Issues with teens are international and cross-cultural, as my experience last week with a young man I’ll call “Eric” demonstrates:
When it was time to pass out juice and a snack at VBS, one of my adult co-leaders came to me and announced in frustration, “We aren’t having snack today.” When I asked why, she replied, “Eric took the box of crackers and won’t give it back.” When I asked where he was, she directed me outside.
I’d spoken with Eric earlier in the week, asking him to take his soccer ball outside. We were holding VBS in the gym in a small village in Northern British Columbia, and some of the kids had been kicking soccer balls around in the half of the gym that we weren’t using. This added quite a bit of noise to an already noisy situation (70+ kids in a gym), especially when they bounced them off the wall (BLAM!). My team and I had agreed we’d ask the kids to keep the balls outside.
When I’d approached Eric I’d first had to wait for him to remove his earphones. I then asked him if he could please juggle the ball outside. He said, “Dude! I was just about to break a record, and now you messed me up!” I chose to assume he was kidding, patted him on the shoulder, said, “Sorry, Dude,” and walked away. A few seconds later he and his ball were juggling out in the parking lot.
I decided to assume he was kidding again as I headed out the door to retrieve the snack. “Hey, Eric,” I said, “are you going to eat all those crackers, or were you wanting to help hand them out?” He grinned and said, “I’ll hand them out!” We checked out how many crackers there were and found cups to put them in, and he got busy counting crackers.
Eric is about 19 years old, tall and a little edgy – a “loose cannon” is how one person described him. Yet by approaching him with humor and giving him a chance to save face while assuming a position of some importance, I was able to maintain a good relationship with him.
So good, in fact, that he and his brother hung out with us back at camp for many hours at a time. Such is the power of a sense of humor.