Immaculate was a foreign exchange student from Kampala, Uganda. She was new to our country and culture. When asked about how she felt when people noticed she was different she responded:
“It’s okay to ask. People sometimes notice something special about me – my accent, the way I look – and that’s okay. It’s just normal. When they ask, they can learn from the things that are different. If they don’t ask about it, I worry that they don’t like me.”
Kids can smell feigned interest like a fart in a car. They sense genuiness like a sixth sense. They know if you are truely interested in them and seem to be able to tell if you have an alterior motive for paying attention to them. (we’ll address motives in a later blog)
Historically, many of the kids in our youth groups have felt like projects. Projects that we were trying to fix. We’ve long suspected this was the case but our focus groups support this theory. One of the many reasons kids are dropping out during and afer high school is beause they don’t feel like the adults (or peer leaders) accepted them for who they really are just what they can do for them (bolster our attendance, serve on a project, increase our outreach efforts, etc.). They often express feeling like they were a means to an end, like any information they gathered about a student was just to be used later to make them do something, even something determined “good”.
Youth workers are a curious lot to begin with but when we become curious about the students we interact with it communicates many things to them. When we show interest, real interest, we are saying to them that they are interesting, important, valuable, worth my time, that they belong, that they matter and are wanted, that we are interested in their uniqueness, and that this is a safe place/space to be their true self as they explore the challenges of adolescence.
- Have you ever had a conversation with a student that served no other purpose but to just know the kids better?
- Do you know about your kid’s deepest longings, dream, hopes, fear, insecurities?
- How can you move beyond questions like, “What’s your favorite video game?” to “Where in your life do you sense God moving in your life?
- How do you cultivate a spirit of curiosity in your life, your volunteers, parents, and student leaders?
Curiosity is inherently friendly. Because our attention is outwardly focused, curiosity sets us up to be successful in connecting with students and moving towards real authentic community.