conversations on the fringe


Youth With Disabilities

Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth

Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.


This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry

I went to a training on creating trauma-informed systems of care. I was impacted by the implications on schools and youth ministries. People often took to the church for hope in the midst of tragedy. The church can be a place of good new and healing if they take steps to be trauma-informed in what they do.


Trauma studies report 70% of all adults have experienced some form of trauma. Trauma experiences can range from a simple car accident that results in injury, to gang violence in the city, to physical or sexual assault, to repeated name calling, to being in high stress environments such as jail or prison. 90% of those people suffering from trauma end up in public behavioral health systems seeking support and therapy. 70% of teens who seek treatment for addiction report having traumatic experiences in their young lives, often repeated trauma. New research has revealed trauma can actually derail normal development of the body, brain, and cognition.

SAMHSA (2012) reports “individuals can be retraumatized by those whose intent it is to help”. Trauma clearly interferes with healthy brain development and coping measure become problematic (i.e., substance use, avoidance, aggression, risky behaviors).

As we engage youth in our programs (especially schools and churches) we must understand the principles of trauma informed care.

Understanding attachment theory should be required for all who work with children and adolescents. Attachment theory is best explained as the type of connection (attachment) one has with their primary care givers as a child. When the infant/child is cared for and nurtured the growing infant develops a sense of security that their needs will be taken care of. As a result, the child will likely develop into an adolescent/young adult who is autonomous, self-controlled emotionally and behaviorally, well-formed identity, and can adapt to changing circumstances.

A child who experiences high levels of stress or trauma is more likely to develop insecure or avoidant attachment styles of interacting with the world around them. If they are victimized, they will likely be extra weary of people and see the world as unsafe. Due to this worldview, the child has to develop maladaptive ways to interact with the dangerous world they live in.

When a child experiences trauma the architecture of the brain is changed and emotions and cognition are not integrated. The separate regions of the brain do not communicate effectively with one another so, when something triggers a memory of trauma that fear signal cannot be challenged with rational thought because the pathways have been disrupted. This means everything is a potential trigger for re-activating the trauma.

One example of this is when a young person, that has been sexually abused and threatened or coerced into not reporting the abuse, is told by a well-meaning youth worker that she cannot have her cell phone on the retreat away from home. The reason for this is so the student can focus on God without the distraction of modern mobile technology. Unfortunately, a trauma-impacted student may experience this as a loss of safety that reignites the feeling of being powerless to call for help if needed.

Children and youth are vulnerable populations but there are intersections that increase their vulnerability because we live in a society that marginalizes anyone that is different from the norm (i.e., LGBT, people of color, disables, gender, religion, class, etc.). The greater the number of identity intersections the higher the likelihood of victimization and trauma. Think about the homeless black teenage girl who was kicked out of her house because she identifies as a lesbian. She also recently dropped out of school because she has a learning disability. Now, in order to survive on the streets, she resorts to survival sex with strangers just for a warm bed and a hot meal. This is traumatizing if it happens just once but for many marginalized youth, this becomes a way of life.

If a young person is handled with care, healing can occur. Our school or church can help this precious child begin the healing by creating a trauma informed program or ministry. This starts by educating staff and volunteers. Bring a local therapist, who specializes in trauma, to speak to your team about the impact of trauma and how to be more informed as a team. There are also plenty of resources on the web. Conversations on the Fringe has several blog posts dedicated to trauma.

Another way we can help a hurting student is by creating safe spaces for them to walk with Jesus. Their journey may not be as linear as most of their peers. Cultivating an environment for vulnerability is of the utmost importance but remembering the classroom or youth ministry room is no replacement for a qualified and trained therapist.

Trauma impacts whole family systems. They will need support as they begin the journey to freedom and healing. Trauma alienates and can lead to isolation for families who are ashamed, embarrassed, overwhelmed, and hurting themselves. They need your friendship more than anything. Be present. Sit quietly. Cry with them. Bring meals to families sorting out their trauma stories. Incarnate real love and support. Prayer is good and essential but no replacement for a hug or wiping away tears or a warm dinner.

Lastly, creating a trauma-informed program is a justice issue. If a traumatized young person is to ever recovery a sense of goodness and justice in the world, if they are ever to let go of the natural anxiety of being victimized and move out into the world a whole-hearted person, they need to know and experience goodness that brings balance to their life. Trauma leaves such a powerful and deep impact on the mind and soul that it will take good people doing good to re-establish equilibrium to their mind and soul. The issue of justice cannot be avoided in human service or ministry organization because, it is the heart of why people seek help for trauma in the first place.

What does justice work look like for victims of trauma? What does it look like for perpetrators of trauma?

