Do you want to create a parish environment that is more welcoming to youth, but are unsure with how to do that? Communicating with youth can be daunting for some, and that is totally okay! However, some people can do this incredibly well, and it is worth putting in the effort to improve! Check out the following ideas to do just that.
1. Be Authentic. Be You.
Often, we think that we could connect better with youth “if only we were more” a certain way – more funny, more extroverted, or more hip. Sound familiar? Well, what if I told you that youth want to get to know you, for you? Because deep down, youth want to be known simply for being themselves too. When we take off our masks and break down our walls, that’s when real connection grows. God made us all unique for a reason, and whether we are the most awkward or most charming person ever, just be you! Youth will appreciate you for it.
2. Have Open Body Language.
Think about the last conversation you had with someone where you felt truly heard, a conversation where you felt fully engaged and like the most important part of the other persons life in that moment. What made you feel that way? Part of it was likely their body language – eye contact, engaging facial expressions, leaning inwards, keeping their arms open and relaxed, a nodding head. Often, we do not even realize the difference body language makes until we actively try to recognize that its there.
3. Be Respectful.
As we have addressed, each person is unique. Depending on many different factors, youth can have many different experiences, opinions, and ideas from us. This is a good thing to be encouraged, diversity within the beautiful universality of the church! Let us not forget that young people must be given the opportunity to share their voice and talents in the church while not being squandered. David was a teenager when he defeated Goliath, and so was Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. Young people can do great things! Youth view respect as something to be earned, both in giving and receiving.
4. Foster a Positive Atmosphere.
Ultimately, human beings are attracted to what is ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’. To have quality conversations with youth then, we must reflect goodness in ourselves. How do we foster this you might ask? Well, we can focus our mindset to be growth oriented. We can choose to see the good in every person. We can choose to shine the light of God’s love on the world rather than reflect darkness.
5. Learn Their Language.
Every generation has their own words that they use to communicate. If you think that ‘salty’ is simply a flavour, or that ‘spilling the tea’ is just an unfortunate accident, think again. We do not necessarily need to use slang to communicate with youth, but it is important to understand it. When a generation places special attention on certain concepts so much so that they create new words or ascribe new meanings to talk about them, it provides insight into what they value and believe about the world.
6. Practice Empathy & Give Validation.
Take a minute to think back on what it was like to be a young person. What were your biggest concerns? Who did you share your thoughts and feelings with? What did you want to achieve? There is no doubt that the world is rapidly changing and evolving, but the basic questions of humanity will always remain the same – who are we, and why are we here? Practice placing yourself in the shoes of present-day youth. And, if they trust you enough to share their feelings, thoughts, and challenges with you, always validate them as being an important part of their experience.
7. Build Trust.
Jumping from the last point, acknowledging the challenges and frustrations of youth is a way to build trust with them. When they come to you with struggles in their life, it can be daunting to know what to say – or maybe not, because adults have all of life figured out 😉
A valid response is to simply be with them in that moment. Say something like, “wow, that sounds like it was really difficult”. Or even sharing in honesty, “I don’t know what to say, but thank you for sharing with me”. Vulnerability builds trust.
8. Regulate Your Emotions
Youth can be beautifully passionate about their beliefs, and enthusiastic about the world. This joy and energy is essential to transforming the world for the better. However, sometimes there are things in the world that certain individuals do not want to be changed. This can lead to defensiveness and conflict from both sides. Being equipped to manage our anger, or sometimes even our pride, can help to better manage these situations. The first step to regulating emotions is being able to recognize that they are there in the first place!
One of the most important considerations in having better conversations with youth is active listening. Fully engage in what they are saying in the moment, and practice not thinking about how you will respond while they are still talking. Ask if you understood what they said by summarizing it back to them and ask them follow up questions.