Last week, Adam McLane shared a very personal and touching post about his senior year of high school and how much it meant to him to have a sanctuary, a safe place. It made me think about my own not too easy high school years and what helped me not only survive, but in a way thrive: my friends.
Adam impressed on youth workers the importance of helping your students find a sanctuary. I’d add my two cents: help them find friends, help them develop deep friendships.
I had the best friends ever in high school. They were the nerds, the dorks, the outcasts. They were too fat, too thin, too smart, too Christian or too much of something else that didn’t make them fit in with the popular kids. So we found each other and we became friends.
My friends were the one reason I got through high school relatively unscarred. I was bullied for being too fat and for being an outspoken Christian and just for being me I guess. Things at home weren’t exactly peachy either with my dad being unemployed and my sister giving a whole new definition to puberty rebellion.
But these friends, they were there for me. We didn’t even talk all that much about stuff. To be honest I was happy most of the time to not talk about it and escape it all for a while. They were just there and we had fun, hung out. One of the guys introduced me to Star Wars and just for that, I’ll be forever grateful 🙂
Especially in this social networking day and age, developing ‘real’ friendships isn’t a natural skill anymore. It’s also not something a lot of parents give practical advice on, they often don’t make it beyond ‘you just have to make an effort to make new friends’. So you need to help your students develop good friendships.
Here are some of my thoughts on how to do that:
1. Show what a good friend looks like
With both Biblical and real life examples, show them what a good friend looks like. Especially insecure students may feel pressured into unhealthy friendships where they are actually being used or forced to do things they don’t really want. Teach your students what a solid, healthy friendship looks like.
2. Teach them to be a good friend
Before they can have good friends, they need to learn how to be one. Spend time on teaching what being a good friend looks like. Research has shown that real life social skills are a weak point in this generation, so you may need to get real practical and hands-on here. Teach them the value of solidarity, encouragement, support, loyalty, conflict management, etc.
3. Help them find good friends
For most of your students, making friends may not be an issue. But there will be a few who can’t manage this on their own and who need a little extra guidance and coaching. Ask your small group leaders to be sensitive for students like this, so you’ll be able to help them. Invest in these students and help them identify potential friends and connect with these students.
4. Value friendships in your youth ministry
It’s also important that your youth ministry shows how much you value friendships. Often, youth ministries are scared of cliques and will try to keep friends separated, for instance in small groups, in retreat groups, etc. I understand that and I know that groups of friends can become an issue, but be careful to not always separate friends. Allow friends to spend time together in youth ministry activities. Also try and organize events and activities where new friendships can be formed within the youth group, for instance in informal events.
Your students will need good friends to help them get through high school and to help them get through life. Everybody needs friends, but this generation may be having a bit of a harder times to develop good friendships than previous generations. So let’s help them connect and thus thrive in life.
What kind of friends did you have in high school, do you recognize my experience?