Recently, a student arrived at our youth ministry’s gathering significantly early. So I asked him about his day. Specifically, I asked, What was the worst part of your day? 

Immediately, the student responded, “Someone hit me.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting his answer.

Nevertheless, we proceeded to engage in a good conversation about what had happened.

Later that night, my adult leaders and I processed our gathering. One of my new adult leaders had overheard the conversation. She immediately asked, “What are we supposed to do if someone tells us something like that?”

Seeing her panic, I launched into some basic training. When a student confides something difficult to you,

  • Get as much information as you can. Give the teen the opportunity to talk about what happened; to share their experience in their own words, in a safe environment. Ask good, open-ended questions to keep your student talking and establish the circumstances surrounding the incident in question. Find out whether the incident was an isolated one or whether it’s part of an ongoing situation, like bullying.
  • Find out if your student is OK. If they need medical attention or counseling, ensure they receive it.
  • Find out who else knows. Ask who, if anyone, saw the incident. Find out if any other adults know. If so, find out how the adult is responding. Reach out to and connect with that person. If no other adults know, figure out who else might need to be involved in order for your student to be cared for. Take steps to get them involved.
  • Help students tell those they need to tell. Offer to be present when students tell others what’s going on OR in some instances, to speak the words they cannot yet say themselves.
  • Contact appropriate people. Know the law in your state. Are you a mandatory reporter? Under what circumstances must you report? If you’re not, under what circumstances should you report an incident? And to who? View this process as one of addition, not subtraction. Add resources to the equation rather than try to remove yourself from a difficult situation. Frequently reiterate to your student that he is not alone. Make sure your actions support your words.
  • Talk about justice. If your student was hurt, help them understand that what happened to them is not their fault and that it’s not okay.
  • Commend your student. Applaud his courage, maturity, empathy, or emotions. Thank him for trusting you with tough information.
  • Follow up with your student. Let them know you haven’t forgotten what they shared with you and that they are deeply loved.

No one ever wants to hear a student admit they’re being hurt. Yet, knowing how to respond to these situations can help us to effectively walk with students through difficult times, ensuring they receive the care they need.