When we meet young people – what do we say to them?

This is one of the most common questions people ask me about working with young people, especially young people who are encountered on the streets or public places.

When I meet young people what do I say?

And it is not just young people on the streets.  When we’re youthworkers in schools, churches, clubs and groups, the most essential aspect of it is the conversations we have with young people.

One of the key arguments in my recent dissertation, basing youth ministry as theatre is that as youthworkers and volunteers we have a responsibility to create the right kind of stage for the drama of interactions to occur. It has to be a healthy place where conversations can happen and are valued. On the streets we might not get chance to create the space, but in reality as young people are in their chosen space it shouldn’t matter. All we need to be is approachable.

What we then say is affected by our intentions and values.

Do we focus on what young people are doing? (That they shouldn’t be)

Or what they could be doing? (That they aren’t)

Are they a tool for our ministry or project?

 Or a person in their own right? 

Is the relationship I want to create just a means for something else? Ie has it become strategic?  

On paper many questions we might ask- even those in this excellent post below by nurture development http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/abcd-practice/good-life-conversation/ can be inappropriate depending on our tone on the setting and how authentic we are. A curious question might be nosy. A young person may be suspicious if we want their ideas. But we persist because we want to listen to their views and give their voice value.

What we say might be nothing. Or just to encourage them to say more so ; ‘that sounds interesting tell me more about…. ” , but its as always an art, a drama of conversation. One that there are many prompts and tangents possible. One where we might do well to actively listen to what young people bring to it, what the context brings to it, and what God prompts we hear in it too.

At least if we have the intention to listen. The intention to focus on young peoples strengths, resources, dreams and possibilities we might be treating them with respect. We continually learn in the conversation as we also give into it. It’s that thing about improvising all over again. And I still think this has value;

On feedback for a recent youth club, a young person said ;”we like coming here because the leaders actually talk with us,  we’ve been to other clubs and they just stay in the kitchen”.  Without conversation our youth ministry is just another activity club. Without conversation that seeks to respect and support young peoples dreams, ideas and learn with them.  It is just another distraction but has limited meaning for them . They know when they’re just a tool being used by us.

What do we say when we meet young people?  Whatever we think might help us understand them more.

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