We have five wonderful children, the oldest now twenty five and the youngest thirteen. During the past twelve years, as one after another entered and passed through their teen years, my husband John and I have placed them in the hands of those who, we hoped, would build on the same foundation we had laid in our home.
Most, if not all, of the people who have worked with our children have been well intentioned. A few have been zealous, but didn't seem to know how to handle young people. And then there have been those who have been truly gifted. They knew just what to say and what to do to bring out the best in our kids.
I couldn't help but notice the characteristics of these gifted folks. For those of us who work with teens, they stand as examples that we should be able to look at and learn from.
Those who work with youth have taken on a serious responsibility. We know that the bible tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."(Proverbs 22:6 Proverbs 22:6Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
American King James Version×)
Training, or working with youth is something that can have a profoundly lasting effect, for what the adult passes on in way of instruction can shape what the child will be when they grow older.
Those who are good at the job are aware of the weighty responsibilities they have assumed and are genuinely interested in the youth they work with.
When our oldest daughter was sixteen she took an oil painting class at a nearby Community College. Her teacher saw Rebecca's potential and decided she could help develop it. When the class ended, she invited Rebecca to continue to take lessons in her home, at no additional cost.
For these kinds of people, commitment to see the venture through to the end is deep felt and genuine, centered on concern for the young person and not self exaltation. Having clear cut goals helps keep them focused on what they are doing and why.
They take the time
Those who are genuinely interested in youth take the time to develop a close relationship with the individuals they are working with. They know that once they have taken up the plow they must finish working the field.
They have, or, more often, make, the TIME necessary to follow through on their commitment. When necessary, they place less important matters on the back burner to better fulfill their task. Our son, Daniel, began taking tap class when he was nine years old. Now, at age sixteen, everyone is impressed with his dancing expertise. But there was a time when it seemed he would never remember his steps. I clearly remember sitting in the viewing room and watching him struggle as his instructor went over and over the same step with him until she was sure he had gotten it right. And then, the next week, she would do the same thing all over again. This went on for years, until something 'clicked' in Daniel's head. She had commitment and took the time to work with our son on a one on one basis and it finally paid off. Daniel now taps like a pro and is one of her star performers.
They have a tough skin
People who work with youth are always going to run into those well-meaning individuals who express their views on how things should be handled better. The wise instructor realizes that parents can become very emotional where their children are concerned. Many feel that it's the parent's right and responsibility to be interested in what their child is being taught and the way their child is being treated.
Unfortunately, emotions can sometimes override common sense. It's a wise individual who listens to all suggestions and criticisms, letting the negative bounce off while at the same time giving close attention to see if there are any legitimate problems that need to be addressed. "A soft answer turns away wrath" is good advice at any time, but especially when working with an irritated or irate parent.
I remember one meeting where the parents were asked to leave the room. The reasoning was that the young people would talk more freely when the adults (except for the one in charge, of course) were not there. That may have been true for some, but the question is, what sort of message did it send the kids? Those who know how to get the job done don't drive a deeper wedge into the generation gap. Instead, they build bridges, work with parents and teens, stressing the importance of family involvement in all phases of the child's development.
They work hard
Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy is certainly true when it comes to working with young people. Whether it's setting up schedules, developing lesson plans, or hands-on instruction, it will take work. A good leader doesn't delegate the hard work to others and then take all the credit. They realize they are there to serve, not be served. That doesn't mean that they do all the work. Spreading oneself too thin can result in burnout. Sharing responsibilities is another mark of a good leader. Young people who have everything done for them never learn to do things for themselves.
We recently had a local dance where the young people did the bulk of the planning and decorating. It might not have been as polished as an "adult" crew would have produced, but for those involved it was special because they had been allowed to 'do it themselves'. The adults in charge hadn't been afraid to delegate responsibility and, as a result, the teens learned valuable lessons in patience, persistence and finance.
Those who successfully work with young people are keenly aware that they are dealing with fragile young personalities still in the formative stages. What may be considered a jest, or a light rebuke, can be devastating to a young person. Natural leaders keep their negative comments to a bare minimum while stressing the positive.
