Its often a mystery to me when people say, “I love little children, not teenagers”, or “I really like teenagers, but don’t have patience for little children”. My curiosity around this is that deep down, when you break through all the barriers, children are essentially all the same. They want to feel heard, understood, respected, have choice and have fun!!! This can look different depending on the age of the child or young person, but their desire to fit in and be loved and accepted is there no matter what age.
Young children and teenagers alike will not respond well to being shut down, ignored, excluded, being told what to do in the absence of compassion, being controlled or disregarded. This is not to say, children should be allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want. In fact they respond best to the complete opposite approach, which is to always have firm boundaries, but crucially firm boundaries need to be imposed with gentleness and understanding. Whether you are a parent or Sunday school teacher, these principles apply.
In Sunday school, it is fundamental that you stop thinking of yourself as the boss. Stop thinking of yourself as the rule maker, that they must listen to you, that they have to cooperate and do as you tell them or they are “naughty”. If you think in this way, I would question where your ego sits here and is this about the child, or is this more about you?
In Sunday school it’s so important to think about your purpose, which actually is more around engagement! You want to engage children so they want to come to church, are excited about church, have a thirst to learn more and become part of the church community more and more. This is crucial in their teen years in particular where they can face an identity crisis as well as other challenging developmental milestones all young people experience.
If engagement is the goal, then I wonder how your view of your role will change and the impact it will have on your relationship with the young people. Let’s look at an example.
A young person comes to tell you that they have been invited to a party. There will be lots of drinking and no adult supervision. The young person wants to go, but is asking your opinion nevertheless. If I see my role as the law maker, then my response will be, “no you should not go, God would not like this, it is against the rules of the church and will lead to sin.” The young person here is not going to feel heard; they are going to feel controlled and disrespected. They need to come to the decision themselves freely. They have sought your advice, and you have told them what they have to do. Speaking at a young person rather than with a young person is not helpful.
If your goal is engaging the young person in the principles and lifestyle of the church, then your response might be one or a number of the following:
- “What do you think the best thing for you to do is?”
- “I know you want to go because it will be fun, but are you sure you can protect yourself and keep yourself safe?”
- “What is your nervousness about???”
- “ I totally get what you’re saying, I used to think like that at your age too, but I realized that actually, I never really enjoyed those events, they seemed like a waste of time and I preferred going to the movies and stuff like that, but that was me, what about you, is there something else you prefer to do?”
- “ Its really your choice to do what you think is best, your smart and you will make the best decision because you’re not a child anymore, and I will support you either way. If you decide to go, call me if you need anything at any time.”
- “What is about this party that you think will be fun? Are there games you like, or are you going because your friends are pressuring you to go, or do you actually really want to go?”
There is clearly a difference in the tone here. The young person is going to do what they want either way, because teenagers have licenses, they have friends who drive, and they can be stubborn, so rather than challenge them, respect them and their free will to choose as Jesus gave us free will. However its important to realize that in these examples the servant did not agree or condone the behaviour. The servant subtly tried to persuade the young person not to go, but ultimately left the decision to the young person. Fundamentally here, the young person is likely to keep coming back to the servant with these dilemmas which is the goal. The goal is that young people return to God and return to the church in their time of need. Here the servant has left the door open and not made the young person feel judged so the relationship between the servant and the young person will strengthen as a result. Sometimes these conversations can be a bit risky, but for the future of our young people, sometimes they are risks worth taking.
- The young person needs to feel they made the decision
- They are seeking your help so do not burn that bridge
- Thing of your goal and purpose and what your role is
- You can reach your goal without becoming the disciplinary
- Is your rules and expectations about you or about the young person
- Be fun but have boundaries, always have boundaries but they must be implemented with gentleness in addition to firmness. Without gentleness we are just perceived as mean servants
If you have any questions or would like to seek clarification on any of the content here or past blogs please feel free to contact me directly any time by sending an email to Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org.
God Bless 🙂