Whether you are a Bible class teacher, a small group leader or a mentor, you can minister more effectively to young people if you can encourage them to be open about their struggles. Much of their openness will depend upon the relationship you build with them and whether or not they believe you can be trusted. Sometimes though, they actually keep their struggles to themselves because we don’t give them enough opportunities to really let us know how they are feeling about life. When our time with them is too crammed with activities and lessons, they may feel as if sharing their struggles will be viewed as an unwelcome interruption.
Why not create a regular space in your time together where the young people involved are encouraged to be open about their successes and their struggles? Transparency can not only help you best know how to mentor and teach them, but it can also strengthen relationships amongst the young people who regularly share with one another. (These exercises can also be done outside of a group setting, like between a mentor and mentee or parent and child.)
To keep things fresh, it can help to frame the time in different ways. Until they get used to the process, having different ways to reflect over their lives can provide more varied responses. Here are a few to get you started.
- Crossword Puzzle Clue. How would they describe themselves or their life currently in a crossword puzzle clue? This exercise encourages them to sum up their feelings in just a few words. It’s a bit more cryptic, but their answers will likely illuminate young people struggling the most as it feels safer than more detailed sharing.
- Headline About Your Week. Once again, this reduces the need to be too specific, but isn’t quite as cryptic as a crossword puzzle clue.
- Pit and Peak, Rose and Thorn. Called by different names, this is one of the more popular exercises. Each student lists the high point and the low point of his or her week. This takes more time, but also gives you more information that can be helpful.
- Play List. What song best represents how they are feeling at the moment? This one gives you a snapshot in time. Tomorrow, or even an hour from now, they might choose a song with an entirely different mood. This exercise is good for getting a sense of the depth of their emotions in the moment.
- Tee Shirt Slogan. This is another one that’s safe because tee shirts usually only have a couple of words on them or a design. For this exercise, give them markers and paper and let them design their tee shirt. They can share their finished designs, and as they become more comfortable sharing, explain why they chose what they did.
These exercises often work better if those leading them also share. You may need to censor your answers a bit to be appropriate because of the difference in ages and roles, but a little transparency from you can encourage them to be open as well. It’s also important to make sharing feel safe. Everyone needs to be held accountable for respecting the privacy of others. Those sharing have the right to ask that certain things be kept within the group and not shared with others. (Students should always know that if what they share causes you to fear for their safety or well being, you will go with them to share it with their parents. Otherwise, you will respect their privacy as well.) Finally, be consistent. Regular sharing times will make everyone feel more comfortable opening up as they have more positive experiences with being transparent. Over time, you may find they begin to open up without a planned activity to encourage them.