Have you ever wondered what to do with the girl sitting by herself, away from the group, who does not want to engage? Maybe you’re struggling with a group of girls right now who refuse to participate. Are you curious as to how to handle them, how to engage them relationally, how to get them connected, and how to keep their attitude from affecting the rest of the group? I am excited to share a few quick thoughts with you, as you are in the trenches of girls ministry!
Many of the families I work with in counseling have found it helpful to keep a few perspectives in mind when dealing with their own challenging teens. First, recognize that behavior is communication. Our behavior is one way we communicate our physical and emotional needs. Often, teens “act out” their feelings (especially big feelings), rather than talk them out. In addition, it is often true that the student who is the hardest to love is the one who needs love the most. And finally, for challenging behaviors, approach the teen with compassion and curiosity. Remember, they are precious to God and created in His image, although they may not know or believe this yet. One helpful way to begin connecting with challenging teens is to ask yourself “What’s this student trying to communicate?” and “What does she need right now?”
As you begin to approach a challenging teen girl, it’s helpful to keep in mind she might have a negative attitude at church for various reasons. It’s wise for us not to simply assume she doesn’t want to be there. A few examples of reasons girls may act as if they don’t want to be at church are:
- They may be jaded by parents who don’t “walk the talk” at home. (Or church-going peers whom they see as hypocritical.)
- Their hearts may be hardened to the things of God.
- They may feel hurt by people in the past and find it hard to trust people and God.
- They may feel sad or unlovable, even unlovable to God.
- Youth group, even girls’ events may be really out of their comfort zones.
- They may feel inferior or embarrassed in their knowledge of the Bible itself and of God.
- And SO many more possible reasons!!
As you prepare to approach and engage a girl who doesn’t seem to want to be at church, begin by considering “why” that might be. In exploring the possible “why’s,” we begin to develop compassion for this girl, and our frustration and anger toward her decreases.
With teens, it is often helpful to connect before we direct. Establishing some sort of connection with them will go a long way toward helping them to accept correction and direction from us. Heres a few strategies for connecting with a challenging teen:
- Pray! Pray for this girl, for God to give you spiritual eyes to see her as He sees her, allow you to create a connection with her, for God to soften her heart toward Him, for God to fill you with compassion for this challenging girl, for wisdom and discernment as you approach her and begin talking with her.
- Approach with compassion and curiosity. Remember, this teen is precious and created in God’s image…and most likely doesn’t believe that yet. Ask yourself: “What’s this teen need right now?” Also, ask her curious questions and try to find common ground: Find out what grade she’s in, what school she attends, any extra curricular activities or hobbies, her name, how long she’s lived here, etc. Sometimes it’s also helpful to ask random lighthearted questions like “If you had $100,000 what would you do with it?”
- Come alongside her, side by side, not toe to toe. Be gentle, not confrontational. Ask permission to sit next to her. If she’s in a chair, pull up a chair next to her…not in front of her. This is much less threatening and can help to soften her responses to you.
- Mirror her posture and tone, but don’t mock. If she’s sitting on the floor with her knees pulled up to her chest, you sit similarly. And if her speech is quiet and slow, you talk softer and slower than usual. Don’t approach with your “bubbly and super-happy self” if she’s solemn and glum. When you are careful to match her posture and tone, but not to mock her or make fun, you will be surprised how much more easily she may connect with you.
Strategies for directing the challenging teen:
- Recognize the short term goal of directing her is to get her into the student room first of all, and then to participate in the group, if possible.
- Ask curious questions with a friendly tone: “Wonder why you’re out here all alone, instead of in with the group?”
- Listen, hear her out, even if it’s the most absurd excuse you’ve ever heard. If necessary, use your phrase: “That’s interesting, tell me more about that.”
- Offer choices within boundaries. Ex. “I can’t leave you out here by yourself, so I can either help you find a chair near the back, or you can stand in the back by me.” or “It’s not ok to wander the halls, but you can either choose to join the group or I can hang out here with you this one time until your mom gets done with her class.”
Note: We cannot MAKE a student do anything they don’t want to, but we CAN attempt to connect with them and direct them to choices in the hopes of getting them to be a part of the group, and, in time, to connect them with Jesus. With especially difficult teens, consider it a WIN if you are able to engage in simple conversation with them – a bonus if you can encourage them to move into the room, and a huge bonus if you can influence them to join (and participate in) the group.
KEEP AT IT
Some teen girls just need more time to warm up. Keep trying to connect with her each time you see her in the coming weeks and months. Even a simple “hello,” using her name, and giving a smile will let her know she’s valued.
One verse that is encouraging when trying to minister to the girls who don’t seem to want to be there is, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
Shelley Spence is a youth pastor’s wife, mom to two girls (a tween and a teen), and a Nationally Certified Licensed Professional Counselor. She specializes in working with families of angry or difficult children and teens. Her desire is to live according to the Word and lead others to do the same at home, at church, and in her work. Connect with Shelley: Instagram / Facebook