Supporting Young People At Arms Length…

I’ve been in the fortunate position of being a youth leader to the same group of young people from the age of 10 to 20-somethings. Obviously the group membership has changed along the way, but the core of the group has remained. In the last two years, the core of the group has moved on to University and the task of supporting them has become much more challenging.

In the current academic year alone I’ve found myself supporting Uni students in the following situations:

  • homesickness
  • clinical depression
  • agonising over a change our course and career-path
  • traumatic family situation

It’s difficult enough dealing with those situations in person, but doing so at a distance adds an extra challenge. I definitely have a long way to go, and I’m learning all the time, but I just wanted to share some of the methods/tools/approaches I’ve used so far, and some which I’m considering for the future. I make no apology for the ones which simply seem to be common sense – isn’t that the best approach?

email them every month or two

  • find out how they’re getting on
  • share news from back home
  • share the students’ news with the current members/fellowship

check in with their parents/friends

  • get a different perspective on how things are going

make the most of home visits

  • keep informed of their visits back home
  • invite them to meetings/events whilst they’re around
  • do lunch/dinner, hang out

drop in on them

  • if you’re nearby, or simply passing by, call in to see them
  • just a coffee or snack and a good chat, doesn’t have to be a whole day

online discussion forum/group blog

  • provides some continuity for those at Uni and at home
  • enables a form of community to continue

youth group website

  • regularly update the group website with news and reports on activities
  • enables them to see what’s going on in their absence

be available and approachable

  • make it clear that although you’re not close by, you’re still available to chat/listen/pray/etc

local Church & Christian Union

  • encourage them to get involved in their CU
  • encourage them to find a good local Church
  • will encourage them to worship/study/grow whilst away
  • will also act as another support mechanism
  • offer to find suitable contacts if required

distance learning Bible study

  • encourage them to join a Bible study whilst away
  • instead of face-to-face discussions share comments using some of the tools above

instant messaging

  • a great way to have a quick chat at (almost) any time of the day/night
  • most of them are online well into the early hours – but ignoring email
  • also, it’s possible to judge their mood/state-of-mind by reading their MSN name

I hope that they will help those who find themselves in similar situations, and that you’ll add suggestions so we can learn together. Many of you will have much more experience of doing this than me, and I look forward to your comments/contributions.

[ originally posted at Reluctant Souls – reposted here to encourage further discussion ]

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