movement with the teen. If you have concern about the teens well being talk to him about getting his parents involved. (He will probably be resistant to that) If you feel the teen is in danger then MAKE THE CALL .
- If a teens shows signs of depression which include but are not limited to, excessive sadness, withdrawal from activity, not sleeping, not eating, cutting or are involved with unhealthy coping behaviors, sit down and have “straight talk” with the teen. In some situation give the teen a certain amount of time to work these issues out. Touch base again with the teen and if you feel that the teen is in danger than MAKE THE CALL.
For me, having the opportunity to sit with a teen that is struggling and needs to talk is an honor and a privilege. That they would trust me enough to let me in to their inner world is a gift to me. I am always in awe at the insight and resourcefulness that teens are capable of when they are in a safe environment that allows them to share and talk openly. Just make sure that THEY do most of the talking, and YOU ask the right questions. It is very important to follow up the discussion with future discussions and check in times with the teens that you sit face to face with. DON’T leave them hanging!
God Bless you as you continue to answer the call of God to serve his youth in sometimes very difficult situations.