Helping Troubled Youth
If you are involved in youth ministry efforts for any length of time, it is inevitable that you are going to come across youth facing serious problems. One of the most wonderful and frightening parts of being a youth ministry is being called upon to lend a listening ear and comforting shoulder to youth who want to talk about their life, family, faith, etc. While it is flattering that a young person chooses to come to you in a time of ned, it is important to think clearly and act circumspectly.
When young people approach you with their problems remember that, above all, you need to be a good listener. If takes work to develop the important qualities of listening to young people. A good listener needs the following traits:
- a genuine desire to listen to young people
- a willingness to accept their feelings and emotions whether they are right or wrong
- a desire to not always need to be right
- a nonjudgmental attitude
- eye contact and little fidgeting
- a visible appreciation to the young person that you feel honored that he or she chose to speak with you
- a willingness to not only listen but keep in touch and be supportive
A Place to Talk
A lot of issues can emerge during a counseling situation. Crushes form, and jealousies can appear, which can lead to a lot of questions. So, it is extremely important to make clear that while conversations are confidential, they are not secretive. Such conversations should take place in private, but visible areas. Leaving an office door open or talking in some visible are near group events are ways of preventing anyone from misunderstanding the situation. Avoid situations where actions could be misinterpreted or erroneously recounted by third parties.
Be very careful to remember your limitations when you are called upon to be a supportive listener. While you have valuable experience from which you can draw, and many people today are very knowledgeable in the are of psychology, unless you have a certification from an accredited national or state agency, you must be careful not to enter not an ongoing counseling relationship. You can be a friend and confidant, but you must know when to refer young people to professionals.
Any mention of drugs, suicide, illegal activity, or real violence to themselves or others must be reported to the parish priest and the youth's parents. Every attempt should be made to make this as safe a procedure as possible. The youth minister should volunteer to go with the young person as support.
Keeping the phone numbers of various helping agencies will make it infinitely easier when these situations arise. A youth minister should have the following numbers easily accessible at all time:
- local counselor what you trust to deal with a person as an emotional and spiritual being
- teen suicide hotline
- Alcohol and Drug Help line 1 800 252 6465
- Covenant House '9 line' 1 800 999 9999
- Teen Crisis hotline 1 800 442 HOPE
It is crucial that youth minister realize that, no matter how equipped they may feel, they cannot handle certain types of situations alone. Self-destructive behavior requires accredited and trained professionals.
It is also important for youth ministers to remember that, unless they are priest, they are not father confessors. When issues requiring confession arise, it is essential that our youth minister direct the young person to a priest who can help them.
Some Warning Signs
The following is a list of warning behaviors that may indicate that a young person needs professional help (of course, the list is not exhaustive). If a young person demonstrates more than two or three of any of the below, you should contact a counselor that you trust.
- a dramatic change in behavior (either more outgoing or a more reclusive)
- difficulty relating to adults
- an over-reliance on peers
- consistently impulsive behavior
- lower than average physical health
- inappropriate knowledge and discussion of sex
- inappropriate sexual behavior towards others or his- or herself.