How to respond to difficult situations

Recently, a student arrived at our youth ministry's gathering significantly early. So I asked him about his day. Specifically, I asked, What was the worst part of your day?

Immediately, the student responded, “Someone hit me.”

Needless to say, I wasn't expecting his answer.

Nevertheless, we proceeded to engage in a good conversation about what had happened.

Later that night, my adult leaders and I processed our gathering. One of my new adult leaders had overheard the conversation. She immediately asked, “What are we supposed to do if someone tells us something like that?”

Seeing her panic, I launched into some basic training. When a student confides something difficult to you,

- Get as much information as you can. Give the teen the opportunity to talk about what happened; to share their experience in their own words, in a safe environment. Ask good, open-ended questions to keep your student talking and establish the circumstances surrounding the incident in question. Find out whether the incident was an isolated one or whether it's part of an ongoing situation, like bullying.

- Find out if your student is OK. If they need medical attention or counseling, ensure they receive it.

- Find out who else knows. Ask who, if anyone, saw the incident. Find out if any other adults know. If so, find out how the adult is responding. Reach out to and connect with that person. If no other adults know, figure out who else might need to be involved in order for your student to be cared for. Take steps to get them involved.

- Help students tell those they need to tell. Offer to be present when students tell others what's going on OR in some instances, to speak the words they cannot yet say themselves.

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Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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