In those important years of turning from a child to a teenager to an adult the youth needs help; help to master this immense developmental phase. “It takes a village”, as they say.
Youth groups are one such way to give teenagers the support they need. To me a youth group requires to be about more than just mere social gatherings. It needs a purpose, a common goal to accomplish; may that be raising donations for a worthy cause or learning certain skill sets. Also it is good for the youth to have an opportunity to work towards something. It helps them feel a purpose and draw self-worth from their accomplishments. It offers them possibilities to learn something new in a different setting than at home or in school. In this phase of major change it is important for them to have safe places to try things out for themselves. That may include acquiring a new competence or learning new things about themselves, such as their likes and dislikes or their gifts and talents.
A huge need of the youth is to feel accepted, even loved. Exactly the way they are. It’s a basic human need, but I consider it particularly important in these tender years of self-exploration when so much is changing: their hormones, their thinking and feeling capacities, and their lives in general. They may not always show this need with their sometimes rough or overtly uninterested exterior, but this is often only due to feelings of insecurity enhanced by this want for acceptance and love they feel inside.
I remember vividly a young woman who was a leader in my youth group when I was a teenager. She made sure I felt welcomed and took an interest in my life, when I had not found peers to be real friends with yet. I could always be sure that she was there for me and that she liked me just the way I was with all my quirks, insecurities and teenage “glory”. She made me feel safe and wanted by connecting with me whenever she saw me. She gave me courage to try new things including reaching out to others. She made me understand that I was needed, that I was unique and wanted for that very reason.
As discussed here recently children and teens should get only a limited amount of screen time according to their age, but especially teenagers often in possession of their own cell phones and computers get way more than is good for them. The technological advances of our era are a wonderful blessing, but at the same time they can be an awful curse. Apart from the detrimental effects on their brains it diminishes their social skills immensely. I have seen teenager unable to start a conversation, even with peers they know. It is easier for them to send a text than to approach someone in person. This lack goes far beyond social skills though. Our youth is often disconnected from life and each other leaving them feeling isolated. Youth groups offer great opportunities for building new friendships and sustaining existing ones. Feeling connected with other people makes us realized we are not alone in our struggles. The same is true for teenagers going through the challenging years of their growing-up. In addition learning how to connect with others and how to maintain relationships serves young people well when they move on to the workplace as well as creating families of their own.
While teenagers may not always be able to see this, we were once like them. We have been through the often-awkward phase of being a teenager ourselves and hopefully we still remember what it was like for us, for this is one of our biggest assets in working with them. Yes, the world has majorly changed since I was a teen, from the way we entertain ourselves to the way we communicate. Due to globalization and the advances in technology the world has become smaller and the living faster, but the natural development from child to teenager to grown up has not changed, neither have the emotional needs in this period. If we ask ourselves things like “What did I need as a teenager? What did I wish grown ups would have understood about me? How did I want to be treated? What would help me in this changing world to go through my teenage years now?” we will be well suited to give our youth a hand and accompany them through those years we have already emerged from.