Building Bridges (pt. 4 – Sense of Belonging/Community)

In our research, the greater the disconnect, the greater the sense of marginalization among LGBTQ youth, the higher the likelihood of high-risk behaviors. To compensate for the deep depression of being isolated many would turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Many contemplate suicide at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers. Often they would move towards unhealthy communities seeking acceptance and belonging and engage in unsafe and unhealthy sexual activity just to feel a sense of love and that of being wanted.

There are culturally accepted norms by which we hold all people to. The more they are like the norm, the greater level of acceptance and support we are likely to give them. It’s not pretty but it’s honest. Jesus flipped this upside down with his kingdom. One of his goals for the kingdom was to restore people to community with each other and with the Father. The more an individual is different from the norm (those with power) the higher the risk of marginalization.

Add to this tendency, the variety of intersections an individual might have that increases societal marginalization, such as; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, disability, socio-economic status, location, etc.. The more different one tends to be the higher the likelihood of alienation and separation from mainstream society, thus impacting one’s ability to feel and maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness.

So, if we (humanity) are to work towards the reconciliation of all things, how might we better do this?

Where have our strategies failed? Where have they succeeded? What new strategies do we need? What posture might we take that increases the potential for restoration to occur?

New Trainings for 2016

We’re excited to offer two brand new training opportunities for 2016. Both address much needed conversations around important and urgent issues; the opiate overdose epidemic, and the need for cultural intelligence in a rapidly changing world. If you are interested in bringing either of these conversations or any of our other trainings/workshops/community conversations to your area, just email us at

Connecting with Marginalized Youth (increasing your CQ)

Do you have a diverse group of kids? Do you want to be more effective in reaching a more diverse cross-section of youth in your community? Do you desire to impact the lives of LGBTQ youth, kids with disabilities, cross racial and ethnic barriers, and get to know those who are strikingly different than you and those in your ministry? Do you desire to increase your cultural intelligence in order to build a bridge across the gap between your church and others? This training focuses on developing and increasing our cultural intelligence (CQ) in order to begin the bridge building process of learning how to love our neighbors that appear to be different that us.

Understanding the Opiate/Heroin Overdose Crisis

According to a government website heroin related overdose deaths have seen a 10-fold increase since 2001. Many of those impacted by this growing trend at adolescents and young adults. Prescription narcotics and heroin have become the drug of choice for youth across all classes, races, and socio-economic ranges. Learn about the impact of opiates on the developing adolescent brain and body as well as how someone becomes addicted to opiates. In this training you will earn how to use a life saving medication called Naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication that can save a loved one’s life. This workshop is in partnership with the JOLT Foundation. Visit JOLT Foundation for more information on Naloxone.

UPDATE: Being Good News to LGBTQ Students 2016

The plight of LGBTQ youth has been a growing passion for CotF over the last several years. As we continue to look deeper into what it means to be a gay youth we are regularly surprised by the vilification of these adolescents by the church and the exploitation of them by the world. CotF is committed to pulling back the curtain in LGBTQ youth related issues, to bring an end to the continued marginalization of this potentially vulnerable group of beloved youth.

*This is an update on a previous post that challenges the church to consider whether it is actually Good News or contributes to the further victimization of LGBTQ youth.

Adolescence is a time of significant physical and psychosocial development.  As youth develop, they are typically informed by and supported by their peers.  Experimentation, exploration, and risk characterize adolescence, and many engage in high-risk behaviors during this time.  Beyond the impulsive, risk-taking nature of adolescents their budding identity is being shaped as well.  This is often a difficult and exciting time of exploration but can be even more difficult for a self-identified LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning) adolescent.  While all teens are at risk to some degree, LGBTQ students are at a higher risk by the very nature of their orientation.

The following are just some of the reasons that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk than the average student:

Alcohol and Drug Use in LGBTQ Youth

LGBTQ youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual peers: to experiment and assert their independence, to relieve tension, to increase feelings of self-esteem and adequacy, and to self-medicate for underlying depression or other mood disorders.  However, LGBTQ youth may be more vulnerable as a result of the need to hide their sexual identity and the ensuing social isolation.  As a result, they may use alcohol or drugs to deal with stigma and shame, to deny same-sex attraction/feelings, or to help them cope with ridicule and antigay violence.

Stigma, Identity, and Risk

LGBTQ students have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning how to manage a stigmatized identity.  This extra burden puts LGBTQ youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide.  This is even more true when there are compounding intersections such as; being a minority, having a disability, etc.

Abuse and Homelessness

LGBTQ youth are at a high risk for antigay violence such as bullying (which is really peer assault and harassment), verbal, emotional, and social abuse.  Antigay attacks heighten an adolesent’s feelings of vulnerability, intensifies their inner conflict, and typically drives them further into isolation, reinforcing their sexual identity.

