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Roadside emergencies for youth warrant adult rules for the road

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Just as driving a car on the road requires rules for safety, adults need rules for the road when youth come to them with emergencies on the highway of life.
Dealing with youth crises should not be regarded as a casual process, Alice Stegemann, a youth biblical studies editor for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, told participants in “Sunday School for a New Century” conferences.
Speaking at Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center, July 19-23, Stegemann said the setting for conversation is as important for the youth leader as it is for the young person who needs to be heard.
Suggesting various situations in which a leader might be asked to talk to a young person or a parent, Stegemann asked leaders to rate their level of comfort or discomfort with the circumstances.
Among the scenarios were: 1) one-on-one meetings at the leader’s office, 2) after church but away from the church building, 3) on the church parking lot, 4) in the food court at a local mall, 5) in a car with a teenager or parent of the opposite sex, 6) in a car with a teenager or parent of the same sex, 7) in a restaurant, 8) in the Sunday school classroom, 8) while walking back to the cabin at camp or 9) trailing behind the larger youth group walking from one activity to another.
She said public locations that still permit confidential conversations are best for both parties, and she discouraged meeting alone with a person of the opposite sex, regardless of how well the persons know each other.
Dealing with the specific problems warrants guidelines to benefit the teenager and the adult leader, she said, such as:
1) Identify the real problem. “Sometimes the problem they are telling you about is not the real problem,” she said. “Keep listening. Restate the problem to the young person to see if you have heard correctly.”
2) Decide on short-term goals — an action, another person to talk with or something to read. In some cases this may involve the parent.
3) Offer perspective. Stegemann said sometimes a problem that seems unique from the young person’s view is common to many other youth.
4) Be honest about the time you have to give.
5) Do not minister beyond your competency. “Set ground rules regarding confidentiality,” Stegemann urged. “If what is going to be shared will hurt the youth or someone else, you may not be able to promise confidentiality.” Have a list of other persons and services to whom you can refer the youth.
6) Ask to pray with the teenager.
7) Love unconditionally. “Care about the person and not just about the action involved,” she said.
8) Follow up on the situation.
9) Be sure you are appropriate in the way you hug or touch the teenager.
10) Be sure conversations are conducted in an area that is open or are held in the presence of another adult.
11) If you are in a long-term ministry situation, be sure someone else knows.
12) Take notes on your conversations, goals and plans to solve the problem. For legal reasons, do not define yourself as a counselor or your activity as counseling if you do not have credentials for that profession. As a lay leader, listening and talking, not professional counseling, are within your role with the teenager.
Youth leaders can prepare themselves to help teenagers by reading current literature, newsletters and teen magazines, Stegemann continued. Be aware of learning opportunities for youth leaders through clinics and workshops.
To be an influencer of youth, lead in issues-oriented Bible studies, take advantage of teachable moments and provide youth opportunities to practice what they have learned.
“Plan to be available and let youth know you are available,” Stegemann said, “but realize you don’t have all the answers.”
The Sunday school group of LifeWay Christian Resources sponsored School for a New Century conferences at the North Carolina conference center.

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  • Charles Willis