[This post is part of our Batteries Included collection just for people who invest in disciplemaking with middle schoolers. If you’re a youth leader, parent or teacher who spends time with middle schoolers, this is for you. If you’re not—share it with a friend who is!]
Talking with middle schoolers can be overwhelming. I often find myself surrounded by a group of excited girls, all telling me a different story. Sometimes my ears get overloaded as I try to listen meaningfully to all of them at the same time.
In these moments, I’m struck by how deeply middle schoolers long to be listened to, to be valued, to know someone really cares about their lives. These moments make me wonder how often people really do listen to middle schoolers. How often do we, as adults, speak to them with compassion, not just correction or criticism.
The best gift: your ears
As an adult, one of the best gifts you can give middle schoolers is your ears! Here are 3 ways to give the gift of your ears—moving your conversations from casual to heart listening.
Listen more than you speak.
Listen to the kind of words students use. How do they talk about their families? Their friends? What emotions lie beneath their words? What do they share about how they view themselves?
Do you hear insecurity, arrogance, self-defeatism, confidence? What hopes and fears do they express in their stories, in their mannerisms?
Listening well will provide you a wealth of insight on how to love them.
Ask good questions!
Whether students are naturally chatty or reserved, asking great questions helps students share what’s really going on inside. Sometimes the most talkative students are the least likely to really open up. Filling the air with words can keep others from cracking the shell.
Look for open-ended questions—ones that require an answer other than “yes” or “no.” Jesus was a master at asking questions like this! Here are just a few from Cadre’s Ministry is Relationships training that will take your conversations below the surface:
- What is one thing you would love to smash with a hammer if you would not get in trouble for it and why?
- Who is crazy about you—and how does that person show it?
- What story do you enjoy hearing your parents or other relatives tell about something YOU did or said when you were little?
- What is the greatest misconception people have about you?
- If you could wave a magic wand and have whatever you wished for in any part of your life, what would it be?
- What do you think God’s opinion is of you? If you could read His mind, what would God be thinking of you right now?
At ministry events, talk to students more than you talk to other adults.
This is so important. If you spend more time talking with your own friends and peers, students may feel like you aren’t interested in them. While high school students may be more interested in “space” from adults, typically younger ones crave attention from grown-ups. Listening to them is truly one of the best gifts you can give them.
Want to help your team grow in your heart listening skills? Ministry is Relationships is a great place to start. Contact us to find out more.