Homelessness is a particular concern for LGBTQ youth, because many teens may run away as a result of harassment and abuse from family members or peers who disapprove of the sexual orientation.  Still others may be thrown out of the home when their parents learn they are gay.  Like their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ homeless and runaway youth have many health and social problems, including mental health problems, high risk for suicide, and STDs (including being at high risk for HIV/AIDS).

*excerpts taken from SAMHSA: A Providers Instruction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals

At first glance, adolescents who work in the commercial sex industry may be identified as prostitutes. As prostitution is illegal in most countries, adolescents may initially be labeled as criminals. However, since sex trafficking and prostitution involve the sale of sex and sexual acts, adolescents are actually, according to the legal criteria, the victims of criminal activity, i.e., of sex trafficking. Specifically, adolescents who are forced into commercial sex acts through the use of coercion, fraud, or threats are considered victims of sex trafficking regardless of their age, and any person younger than age 18 involved in any form of commercial sexual exploitation (e.g., prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, and stripping) is considered the victim of the crime of sex trafficking of a minor. The legal criteria or definitions, which provide additional legal protection to victims, are provided under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 2000 and reauthorized and revised in 2003, 2005, and 2008.

Crimes committed against child trafficking victims (e.g., threats, extortion, theft of documents or property, false imprisonment, aggravated or sexual assault, pimping, rape, and murder) result in an immeasurable amount of short- and long-term physical, mental, and emotional harm. Minors are targeted more frequently because they are easy to manipulate and unable to protect themselves. LGBT minors who are homeless are at the highest risk for sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. National Coalition for the Homeless (, homeless LGBT youth are much more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking than other homeless youths. For instance, only 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT in the United States, and 58.7 percent of them are exploited through sexual prostitution. This is a much higher rate than the 33.4 percent of heterosexual homeless youth that are at risk of sexual exploitation on the street.

Lack of reporting limits the ability to protect LGBT youth. If local publications and news channels do not report on the prevalence of human trafficking and on the disproportionate number of our homeless and runaway youth that are LGBT, it creates a perception that LGBT human trafficking and youth homelessness are issues outside the community or are issues only affecting the “Western world.” Increasing awareness of the worldwide prevalence of such issues will lead to a productive debate in society that could potentially tap into the core issues affecting LGBT homeless and LGBT youth at risk of sex trafficking.


Love146, a organization working to prevent child trafficking and exploitation, reports that sexual exploitation is devastating to a child. The after effects that children/youth face include…

Drug and alcohol dependencies, depression and anxiety, HIV and other STDs, revictimization, PTSD and/or complex stress disorder, unplanned pregnancy, addiction to money, fistulas and other health complications, hypersexualization, shame and humility, complex issues of self-worth, trauma bonds and Stockholm Syndrome, suicide attempts and self-injury, guilt and self-blame, mental illness, pressure from family, and prostitution in adulthood.

We CANNOT continue to allow this to happen. The church has mandate to NOT allow this. If our practices, intentionally or unintentionally, contribute to a system that further marginalizes and exploits LGBTQ youth then it is simply not Christian.

So my question is this…How can the church (and our youth ministries) be Good News to these precious kids that are at such a high risk?


The Three R’s of Bullying Interventions

The issue of bullying just doesn’t seem to be going away so today let’s talk about strategies to fix what bullying does.  The following would be a great resource to put in the hands of parents of your students.  It is also good kindling for discussion on reconciliation.

Restitution, Resolution, and Reconciliation 

If student was a follower/supporter of the bully: 

  1. Intervene immediately
  2. Provide a system of graceful accountability while allow natural consequences to occur
  3. Create opportunities to “do good”
  4. Nurture empathy
  5. Teach friendship skills – assertive, respectful, and peaceful ways to relate to others
  6. Monitor/Criticize/Converse about TV shows, movies, music, and video games that reinforce violence against others
  7. Engage in more constructive, entertaining, and energizing activities 

If your student hurt others through gossip: 

  1. apologize to the child who was harmed by the rumor
  2. go to everyone she told it to and tell them it wasn’t true
  3. ask them to stop spreading it
  4. ask them to let everyone they told that she was a part of spreading the rumor and that she wants to correct it
  5. to the best of her ability, repair any damage done to the target by the act of spreading the rumor
  6. take the next step of building a new and healthier relationship 

Three principles that foster moral independence: 

  1. Teach your student that he and only he is responsible for the consequences of his actions (kids who accept responsibility for their own actions are more likely to live up to their own moral code) 
  2. Build your student’s confidence in his or her ability to make good decisions (Kids who have confidence in their own judgments are not easily manipulated by others) 
  3. Teach your student how to evaluate reasons on his or her own (Kids who have confidence in their own ability to reason are more questioning and more resistant to passive acceptance of orders.)

reference: Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystanders by Barbara Coloroso

Creating Caring Communities that Challenge Bullying

The following is a brief outline for creating an environment that leaves little room for bullying.  Whether your group is in a classroom, youth group room, large group meeting room, or small group this following principles will be helpful for the leader to cultivate a safe environment.  This can also be used in training volunteers as there is a Powerpoint Presentation that goes with it at the bottom of this post.

