Youth Ministries That Nurture Resilience In Teens
Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.
So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.
Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”
Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.
Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.
Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.
Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.
Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.
Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.
Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.
This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.
- What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
- What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
- What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
- What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
- What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
- What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?
I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?
Chris Schaffner is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.
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.