The kids are rowdy and excitable this particular Friday night. It’s been a while since I made an appearance at our church community youth programme. Most of these students are between 10 and 15 years old, from a couple of local intermediate schools, friends of friends and a few church community folks as well.
I’m pretty stoked with how this little group is buzzing along – there’s lots of excitement and the leaders are enthusiastic, young and engaged. But I’m not sure they were quite expecting what I pulled outta the bag this youth group night.
For starters, I’m a big believer that when you’re the guest speaker, it’s way easier to go where the kids are, get them to show their colours a little bit and win them over by making sure they’re having fun. I don’t need them to listen to me talk for 30 mins – I want them to be engaged with each other, and with what I’m talking about for ten minutes.
The topic for the night is the one you always get a guest speaker for. It’s not the sex talk, that’s probably still six months away – but I’m talking about the difference between girls and guys, to a motley crew of middle school (intermediate) and junior high kids.
Here’s how it rolled out.
After a few games and snacks; it was “guest speaker” time. I busted the students out; boys on one side of the room, girls on the other. I gave them a couple of big sheets of paper, some pens and asked each group to draw/write/describe their ideal guy & girl. No surprise, the noise and laughter in the room exploded, but not before I gave the leaders some special instructions. Whatever happened, I wanted the groups to be as honest as possible.
About ten minutes later, the activity was done and we pinned those ideals up on the wall. I started out by talking about how everyone’s probably told them they’re at a critical stage of life and that they’re really kinda lucky – because there’s a lot of study going into what’s happening for them. Then I followed through by saying – some of this stuff is helpful for you to know, so you don’t feel caught out by surprise.
I pointed out a few differences between the way each group thought about the opposite sex, but also how they came up with the answers. Here are a few..
1. The girls used dozens and dozens of words to describe their ideal guy & girl; the boys put almost all their energy into drawing rather than words.
2. The boys described lots of activities, the girls lots of qualities.
3. The girls thought the ideal guy had to have tattoos, the boys thought the ideal woman wouldn’t have any tattoos.
4. The boys described the ideal girl as being someone who loved video games, sport, didn’t take too long in the bathroom, wasn’t grumpy and like hanging out with their friends. The girls responded by saying “your ideal girl is just a guy that looks like a girl!”.
Then we talked all the stuff it could mean, as well as some other development facts to reassure them what normal can be. I’m a big fan of reassuring people when you’re doing any kind of adolescent development talk.
The boys asked a really insightful question: “Why is it when girls are hanging out at school, when a guy walks past them, they all stop talking? And how come girls can be so mean to each other?” I thought that was a great opportunity to talk about the differences between how guys and girls compare themselves to each other. That girls often compare negatively but guys can compare in an affirming way. It was a fascinating conversation.
Then it was time to wrap up the night, with a few more laughs – especially with those boys that had decided Megan Fox was the ideal woman. I was done, and they were off.
It was in the wrap-up afterwards, that I realized a bunch of those young leaders may well have been taken by surprise with the one thing missing. I didn’t mention Jesus, God or God’s creation or sex. I eliminated all the “typical” elements of a Christian youth group Guys & Girls talk. Did you notice it?
Sometimes I think it’s way too easy for us to put a Jesus #hashtag on everything we do in youth group, as if it makes broomball spiritual, or somehow makes what we say to young people more relevant and meaningful. But I suspect, it’s part of what inoculates young people to where and when spirituality might be relevant. So sometimes, I think you can be more meaningful without tagging Jesus in as an after-thought.
What do you think?