In a previous post, we started our discussion on raising independent kids. Much has been said about extended adolescence and the irresponsibility and dependence of this generation of young people. I think our goal is to counter that trend and stimulate independence.
Many of us may be parents as well as youth workers, but since this is a youth ministry blog and not a parenting blog, the question is how to ‘raise’ independent students. What can we as youth leaders do to promote independence in our students?
1. Identify Desirable Skills
Independence starts with us asking what skills we think students need to become independent. If they are to fully succeed as an adult, what skills do they need? I’m thinking of practical stuff like doing laundry, cooking a meal, banking, grocery shopping.
2. Identify Necessary Knowledge
Skills are one thing, but to be independent, students also need to have certain knowledge. Think of financial stuff, how credit cards work for instance and how much interest you pay on these. That’s highly practical, yet crucial knowledge.
Other examples are insurance, basics of legal contracts, an overview of how the health care system works (or doesn’t work for that matter).
3. Check Students’ Level
Obviously, the first responsibility of teaching independence is with parents. Yet there are many reasons why parents are lagging in this area. They’re too busy surviving, they’re absent for whatever reason, they’re not convinced it’s needed, or they simply don’t see it. And that’s assuming there are parents; of course, many students grow up with a (struggling) single parent. Then there’s the helicopter type parent for whom independence is as dirty a word as responsibility.
So informally check with the students in your small group or simply observe how independent they are. Do they know how the world works or are they naïve and missing crucial info? Do you see them take up responsibility, or do they need constant supervision, or micro-managing?
There are many, many ways to informally teach these skills and this knowledge. It may look like a formal process in these steps, but it’s really an organic, fluid approach.
Personally, I’ve always been most concerned with the students coming from vulnerable backgrounds, or from a lower socio-economic status. These are the ones that need the most skills, since they often don’t have the safety-net other students do have.
And when I say teaching, that too is informal. I’m talking about letting a student help you when you cook dinner for your small group and you casually explaining some basics of cooking along the way. It’s taking a student with you when you go shopping and spending a few minutes talking in the car on healthy financial practices. It’s sharing your mistakes and what you wish you had known sooner.
All this takes place in the context of an existing relationship based on love and trust. Without that, doing this informally is next to impossible and students may even take offense.
Of course, there’s also tons you can do to let students experience and experiment with independence within your youth ministry. That’s something we’ll discuss in more detail in the next post.
[Photo: Christian Senger via Flickr, Creative Commons]