Six ways to get past the one word conversation phase with Teens

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Last year I got involved in a program that connects individuals with High School Seniors in need of mentoring, and envisioned becoming close friends with my student as they shared all of their personal struggles with me.

It didn’t work out that way…In fact I never really got past the “one word conversation phrase” (I ask a question and they answer with “yes” or “no”)

This year I began mentoring again with very different results….

About five minutes into our session last week one of my students excitedly said “okay man I have to tell you something” and proceeded to share his frustration with not becoming part of the popular crowd at school.

What made the difference?  It was six simple changes that I made in my approach to mentoring

  1. First sessions will be pretty much 90% lecture  (you talking) and about 10% discussion
  2. You take the initiative in sharing struggles or challenges:
  3. Start each session with “what do you want to talk about today?” (if they say I don’t know thats okay, but I’ve been amazed how many times we spend an hour talking about something they bring up in the first five minutes)
  4. If they bring up a struggle listen first, don’t cut them off and try to “fix the situation”
  5. Create handouts for your sessions that deal directly with their struggles
  6. Give students space to share deeper or more personal problems

For the sake of illustration let me use some experiences I had with a student called James (not his real name)

  • I spend a few months earning his trust
  • Around Thanksgiving James brings up his frustration with always being stuck with his nieces and nephews on Thanksgiving and never spending time with the other adults
  • We discuss some ways to create boundaries, and how to say no when asked to do something
  • James returns after Thanksgiving excited because our ideas had worked
  • A few weeks later James towards the end of class asked me how to ask a girl out on a date
  • This week we spent a session discussing why he shouldn’t worry about not being one of the cool kids

It’s been a blessing in our sessions to see James begin sharing deeper and deeper struggles in his life.  It is very hard to gain the trust of a teenager (why most people don’t do it), but the good news is once that trust is earned, they will share their deeper needs.

Published by

John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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