How to Talk About Guns/Violence in Youth Ministry
Living in our current society, the news is often filled with hard stories about violence. At one point it seemed as if this violence was far off and it was easy to avoid or minimize the necessity to have hard conversations with our kids about these topics. Unfortunately, today it seems as if much of the violence has moved closer, so close in fact, that it now often feels as if much of the violence is right outside our own front door. Not only can we not afford to avoid the topic, but we have to engage in it more frequently because of the world that we live in. While the topic is challenging, it is important that we are prepared to help our students feel comfortable engaging in the conversation. Here a few quick tips to help you do so.
You always want to inform parents when you are going to be having a challenging conversation. If you can, provide them of an outline of what you will be discussing. Consider inviting them to be a part of the conversation. Also, provide them with a summary of what was actually discussed in your group. This helps them to effectively engage in dialogue with their child moving forward.
Bring It Up
Don’t be afraid to be the one to bring the topic up when something happens in the news. Odds are the students have seen it and are already thinking about it or discussing it, even if they don’t bring it up to you. Set them up to learn how to have difficult conversations by modeling it first.
Let Them Express
Give your students the opportunity to share what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. Many of them may not feel like they have any other safe space to openly share these things. Be that space for them.
Affirm and Validate Their Feelings
Often times, many adults try to minimize students’ feelings. It’s not that they don’t want to listen, or understand, but many think that this is the best way to protect students. However, when we don’t affirm and validate their feelings, we make it harder for them to share openly and honestly with us. Explain that it is very natural to feel scared, concerned, and pretty much any other emotion that they can express around these issues. Show them that you understand by sharing how you feel as well. Let them know that they are not alone in this.
Provide Safety Tips
Create or download an information sheet on basic safety tips for dealing with violence. Most online resources will share an easy 3-5 Step Safety Plan that can be used in a majority of situations. Also, share your churches safety plan. Knowing that your ministry already has a plan in place will provide a sense of comfort to most students.
Often, many students experience feelings of despair around these issues because it seems as if there is nothing they can do to create positive change. Share with them they do have a voice and that it matters. Give examples of local or national anti-violence organizations that they can partner with. Show them how they can share their thoughts with local leaders and other elected officials. Remind them that they’re voice matters.
Remind them of the power of prayer. Encourage them to pray for safety, peace, wisdom and direction. Consider creating a brief prayer guide for your ministry to walk through together. It can provide a level of comfort to students and families to know that you are all praying on one accord.
Hands down, this is probably one of the most difficult conversations to navigate with young people, but following these steps can help you create a brave space where students know that they can thoughtfully engage in difficult conversations and be equipped and encouraged to bring about positive change in your local community.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.