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How to Give Young People the Right Advice

Today in Canada, two out of three young adults are leaving the church as they transition out of high school. It can be so difficult to know how to support young people who are struggling to find their faith and their footing. We all want to give the right advice.

Asking the right questions

Jacob walked into my classroom last fall with passion and enthusiasm. He was determined to score high on his assignments because he told me his grandma would let him have it if he didn’t. She was the woman who cared. Only weeks into the school year Jacob’s enthusiasm dropped and his attendance tanked.

There was a noted change. I was getting frustrated with this unusual lack of engagement, his inconsistent attendance, and frankly, his attitude. However, voicing my frustration wasn’t motivating him to change (go figure).

One question without assumptions or judgment can transform a relationship and change the direction of a life: Jacob, are you ok? 

Jacob’s grandma had died. Jacob didn’t finish the semester with the success he’d imagined, but he did finish. He stayed curious about himself, his own life, his goals and hopes, and he decided to keep moving forward. In a sense, he picked up the pen, and decided to write his own grade ten story. Jacob’s courageous effort would have made his grandma proud.

That same fall, Joy walked into my math classroom wanting to hide in the back of the room. I noticed Joy’s arm was pulled inside her sweater, and I asked her if she had hurt her arm.

At my question, Joy bolted out of the room in tears. I learned later that Joy’s arm had been amputated. Joy is a brave cancer survivor and my question had completely embarrassed her.

Later that day, I found her and spoke with her. She was angry.  She could have asked to be removed from my class forever (I’m pretty sure she was tempted). 

We talked for a long while and I was able to explain my mistake. Our conversation that day began an incredible relationship.

Later in the semester, I asked Joy to speak at an event where her story inspired hundreds of youth from across the province. She chose to own her story and tell it. Real connection can only come through writing our true stories—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Current research is revealing just how effective mentorship is in our approach to help young people flourish in their faith. Despite this, the research notes that ‘many would-be adult mentors find mentoring intimidating.'

Just a few weeks ago, a substitute teacher made the same mistake I had made with Joy in the fall. I found her sobbing in the hallway. She told me she wasn’t only upset because of the teacher’s insensitivity. She said, “It’s all of it, Miss Cey! Everyday I wish I had my arm, and today I can’t stop thinking about the day I had to shave my head… and I wish this wasn’t my life, but it is!”

I asked her if she would pick up her pen and write her story about the day she shaved her head, and she did.

In her journal, Joy told about her hair falling out in mats, she told about trying to hide, she told about looking in the mirror and having someone else look back at her. Joy signed her story as: 11-year-old girl almost done grade 6 and had to leave school so she wouldn’t die. 

A few days later, Jacob came to school with another sad story. His cousin had passed away.

Jacob composes rap music and the day after he told me about his cousin, he said, “Miss Cey, we all have rhymes and stories to tell, and we express it through our pen and paper.” And he began to write a rap with a message of hope that would be performed in front of 700 people later that month.

Joy spends hours honing her skill painting and writing with her left hand, although she was born right-handed. She has owned her story with words and composes messages of hope with paint.

Jacob and Joy were able to find strength by expressing their stories and finding their sense of identity, in the midst of struggle. Maybe giving the right advice has more to do with the questions we ask than the instructions we give. 

Mentorship matters

Years ago, someone took the time to give me the right advice. We met week after week in a coffee shop and she asked me question after question after question.

Her questions were thought-provoking and challenging. They caused me to reflect on my beliefs, values, behaviors, strengths, and passions. She was actively listening so she could ask the right questions to help me grow in my faith.

There is a research project unfolding that focuses on young people in Canada called Renegotiating Faith: The Delay in Young Adult Identity Formation and What It Means for the Church in Canada. Current research is revealing just how effective mentorship is in our approach to help young people flourish in their faith.

Despite this, the research notes that “many would-be adult mentors find mentoring intimidating.” The pressure to have the right answers can feel overwhelming.

However, the study defines mentorship like this: "A relationship for the benefit of the mentee where the mentor is an active listener who journeys with the mentee to a solution, rather than prescribing a solution”

It is by asking thoughtful questions and engaging in meaningful conversation that mentors can support young people as they grow their own sense of identity and find their place in the world. The study affirms that mentorship is a powerful tool to help young people “choose a career, stay in church, and go for different ministry opportunities” and “to help them understand themselves and understand their faith.” 

Yes, good questions are powerful tools.

When we are receiving advice, we can tell quickly whether the advice-giver truly believes we are capable to think and solve problems. Communication is interpreted 55% by body language, 38% by tone, and only 7% by words.

The demeanor of the advice-giver is of paramount importance.

Sounds easy, right? 

Not so. It takes a "self-less heart" to give advice in this manner.

No personal agenda. No leading questions. No pushing or prodding. No demanded outcome.

It is by asking thoughtful questions and engaging in meaningful conversation that mentors can support young people as they grow their own sense of identity and find their place in the world.

Sounds like undeserved love in action. 

Jesus is the master advice-giver. How does He do it? He asks us questions with truth and grace

Asking questions in truth

The goal is to help someone connect with their true self as a beloved child of God as they think with curiosity to solve their own problems. 

How can we give the right advice? First, listen intentionally for:

  • Topics that give the other energy
  • Areas of strength
  • Possibilities and opportunities
  • Personal values 

Secondly, ask questions about these things. Practice ABC!

  • Actively note their presence, words and body language
  • Be curious, present, and attentive to their presence, words, and body language
  • Choose questions to empower them to think for themselves and believe they can solve their own dilemma with God’s help 

Asking questions with grace

Why is it so important to ask questions with grace instead of judgment?

When our brains detect judgment, we slip into "fight or flight" mode and we lose the ability to think with openness.

To ask questions without judgment takes self-awareness and practice, but it is worth the effort! By doing so, we empower young people to experience growth and we are able to give the right advice.

Not only is it important to ask good questions, but it is also equally important to listen well. Here are some tips for good listening as you engage young people in conversations about faith.

Be slow to speak and quick to listen

 James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” 

Be patient 

Phillipians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” 

Be genuinely loving 

1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant” 

Be able to ask insightful questions 

Proverbs 18:2: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” 

Be in tune with God 

Proverbs 20:5: “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” 

May God show you how to give the right advice as you support the young people you care about and help them find their faith footing. 

For more mentorship advice, access my free "Mentorship Guide" on my website

For more on Renegotiating Faith, read Briercrest's report on the difference Christian higher education can make for young adults.

Kaitlyn Cey

Kaitlyn Cey is a Briercrest College and Kaléo program alumna. Since her time at Briercrest, she has worked as an educator, pastor, and the director of Inspire Our Nation Youth Ministry, a youth movement aiming to inspire youth to overcome struggle and influence the world for God. Through her work, play, rest, and writing, Kaitlyn endeavors to promote the growth, engagement, and flourishing of all people, especially the next generation in Canada. 

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