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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Connecting with Teens
Br. Lucio Boccacci LC discusses a way to relate to teens by collecting the questions they ask

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The following is based on the latest blog from Br. Lucio Boccaci LC.

Are you trying to make a difference in the life of teenagers?  Have you realized your efforts to mentor are sometimes not working, or at least, they seem to not be working? 

As mentors, we need to better discern what teens really need and want to know before we offer them answers.  I am going to discuss a process that helped me better connect with them by helping them to ask better questions.  And the possible applications are many, including using the process for youth camps and retreats, during youth group sessions, during religious education or in a classroom setting, and it may even help parents.

How do you find out what teens really want to know? Survey them!

I used a method from the ECyD book to unearth what they were thinking. (read about it here).

The camp I was running at the time had a different daily theme --  true friendship, pure love, being a man, friendship with Christ, my vocation – so I created a survey based on the theme for each day.  Types of questions included:

  • What questions do you have about life?
  • What questions do you have about making friends?
  • What questions do you have about girls and dating?
  • What questions do you have about God?
  • What questions do you have about praying?
  • What questions do you have about your family?

As you may have noticed, the questions asked for more questions.  My goal was to teach teens to formulate their concerns, needs, experiences in the form of questions.

For each of the daily themes I developed a questionnaire with five to six questions, and each day I scheduled 10-15 minutes for the teens to fill them out. They had the option of answering all the questions, or leaving them blank. (I asked them to try their sincere best to answer each one.) They could also write in as many questions as they wanted.  They choose whether or not they wanted to add their name.

One of the chaperones compiled the questions into a Power Point slide, without reference to the authors. Using this method, I was able to compile A LOT of questions -- more than I could possibly answer every day!

Once the questions were compiled, that evening or the next day, I would go over the questionnaires, and I would offer the teens as many answers as possible.  I spent about 20-30 minutes going through them (and I was never able to answer all of them.) 

I used the following process:

  • I noted how many questions I had received.
  • I pointed out common trends, or peculiarly interesting questions.
  • I mentioned more superficial questions and those that touched on deeper subjects.
  • For some of the deeper questions, I provided related questions for them to think about.
  • For some of the superficial questions, I reworded them into deeper questions.
  • I was careful not to ridicule a question or the person who asked it.
  • Some questions provoked more questions from the audience, and some even provoked answers.
  • Some questions I would answer, and some questions I asked the audience to answer, and sometimes I revealed the difficulties in answering a question.

Once all the questions were compiled and reviewed, I used the results to create spontaneous, informative, and even humorous talks to answer my teens’ questions.

Any youth minister can do the same.

After reflecting on my experience, I made these observations:

  • There is a striking difference between teens who are more given to reflection and those who are more superficial.   This awareness helped me help them better understand this aspect of themselves.
  • It is helpful to the teens to have 10-15 minutes of silent personal time to reflect and write out their questions.
  • Only a small portion of the teens provided excellent questions throughout the whole questionnaire.  Most gave 1-3 excellent questions, while the rest were more superficial.  As a whole, they provided plenty of great questions to discuss.
  • Appearances can be deceiving, and even the teens who you think have it “all figured out” have a lot of questions on some subjects.
  • While some questions are more abstract, such as those related to morality or beliefs, others can be more personal and really touch the teen´s heart. For example, one of the teens asked, “Why do my friends love me more than my parents love me?” I have to be extremely careful answering these types of “existential” questions.
  • Many wanted to know what others asked. Some teens were interested in answering others’ questions.
  • The questions often helped me develop themes for later. After the camp, I could take several groupings of questions, and develop them into more substantial talks for future retreats or camps.
  • The process, even if I did not have any stories or examples to share, helped keep them interested.
  • Some questions totally surprised the chaperones accompanying us at the camp. They had no clue their children would ask such questions. By the fourth and last day of camp, they were writing down their own questions!



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