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Reverse Mentoring
Br. Lucio Boccacci discusses approach for working better with teens

Reverse Mentoring

Br. Lucio Boccacci LC writes for the blog  The following is excerpted from his latest blog.

Keeping in touch with the world of teenagers takes a little creativity.  This is where the concept of reverse mentoring comes in, according to Br. Lucio Boccacci, LC, who says this tool can help parents, mentors and anyone else who works with young people.

According to Br. Lucio, reverse mentoring does not hamper teens’ originality.  He believes this method can bring in a new era of youth ministry. He said this idea has become the “cornerstone” of his youth ministry activities.

“It simply makes things more fun!” he said. “This is how I´ve learned simple things, like what kinds of food and drinks they really like, their favorite sports and best dynamic group activities. I´ve also learned to speak to them better, using stories, videos, music, laughter and comedy, and questions that pierce their heart. I´ve learned to create activities that are fun, attractive, dynamic, unexpected, well-prepared, yet also educational and with a powerful message. I´ve learned to respond to their questions, instead of offering them answers that fall on deaf ears. I´ve also discovered techniques to help them ‘wake up’ to God.”

It’s All in the Direction

The difference between mentoring and reverse mentoring is the direction, he explained.

“Adults involved in youth ministry can actually learn from the younger generations.  The adult accompanies young people so as to learn from them! They gain their honest feedback.”

Br. Lucio cites Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium:

“… whenever we attempt to read the signs of the times it is helpful to listen to young people [who] represent a source of hope for every people…Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.” (EG 108)

Br. Lucio asks, “Why would God design us such that adolescence would be a period of uncertainty, vulnerability, change, and searching for one´s identity, place, and purpose in life? From the point of view of human development, it´s critical that young people learn to adapt to the world they discover outside the safety of their homes.”

He said teens unintentionally create exactly what Pope Francis speaks of as “new directions for humanity.”

“Because we live in a constantly and rapidly changing world, the knowledge of adult mentors is basically out-of-date every ten years or so, it is critical that we discover these new directions hidden in the young generations. We need to creatively transform these young people into vehicles of grace through reverse mentoring.”

Tools for Consultation and Feedback

First, youth ministers need to decipher new ideas in a way that is understandable so they can be replicated in practice. Br. Lucio suggests creating groups of teens, called Youth Councils, to meet regularly (once a month, or every semester) in order to obtain feedback.

“These teens are hand-picked and show interest and a capacity to reflect
Surveying Girl
on the youth events you organize. Schools often have some version of a youth council, and at times the students are elected by their peers. The main idea is the creation of a formal team of young people to offer ideas for events and activities.”

Another way to get feedback in a large group setting is at the end of a retreat gathering.
“If you wait until later, teens will forget the details, which are priceless to you,” he said.

Have all questions ready beforehand. “Gather everyone together. Get pen, paper, clipboard, and ask away. They will provide feedback so as to make the next retreat or camp even better!”

To help teens reflect, survey questionnaires using multiple choice, true/false, and open questions, can be designed in advance, to be completed in 10 to 20 minutes.

“Names are optional,” he added

Br. Lucio said as questions are asked, be sure to let the young people know all ideas and criticisms are acceptable.

“Make sure to encourage spontaneity,” he said. “Near the end of the retreat or camp, sit with them at a meal and ask them questions and create a dialogue about how to improve the event for next time. Ask some teens individually, casually, informally, spontaneously…and see what they say.” 

“Don´t be defensive. Instead, brace yourself for whatever they might say, and simply seek to find out the reason for their pro´s and con´s. In fact, towards the end of the event, feedback can make for great conversation.”

“Some of your questions should also be positive:  ‘When did you feel closest to God?  What will you remember the most from this retreat/camp?’ Others should invite opportunity: ‘What would you like to do next time? What themes or questions should we present and talk about?’”

Other suggestions include:

• Have time for the teens to give testimonies at the end of a retreat.  Listen attentively to catch patterns and good “to do´s” for future events.
• Combine activities by having the kids do the personal survey first, then using them for small group feedback or for testimonies.
• Organizing teens into teams or small groups, with help from other adult leaders.

Br. Lucio said that extra-large groups, with more than 50 persons, should always be organized into small groups to get teens more involved in the process. “It also makes teens more comfortable offering feedback,” he said.

“Group leaders, chaperones and staff can offer you information on aspects that you may easily miss,” said Br. Lucio. “Ask them about the group´s enthusiasm, discipline, recurring problems, and also about positive aspects like acts of service or fervor/devotion they saw displayed.  Ask for the feedback they may have on improving the quality of the retreat/camp.”

“With reverse mentoring, youth ministry becomes an adventure!” said Br. Lucio. “Young people feel listened to and in the long run more interested in your events. You end up learning a lot, always challenging yourself to be a better instrument in God´s hands. And frankly, if you do it right, you´ll see youth ministry becomes easier, because we realize that teens are not so complicated after all!”

More information is available at the following links:

Click here for a review of the ECyD Book and where to get it.  (This is one of Br. Lucio’s major resources.)



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