If I said to you "It's important to find things you have in common with your students," you'd agree with me on some level. While there's something to be said for what makes us different than the students we minister to, the interests or experiences we have in common with students are a core part of our relationship with them. Commonality is all about connecting.
Yet, the older we get, the further we move away from our ability to naturally relate to our teenagers.
When I was 21 and working with youth, we pretty much ran in the same cultural circles. I knew of the songs, games, and TV shows they were watching because I listened to, or played, or watched the same stuff they did. As I was building relationships with them, it was easy to connect because I sort of naturally engaged with the things they engaged with. But now that I'm almost 35, I find that commonality doesn't happen by default. I'm sure those of you who are 45 or 55 would agree even more!
That's why we have to be more intentional about creating commonality.
But here's the good news: it's not as hard as it sometimes feels. Here are three tips to easily create some commonality between you and your students.
Apps, Apps, and More Apps
I know not every student or youth worker has a smart phone. But for those that do, Apps are a HUGE way to connect with your students. It seems like every few weeks the guys in my small group are playing a different game on their phones. First it was Tiny Wings. Now it's Temple Run. Next week it will be something new. But until it is, playing this game is something I'll have in common with my guys. We'll compare scores (I will never beat theirs), talk trash, and text each other screen shots. There are other apps as well that they goof around with that I'll make sure I have on my phone. It's an easy and fun way of finding common connection.
Create Common Experiences
I wrote a much more in-depth post about this here. But it's something we can't be reminded enough of. Break free from the rigid structure of your programs (or better yet, make "spontaneous" experiences a part of your programming) and do something outside of your church to create a common experience. If you read my personal Twitter feed you saw that yesterday my co-leader and I took our guys to play laser tag. I can admit that I got totally owned by a bunch of 13-year-olds, despite my 9 years in the Marines Corps infantry. And I'm OK with this. :) I can't tell you how much fun we had comparing the "stats" after each game to see who shot who, who had the most points, and who got shot the most (me). And, I loved seeing one of my guys (who absolutely dominated) tell his Dad afterward how awesome he did. This experience will provide a common connection for us long into the future.
I had all five of my small group guys in my car yesterday. And I did a lot of listening. I was reminded (as I always am) of what they think is cool, what they think is lame, what music they like, what music they don't like, and so on. Every one of these is a potential point of connection in future conversations.
These are a just few strategies I've learned to utilize in connecting with my students.
What are some ways you've found to create common connections with your students?