Schools and Young People
For some of us school only seems like yesterday, for others it’s a long gone era. Whether it’s the memories of the move up from primary school, the fitting in, feeling noticed or left out. Or maybe it was the readjustment with being naturally academic or not, or simply not knowing what to do with your life. Young people experience such a wide range of issues and emotions at secondary school, and it’s easy for us to forget what it was actually like.
I wonder when the last time someone said to you:
“Your shoes are ugly
“You dress like a tramp.”
“She needs a brace ‘cos her teeth are disgusting’”
Or the alienation of:
“Who said you could join in this conversation?”
“You’ve got no friends, go away.”
Then there’s the thoughts young people have as they navigate life at school:
“They call it ‘banter’ and outwardly I laugh, but inwardly it really hurts.”
“Everyone’s better off than me, phones, clothes, house, car.”
“I’m the loud one, who gives the impression that I’m tough, good at comebacks and putdowns, but it would nice to have a day off and just be me.”
“All teachers talk about is university, university, university. But I don’t know if that’s for me.”
“I’m meant to be revising an hour each night but I’ve got to look after my brothers and sisters and cook dinner as my Mum always works late.”
“I feel like I’m invisible. I keep a low profile. At break I walk round on my own waiting for the bell to go. What’s worse is that I feel everyone is staring at me.”
“I feel so stressed, there’s so much pressure to perform from home and teachers too. What happens if I don’t get the grades they all expect?”
“People in my class will add me as a friend on social media, yet in person they act like I don’t exist.”
Not every young person feels these things. Some sail through school – but many struggle and don’t particularly enjoy their school years. Also what if the young people you work with are the givers and not receivers of the above at school? As youth workers there’s a huge opportunity for us working with those on the receiving end, as well as a challenge with those who perpetuate this culture within school whether met in school, youth club or youth groups.
The Incarnation – God in the flesh. ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood’ (John 1:14). What ways are we reflecting that ‘Love came down’? How are we making the ‘words’ flesh, (the message lived out and expressed)? How do we need to be involved in our local community in expressing God’s love in word and deed? What does it mean to be an incarnational Christian, to make our words real in the context of schools?
Image of God – Matt 2:21 The Roman coin bore the image of Caeser, the one whom the taxes were to be paid to. Likewise every human being carries the image of God on them. Therefore every child, whether they have a faith or not, carries the image of God. We should be looking for the image of God in every child. As we go into school or support young people, we go with the knowledge that we are part of the human race that God created. If we believe that every human is created in God’s image then as we seek to serve God we meet brokenness in us and in those around us. As we work with young people, as Christians living the mission of God, we will be concerned with restoring the broken image of God – seeing wholeness come in the lives of young people.
The Book of Job: Job’s friends didn’t do a good job of comforting or supporting him during his time of suffering. How are we going to make a better job of supporting someone going through a hard time, than Job’s friends did for him?
The call to become more Christ-like – What is God’s role and what is our role in the process of transformation for followers of Christ? ‘Working out our salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). ‘The word of God is a two-edged sword’ (Heb 4:12). The challenge for young people is to allow God’s word to change their thoughts and attitudes. As a young person is helped to ‘work out their salvation’ through the context of Christian community, and how that faith is lived out, their will come tensions and decisions. For some young Christians the tension comes at school or with friends, the challenge of keeping up a reputation among peers, whilst seeking to live as a disciple. In other words: How do I maintain my image yet be true to Christ?
- What is your church doing or could be doing for the kind of young people described above in the introduction?
- How do the themes / teaching content in your church youth group sessions relate to the issues young people are facing at school as well as challenging cultural attitudes and norms?
- Do young people in your church have appropriate access to youth leaders / team to be able to talk through what is on their mind, the pressures and issues (whether 1-2-1 or in small groups?)
- Could you start an after-school drop-in club or an in-school lunchtime activities club that would be a safe space for young people to gather?
- Could you or your church/organization support young people 1-2-1 through mentoring, or listening work through projects like ‘CROPS’ in Peterborough or other similar schools work organisations?
- What ways could you help prepare children for the transition from primary to secondary school? Perhaps you could offer to take a lesson with year 6 in your local primary school using Scripture Union’s resource ‘It’s Your Move’? Or using similar material at a special ‘graduation event’ at your church based kids club? The same can be said for the transition to university – with the support of resources from charities like ‘Fusion’.
REFLECTION & LEARNING
· What is God saying to you? What are you doing about it?
· What schools is he putting on your heart?
· What needs to change in your church? What needs to change in you?
· What do you need to stop and what do you need to start to achieve this?
· With young people in church groups, how do we best challenge negative aspects of school lifestyle, behavior and encourage spiritual growth whilst allowing God to transform?
· How can you gather the real life stories of how each of your young people’s time at school is going?
· How do you respond when you are criticised or ostracised? Have your young people developed resilience skills to deal with ‘school life’. How can you teach them these skills?
· What training do you need to access to help you serve young people in these ways?
Do you still believe in the God who changes lives? Can we pray for the ‘worst’ that we see in our schools, for ‘Damascus Road’ experiences for some young people? At the same time are we committed to raising up young people who will stand for truth, goodness and inclusion as a light in their generation?
If you have school-aged children in your family, in one sense it is easier to be plugged in with today’s world of education and school life – through the eyes of children, grandchildren etc., which is helpful. However it may be of benefit to find other ways in which we can resource ourselves in supporting young people during their school years. Meeting with others who have a similar heart to support young people in schools is one way. Organisations like Scripture Union, Youthscape, your local Diocesan mission team, are all very focused on this area and offer a number of resources, networks, and training days to help us develop practice.
What might be the ways you could support young people beyond those in your church youth group? Could you connect with a local Christian schools work project (Youth for Christ centre, Scripture Union worker, project like CROPS etc.) to find out how you could work in a local school offering support to young people in your area?
Young Minds –
Ethos Education –
Mind and Soul Foundation –
Scripture Union –