Young people need a ‘safe’ place to discuss challenging issues. Sometimes they ask teachers or parents. Usually they simply talk to each other, which often spreads wrong information and rumours.
The church needs youth leaders who feel relaxed and open talking to young people about difficult issues, particularly sexual ones. This will encourage young people to ask for help and to be open and honest about the issues they are dealing with. If youth leaders feel embarrassed or unsure about sexual issues and try to simply tell young people what to do, this will not help. They need to provide good role models, both in their own lives and in their ability to deal openly with challenging issues.
When we led a church youth group, one of the most popular activities was Question Time. The young people wrote out questions they wanted advice or help with, knowing their questions were anonymous. They were put into a box and picked out at random. Most were questions about relationships and sexual issues. Sometimes the questions surprised or shocked us, but we never showed that. We would deal openly and honestly with them, talking about guidance from the Bible, sharing from our own experience and asking the young people to share and discuss ideas together. We were careful to share accurate information, show tolerance and give them a clear understanding of God’s plan for sexual relationships, even if they made mistakes along the way.
A useful web-based resource is ‘Auntie Stella’ (www.tarsc.org/auntstella). It provides useful ideas and discussion topics for youth workers, though it is not a Christian site.
Isabel Carter works for Tearfund as Coordinating Editor for Resources Development.
PO Box 200