We had a lesson/discussion in church last week that I keep thinking about.
The question was posed, “What do we do to mentor and strengthen youth?”
It made me realize more than ever that we adults have so much power to reach and lift and build the youth around us. Not just our own, but those that come in and out of our homes, and our lives in so many varying ways. I love thinking about the beauty of relationships, not just with those who are in our same stages of life. I came home and wrote down notes on nine of my favorite ideas that were shared that I want to incorporate more of into my life:
Nine Ideas to Help Strengthen Youth
1) Teach by example.
I’ve been thinking of this so much lately as I’ve huffed and puffed over particular things my children aren’t doing. I have realized that many of those things are things I’m not doing well myself. (Perhaps that’s why it bugs me that they’re not so good at them?? Ha!) For example, we were sitting at church on Sunday and I was just bugged that by now in their lives, my kids still don’t pull out the hymnbook and sing the songs in sacrament meeting. And then I realized that really, I just need to make a more conscious effort to do it myself. We want to teach kids to serve others, to give compliments, to look adults in the eye, to practice random acts of kindness, we need to realize doing it whole-heartedly ourselves is really the best way to teach. I do love the saying, “teach your children everything you know. If you must, use words.” I have been taught so much through the years not only from my parents’ examples, but from the examples of so many parents around me. I still learn from my parent’s friends and my friend’s parents, from people in my community, from so many “mentors” I’ve gathered through the years. How I hope to serve the same sort of purpose through my example for the youth that I have interactions with.
2) Pray for them and with them.
Whether they are in earshot or not. My sister mentioned long ago in passing that she makes sure to pray prayers of gratitude specifically for the children she is praying with. This could extend to their friends and their examples, etc. Another example of this that I LOVE is our friend Bill. They have family prayer every night in their home, kneeling in a circle. This happens whether or not they have a house full of teenagers. When there are extra kids over, they invite them to kneel right along with them. And the best part? Everyone has to give their neighbor a hug when the prayer is done. Bill is so genuine and funny that he has the personality to pull this off, and I know so many teenagers who have been affected in so many good ways because they have been at their house during family prayer 🙂
3) Talk to them.
This seems like a no-brainer, right? But do we take the time to really get to know the kids that come into our homes? Do we show them we care or do we keep busy with “stuff” behind our phones or wrapped up in the details of our own lives? There is so much beauty in looking kids in the eye and “Being There.” One person brought up the fact that when she was a teenager all her friends would come talk to her mom about things they were worried about. They somehow felt such a love from her that they felt they could trust her on many levels. This obviously took work and love from that mother to be open and aware enough to let them talk.
Of course, if we’re going to build relationships where there is enough trust for kids to want to talk to us, it will never happen if they don’t feel “heard.” This reminded me of my dad and some of the conversations we had growing up. I loved that he would say, “let me tell you how I think you’re feeling, and you tell me if I’m right.” Often he was right on, and when he wasn’t, I knew he was listening carefully to what I corrected. It made me feel heard and understood in a way that meant so much to me.
5) Support their parents.
Whether it’s talking about how much you love their mom, or whether it’s sending a text to the parents about something grand you noticed about their child, both ways are pretty awesome. Every now and again someone will take the time to write to us a text and tell us about a specific thing one of our children did, whether it’s including someone who needed it, helping clean up when everyone left a disaster, etc. It’s so nice to hear those good things and to be able to thank (and praise) our kids for noticing and doing good. To encourage that kind of beauty to continue.
6) Get to know the kids in your area.
Whether you run into them at the grocery store or see them at school, learn their names and tell them hello. One woman shared how in their previous church congregation each adult was assigned to a different youth every month. They were asked to get to know them. To pray for them. To build them in any way they saw fit. I thought that was such a great idea!
7) Never underestimate the power of a hug.
In this world of disconnection and distraction, there is nothing like physical touch. I still think of a social media thing I attended a while back where they talked about trying an “8-second hug” with your kids, which they demonstrated and everyone laughed, but man, there is nothing like a good hug. Even (and especially) with those sometimes angular and sometimes-awkward teenagers.
8) Remember how old kids are.
This is perhaps the thing that hit me the very most in this discussion. One young mom talked about how she was trying to remember how it felt to be four. Or eight. Or sixteen for that matter. Sometimes it’s so easy as adults to think kids should just “get it,” but some things take years to really “get.” We need to remember that kids are just still in such the beginning stages of “getting things” and we need to give them more of a benefit of the doubt. This thought has made me feel so much more patience with my kids as they struggle through their days.
9) Food is power.
Ha! But really, often the way to kids’ hearts is feeding them. Whether it’s whipping up some easy pancakes in the middle of the afternoon for a crew of hungry junior high kids or cutting up some fruit to have accessible as they pass through, kids love to eat. Being in the kitchen seems to be a good spot to be situated to be around kids to practice all of the above, and you may as well be making something to eat, right?
Anyway, just thought I’d pass along those thoughts I’ve been thinking about! I’d love to hear suggestions and thoughts from others if you care to share!