How To Be A "Listening Adult" For Your Students
Youth workers often find themselves in situations where a student approaches them about an issue or concern he or she may be having.
And while it's seldom great timing, it's important to acknowledge the powerful role you play in their life as a "listening adult."
Many teenagers find it hard to freely open-up to an adult. Those that find themselves doing this often feel like they are taking a risk . . .
- Will the adult "hear" my feelings or try to make me feel a certain way?
- Will the adult judge me?
- Will the adult understand?
- Can I trust the adult to take my needs seriously?
Being a "listening adult" can make a huge impact on how students choose to deal with their problems or issues in the future. Practicing some foundational listening skills can communicate such strong and positive messages to the students in your youth ministry. Here's a quick look at some basic tips on being a "listening adult."
Make Time To Listen
Simply making the time to listen to teenagers' concerns will, of course, allow you to hear what is going on in their life, and that they've come to you for. But, more powerfully, when a student is talking about their concerns out loud, it can allow them to further process their issue. Oftentimes, this confirms a reality that may seem too abstract in their head. So simply talking aloud (instead of keeping it all inside) can actually be a big part of the "working out" of their concern. Sometimes this may prompt them to come up with their own conclusions right before your eyes. You get the "relational credit" for being part of the solution when all you have done is made the time to really listen!
Silence Is Your Friend
Being okay with intermittent silence is so important. Oftentimes we can feel the need to jump in and "rescue" the conversation if the student pauses, or comes to a difficult part of their story, or stops talking all-together. But to allow you both to sit in silence for a few moments can create space for the student to offer any more details of their story, as well as assure them that you are not rushing them to finish!
The Best Kept Secret Of Listening: Offer Encouragement
Encouragement is a vastly overlooked aspect of listening to teenagers. As you offer a student guidance or suggestions as you listen, offer more praise than you think is necessary. Encouraging statements can include:
- "I really appreciate you taking the time to share this with me," or . . .
- "I can see it's difficult for you to talk about this, and I'll continue to listen and be here until you are done," or . . .
- "You made a great decision in that situation," or . . .
- "Congratulations on walking away."
Many times our conversations with our students may be heavier on the "guidance" end (or "advice giving") and not so heavy on the encouragement end. A teen will be more inclined to open up to you more in the future if they feel listened to and encouraged, not just given advice.
Don't Leave Students Hanging
If a student comes to you about a situation that is out of your area of confidence, get him or her to a person who can help them. For example, if a student discloses information about a potentially dangerous home or school situation, get both his or her family and a professional involved (and tell your senior Pastor immediately). Remember, you don't have to have all the answers. It's more beneficial to the teenager for you to go ahead and recommend further help than to try and solve it yourself.
Never miss an opportunity to speak Scripture into your students' lives. Offering a word from the Word is a wonderful way to shift the conversation to a heavenly outlook, and to further their spiritual development. You may not know exactly what to say or how to answer the "why's" regarding what is happening in a student's life. But missing the opportunity to speak God's Word into their lives fails to give them the only real hope that is trustworthy.
One way you can make sure you are equipped with Scripture in a time of need, is to identify ahead of times those verses that point to the promises of God. Not just focusing on the mystery nature of God but on those things we know are true about Him. For example, "I don't understand why your brother is having to go through this sickness but I do know that God is close to the brokenhearted and to those who are crushed in their spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
Following up after one of these conversations is just an absolute must. One of the easiest ways to do this is to approach the student in their "natural" setting. For example, if he is by himself shooting hoops at the church, pick up a ball and start playing, too. This can allow a conversation to ease into a follow-up and make the teen feel more comfortable as well.
Practicing these guidelines are not difficult. Not only are they easily implemented, they will help you have meaningful encounters with your students.