I was told of one Bible study in which a teenager gave what they thought was the right answer to a question, only to have the instructor criticize the whole class for not knowing their Bible. The adult in charge hadn't realized how hard it had been for the young person to work up the courage to raise their hand and give what they thought was the correct answer. Because they were insensitive to the feelings of the youth they were working with, the teen was offended and the whole class subjected to negative criticism.
One young person expressed to me the desire to have leaders who were kind. It was another way of saying they longed for an adult who was genuinely interested in young people and sensitive to their feelings and needs.
They treat young people with respect
Showing respect to others goes hand in hand with sensitivity. No one takes kindly to being talked down to. Teenagers, in particular, need to feel that they are being treated as young adults, not children. They may complain about the work involved, but most teens really appreciate Bible lessons where heavier issues are addressed. A 'let's look at this together' comes across far better than lectures or Bible stories.
Sports is another area where young people need to be treated with sensitivity and respect. We've all ran into the coach who belittles, bullies and shows partiality to 'aggressive' players. I recall one case where a coach only put in her "best" players when it came time for the tournament. Those players whom the coach considered less skilled had attended every practice, and had driven a great distance to be involved in the district tournament, only to end up spending all their time on the bench. From a Godly perspective, is winning the game the main objective when dealing with young players? Isn't building a positive self image, developing teamwork among ALL the players, and stressing good sportsmanship far more important?
Keeping young people interested, happy and productive is not easy. At times, many times in fact, things aren't going to go as planned. The Bible study one has worked so hard on may prove uninteresting to the group of youth it is being presented to. A person who is committed enough to have worked up the lesson and sensitive enough to recognize that his class has lost interest, needs also to be resourceful enough to deal with the problem. A good leader isn't afraid to switch topics or change the way the subject is being addressed.
Events that one has planned may, and often do, meet with unexpected difficulties, it is then that those 'gifted' people show their resourcefulness and flexibility by switching from plan A to plan B.
They're up front and honest with the kids
More than anything else, youth appreciate honesty. I was told of one meeting where the subject of sex was addressed. The adult in charge, instead of being honest about it and stating that it was good and wholesome when kept within the bonds of marriage, used scare tactics, going so far as to speak negatively about the act itself. The unfortunate result was that the instructor lost credibility in the eyes of the youth, and a valuable lesson in the right use of sex was lost.
When an adult admits that they haven't got an answer, but will try and find one, they're viewed with far more respect than those adults who try and bluff their way through, wrongly believing they must maintain an authority figure.
They're easy to be entreated
When young people have problems, they don't need to be preached at. Most know when they've made a mistake anyway. What they need is someone to listen to them and offer options without condemning.
Sin, of course, should never be encouraged, or condoned. But no one enjoys having their nose rubbed in past mistakes. It's better to point out in a loving manner where the youth slipped up while offering practical ways of rectify the situation if possible.
Anyone who has ever tried to talk to someone who was just waiting for you to shut up so he could get in his two cents, knows that there are different levels of listening. Listening in order to understand is different from listening in order to be heard. Those adults who are successful with young people listen in order to understand.
They spark imagination and drive
As a man thinks in his heart so is he, applies to young people as well as adults. When an adult expects the best of out of a youth, the youth generally strives to live up to that expectation.
Good leaders know how to spark the imagination and drive in the young people they work with.
The young tend to be idealistic. Most want to do the right thing, but often don't know how to go about it. When shown how they can make a better world, the majority respond.
They're firm but fair
No one respects someone that they can walk all over. Young people don't need another friend, or another parent. They do need leaders who they can look up to, and go to for help and encouragement.
One of the most well-liked teachers I knew was one who maintained control over his class, gave hard tests and spoke his mind. Why was he so popular? Because he was firm but fair. He never treated one student better than another, but tried to inspire ALL his class to do their best. He maintained certain standards and the students knew they had best live up to them or suffer the consequences.
Working with young people, be they your own or others, is not an easy task, but it is rewarding. What greater challenge than to help shape a young person's mental, physical and spiritual growth? What greater responsibility than to help a young person develop to their fullest potential?