Four Key Principles 

  1. warmth, positive interest, and involvement from adults
  2. firm limits as to unacceptable behavior
  3. in case of violations of limits and rules, consistent application of non-hostile, non-physical sanctions (discipline as opposed to punishment)
  4. behavior by adults at home and in community organizations that creates an authoritative (not authoritarian) adult – child interaction

 Elements to Effective Anti-Bullying Policies 

  1. A strong, positive statement of the organizations desire to promote positive peer relations and especially to oppose bullying and harassment in any form it may take by all members of the community
  2. A succinct definition of bullying or peer victimization, with specific examples
  3. A declaration of the rights of individuals and groups in the community – students, teachers, clergy, LGBTQ, minorities, etc – to be free of victimization by others
  4. A statement of the responsibility of those who witness peer victimization to seek to stop it
  5. Encouragement of students and parents with concerns about victimization to speak with school/church/community leaders about it
  6. A general description of how the community organization proposes to deal with the bully/victim problem
  7. A plan to evaluate the policy in the near future

 Prevention Strategy 

  1. Gathering information about bullying in community directly from students
  2. Establishing clear organizational rules about bullying
  3. Training all willing adults in the community to respond sensitively and consistently to bullying
  4. Providing adequate adults supervision, particularly in less structured areas, such as playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, etc.
  5. Improving parental awareness of and involvement in working on the problem.

Bullying Training

Four Markers of Bullying

With every person we talk to about bullying we get a different definition of what it is.  There seems to be some difficulty defining what bullying is and what it isn’t.  Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when the person is

“exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons.”

He defines negative actions as “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways.”

The following are markers that may help determine if an act of aggression is actually bullying or simply the result of conflict between two parties.

1. Imbalance of Power

The bully can be older, bigger, stronger, more verbally adapt, higher up on the social ladder, of a difference race, or of the opposite sex. Sheer numbers of kids banded together to bully can create this imbalance. Bullying is not sibling rivalry, nor is it fighting that involves two equally matched kids who have conflict.

2. Intent to Harm
The bully means to inflict emotional and/or physical pain, expects the action to hurt, and takes pleasure in witnessing the hurt. This is no accident or mistake, no slip of the tongue, no playful teasing, no misplaced foot, no inadvertent exclusion.
3. Threat of Further Aggression
Both the bully and the bullied know that the bullying can and probably will occur again. This is not meant to be a one time event. When bullying escalates unabated, a fourth element is added:
4. Terror
Bullying is systematic violence used to intimidate and maintain dominance. Terror struck in the heart of the child targeted is not only a means to an end, it is an end in itself. This is not a one time act of aggression elicited by anger about a specific issue, nor is it an impulsive response to a rebuke.

Faith or Rigidity (Help, I Have an Aspie in my Youth Group!)

Left to their own devices, children with AD will often go through life like a train on a track: one way, straight ahead, never varying, and avoiding the unexpected.  It is hard to live a life of faith without the flexibility to take-risk, something that is difficult for an Apsie.  Aspie’s need to learn how to go off-roading..  Telling the child – and showing them through many experiences over the years – that taking risks and steps of faith is a good thing and to not be controlled by fear.  Compliment the child when they are flexible, bending and changing and trying new things.

Youth workers can partner with the parents by helping these children develop skills at surviving in the world.  Plan to take them places they might enjoy, such as restaurants, on public transportation, and to age-appropriate entertainment during youth group outings but be aware, that too much pressure to read so many pieces of sensory and social information at once can be exhausting and stressful.  Plan you activities accordingly.  It is appropriate to increase your expectation as the child gets older and working in partnership with the parents makes discerning this easier for the youth worker. 

This really is an issue of teaching the Aspie how to have faith.  Faith is a gift that is given to some of us by the Spirit in a supernatural way but a child with AD may struggle with the flexibility needed to respond to Spirit’s promptings.  Walking with and modeling way to do this will reinforce in the Aspie a healthy expression of faith where one can take risks in following the God who loves them and allows them a seat at the kingdom table.

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