Being approachable to students seems almost impossible when you’re an adult. There are so many logical barriers like age, different cultures, and different experiences. Those are the things that make a connection between a student and adult almost impossible. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t feel can relate to you.
So with that in mind, the question becomes how do you bypass the lack of commonality and become someone students are comfortable with approaching? Well, I’ve learned over the years that it is possible to overcome the barriers and become approachable. And it doesn’t even involve you buying the most popular fashion, knowing the newest songs on the radio or the newest hip language. I’ve learned that becoming more approachable has more to do with your interaction with students than your appearance. You are an adult and those who try to dress and act like teenagers are made fun of, not respected.
So as an adult volunteer or youth worker you should be more concerned with how the student leaves your conversation than what they were thinking before you had the conversation. One thing that has helped me the most in becoming more approachable to students is remembering when I was a teen, and allowing that to guide my interaction. I cringe when I hear people say I just don’t understand teens these days. The truth is you would totally understand teens if you’d just think back to when you were a teen. But for many, somewhere along the line we started thinking that because we are older we’re better and that’s not true. Yes, we may be wiser, but not better. Before you had the life experience that comes with age, you probably made a bunch of stupid decisions just like the students you’re caring for. I remember my friends and I thought it was cool to play tag in cars. We were stupid with a capital S. When you keep in mind that you once were a teen it helps you become more relatable, and you respond differently when you’re able to see yourself in their shoes.
I’m reminded in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul speaks about becoming all things so that he may win people to Christ. I don’t think he meant you need to do and be like the people you are trying to win over. I believe Paul saw value in seeing himself in the shoes of those he was trying to win over, and using their context of life to explain biblical truths. I believe taking Paul’s approach we have the ability to become more compassionate, more understanding, less judgmental, and more grace-filled. We have the ability to see their reasoning and logic or the lack there of. And even if we don’t understand it completely we have the ability to understand that belittling their reasoning and logic get us nowhere.
So the more you can remember the better. I’ve learned that the students today are dealing with the same things we’ve dealt with growing up. Yes, it may look different and be packaged differently but at the core it’s the same. And allowing yourself to relive those times will help you open your eyes, and empathize with the student you’re interacting with. So a few things to do during your interaction:
- Smile and project the energy you want them to feel.
- Ask questions and ask even more questions when you find something they love to talk about.
- Listen, listen and listen. Your ears are more important than what could come out of your mouth.
- Remember you were once in their shoes. Use that to your advantage.
Hope it helps,