Youth Group`s NOT Dead

Below is from a blog I read, the italics are my thoughts and the application in youth ministry, the rest is not mine. I only took the part about Adolescence because I think it is particularly important. They go through each age group. The bolded bullet points and underlining are done by me to draw special attention to them. To read the full blog, please click the link here, it is a great read!

Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens

Adolescence

  • Friends will be more important than family. You’re still important, but there’s something they have to do – find who they will be when they step into the world as a healthy, independent adult.  Just like you had to do at their age.

One of the best things a parent  can do for their teen during this stage is give them opportunities to make and build good healthy friendships. The church is a great opportunity for parents to allow their teen freedom and independence while not having to worry about the risky behaviours that get mentioned below.

  • What their peers think of them will be a source of stress to them for a while, peaking for girls at age 13 and for boys at age 15. They might go to extra lengths to try to fit in with their peers. This might involve making silly decisions or putting themselves in risky situations. Breathe. It will end.
  • They will become more argumentative and will push against you more. This is perfectly in keeping with their adolescent adventure and their experimentation with independence.

Youth Ministers (both volunteer and a CYM) can be an excellent catalyst by simply listening to teens complain about their parents while reminding the teen not to be too hard on their parents. Well formed volunteers can be the stepping stone between parents and teens so that teens feel an adult is hearing them and taking them seriously but not joining them in blaming everything on parents. It is dangerous for people in youth ministry to take sides but important that teens feel they have an ally.

  • May become more emotionally distant from you (don’t worry – they’ll come back but maybe not until they leave their teens).
  • Might not want to be seen in public with you – however cool you are.

This is the most important point for churches to hear. According to the NSYR (National Study of Youth and Religion) teenagers said they want to spend more time with their parents. However it is important to note they do not want to be seen in public with their parents. This is key because we can promote family ministry without focusing solely on family events. Our desire to promote family ministry can cause us to do only “Family Events” which alienates teenagers.  This is the exact reason why High School youth groups are still relevant, given the NSYR. If we are connected to a teen’s parents, if we encourage communication between teens and parents, then we are achieving our goal of family ministry without alienating teens by doing only “Family Events”.

  • Will experiment with their image, their identity, and the way they are in the world.
  • They may become sexually active.
  • They might be impulsive and they might start taking risks. (For a full explanation of why they do this, see here.)
  • They will be more creative and will start to think about the world in really interesting, different ways.
  • They will act like your opinion of them doesn’t matter but it does – as much as ever.
  • They will often misread your emotional expressions – reading anger, hostility or disappointment when you feel nothing like any of that (See here to understand teenage emotional flare-ups).
  • Their sleep cycle will change. Their circadian rhythm will move them about three hours past where they were as kids. This means that they will fall asleep three hours past the time they used to and unless they are completely exhausted, it will be biologically very difficult for them to fall asleep earlier. They will need about 9-10 hours sleep so will need to sleep in for later.
  • Will want to make their own decisions about the things that affect them.

What to do

  • Don’t be judgemental or critical – they need your love and connection more than ever.
  • Understand that they need to find their independence from you. Give them the space to do this. Over time, their values will be likely to align with yours.

Youth group is a safe space for teens to grow in their independence while under the supervision of responsible adults and in an environment that promotes positive values.

  • Know that your teen isn’t rejecting you, but is finding their own way in the world – it’s an important, healthy part of being an independent adult – even if it feels bad.
  • Let go of control and go for influence. The harder you fight to control them, the harder they will push against you. The truth is that when it comes to adolescence, we have no control – they will decide how much they involve you in their lives, how much they tell you, and how much influence you have. Make it easy for them to come to you when something happens or when they need guidance.
  • Give them information, but don’t lecture.
  • You may or may not know when they start to become sexually active, so it’s important that they have the information and guidance they need to stay physically and emotionally safe. See here for an age by age guide for what they need to know.
  • Don’t buy into arguments – ask them to state their case and talk to you about the pros and cons of what they want. By nature, teens will overstate the positives and underestimate the negatives. Encourage them to tell you some of the cons – nothing is ever black or white.
  • Be the calming force – breathe and wait for the wave to pass over you. It takes 90 seconds for an emotion to be triggered, to peak and to start to fade, provided you don’t do anything to give it oxygen.
  • Help them to plan ahead and see around corners, but without judgement.
  • Encourage their social connections and give them space to strengthen their relationships. An important part of their development is to decrease their independence on the family tribe and to do this. To do this, they will feel an increased need to strengthen their affiliation with a friendship tribe. Encourage and support this wherever you can.

Youth groups are a safe space for kids to strengthen their friendships and make new friendships. We would assume the friends they are bonding with, and new friendships, are with teens who have similar values and morals and are (hopefully) not going to lead other teens into risky behaviour. However there is never a guarantee that any friends they make will not lead them into risky behaviours. Don’t assume because a teen goes to youth group they are not into risky behaviour. With church events, teens can be one person at a youth group and another person outside of it. 

  • Help them find safe ways to take risks such as sports – competitive and non-competitive.

    Meeting new people is a risk, a positive and relatively safe risk . Parents should encourage their child to make new friends, especially in a positive environment like a church youth group.

  • Let them know you will always do whatever you can to collect them from any situation when they want to come home – regardless of the circumstances and how late or far away it might be.
  • Let nothing be off limits when it comes to what they can talk to you about.

Many times parents don’t give teens the freedom to talk about anything or the teens don’t FEEL that freedom is there even if it is. Youth groups help to give them a safe place to talk about anything. If we are connected with parents and encouraging that type of “no limits“ communication with parents, the youth group can be a real asset in this area.  

  • Wherever possible, let them sleep in to catch up on sleep deficits.
  • Listen more than you talk.
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