Things keep changing in light of COVID-19. Since March break, youth leaders have been triaging the situation while trying to maintain relational connections with students individually and collectively. What we originally thought would be 3 weeks off is turning into months (at least two since this started) and who knows? Things will look different even beyond that. So how do you support your youth at this time?
School at Home
There will need to be a resetting of boundaries and expectations, especially with schools initiating more formal online platforms. The average amount of homework a high school students has in a given week is estimated at 3 hours per course (so students taking a 4-course load this semester are supposed to be doing at least 12 hours of homework). As youth leaders, we need to be cognizant of how much time we’re engaging with our youth and encourage them to balance their responsibilities (i.e. school work and other family commitments), their relationship with God and others, and their own health (physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual).
Anxiety and Care
Some of your students will cope well with the new media that the school curriculum will be delivered through;others not so well. There will likely be a heightened sense of anxiety. Help your youth navigate that. Pray for them regularly—pray with them regularly. Continue in shorter, more frequent times of contact and be available as needed (with the help of others in your church family). Listen well (especially with text-based communication) and ask clarifying questions. Offer Scripture when it’s appropriate (while not minimizing/downplaying what they’re feelingin the midst of this).
What are other supports your youth may need? Some may not have the resources to do e-learning well (whether because they lack hardware, internet connection, or things such as private spaces in which to work). Are there others in your church family who could help with this (e.g. provide youth withlaptops or tablets they’re not using)? Are there people in your network who could provide supplemental online tutoringfor students? You likely have networks of people and resources so see if there are ways you can support your students by facilitating some of these. Keep in mind that resources maybe 2 or 3 degrees removed, so reach out among your own networks for further referrals if they’re not in your immediate circle.
Parents are likely feeling anxiety themselves, whether it’s because of job loss, someone close to them is infected (or ill), or balancing home life with work and other responsibilities day after day. Whether you’re the one reaching out to parents or you are asking others in our church family to care for and support for them, be available for parents who need extra help processing their situation. Perhaps you will facilitate a video or conference call.Ask a group in your church family to intentionally pray for these parents.They may need resources (whether practical like groceries, support from caring individuals or help with other issues); they probably need to know someone is there for them.
Considerations Down the Road
Here are some longer–term issues to at least keep on your radar:
- What are some long–term practices you can initiate now? While not all the COVID-19 changes will remain, some may be beneficial to keep. Begin to evaluate in the next four weeks (along with other leaders, students, parents and peers) what can help the ministry move forward more in a healthy and sustainable manner. This can include not just tools and methods, but also processes and rhythms.
- For those students who are graduating (whether from middle school, high school or postsecondary) in 2020, their grad year will not look like others in recent history. Schools may hold formal graduation ceremonies later in the year, which is healthy because closure is healthy. In what ways can you as a church family celebrate this rite of passage that make graduation special even if it’s delayed? What are ways you could help your local school community to do that as well? Maybe reach out to the local school council and ask.
- Your summer will likely look different from all previous summers. What you did in a “usual” summer will change. It’s not that you need to prepare for it right now, but you’ll need to be mindful of the cautions/precautions you must have in place so students feel safe participating, and parents feel safe sending their kids. Will the school year extend? Will parents require a different rhythm (especially those who are laid off right now)? Adjustments will need to be made.
- Similarly, while it’s good to begin after Easter thinking through next year’s ministry calendar, hold loosely to it without knowing what “normal” might look like in a few months. It’s good to plan ahead while always recognizing God’s will shall always be done.
The times are changing. Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas and questions on this topic or contact Alvin directly. Meanwhile, let us continue to turn to our Lord as he guides us through the coming weeks; may we be faithful and obey to the Holy Spirit’s leading.