Did you know you don’t have to be a youth pastor to influence youth? If you feel called to get involved, even if you’ve never had prior experience with teens, we encourage you to dive into these unknown waters! Becoming a mentor for young people will take time and intentionality, but it is an indispensable investment.
Here’s our advice for anyone who wants to mentor youth:
1. Be Present
Starting the conversation can be the hardest step to mentoring teens. If you desire to invest in the lives of youth, you must be real and be present.
Although teenagers spend a majority of their time behind screens, they can easily detect when someone is being “fake” with them. Avoid asking the cliche questions: “How’s school going?”; “What grade are you in?”; “What do you want to do when you graduate?” If you do ask these questions, preface them in a way that shows you recognize they’re over-asked. And ask with the intention to remember; remembering will reinforce the fact you care.
Also, show enthusiasm when you talk with teens. Use culture to relate. Teenagers love talking about the latest music, movies, and celebrities. If you don’t know much about pop culture, ask some insightful questions that show you’re interested in learning more. We’re sure they’ll have plenty of knowledge to share.
2. Actively Listen
After spending intentional time with the youth, they might start opening up about some problems in their lives. If this happens, you’ve gained their trust and look up to you as a mentor. Don’t take this privilege lightly! At this stage, you have the power to incredibly influence their lives by imparting Biblical wisdom and speaking life over their problems.
Also, don’t freak out if they open up about some deep, dark issues. Youth today struggle with social situations prior generations considered taboo: sexual identity, self-harm, suicide, to name a few. Remain nonjudgmental when teens reveal their deepest hurts, and they’ll feel more comfortable about sharing.
Note that sometimes a teen will just need someone to confide in. Other times they may be seeking advice. Make sure you clarify your role in the conversation before offering advice that will go in one ear and out the other.
Bonus: If a teen shares a struggle that may be or become life-threatening, don’t keep it a secret. Click the following links if you need additional guidance on how to help a teen overcome self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
3. Challenge Them
First at this stage is a given: lift their greatest needs in prayer. If you discover youths are wrestling with a particular issue, challenge them to grow in those areas. It’s best to start with small wins, which will motivate progress toward a larger goal.
For example, if a teen is struggling with depression or apathy, give them ideas how they can be a blessing to others in small acts of kindness. Sometimes shifting the focus from oneself to another in need is all it takes to reshape a perspective into something more positive and hopeful.
As small victories increase, challenge them with bigger things. In the example above, the youth could work up to volunteering on a weekly basis or even raising funds to travel abroad for a mission trip! These goals will change with the issue at hand and will require creativity and wisdom on your part as a mentor.
4. Follow Up
Finally, hold your youth accountable to the goals they’ve set. This is probably the most vital step. Without follow-through, their growth will stunt and their progress will taper. Without check-ins, teens may feel as if your connection is fading, and that’s the last thing we want!
Every week or so, check their progress. Invite them out to coffee. Write a note of encouragement. Helping a teen achieve their goals will only help them mature, not only in life, but also in their faith.
Youths crave for someone to come alongside them, to teach them, and to guide them. Guess what–you can be that person! If you feel led, find a youth to mentor. Be present in their life and actively listen when they share their heart with you. Challenge them to overcome obstacles in their life, and follow-up to encourage growth.