By Youth Specialties on August 24 2014
Original photo by Montecruz Foto.
Like most other youth workers, I’ve been burned time and again by a certain kind of kid. These kids are difficult to love. They’ve got a calloused outer shell that’s difficult to penetrate. They don’t laugh or cry. They seem to have cut themselves off from all emotion. It’s hard to read what they are feeling at any specific moment. They’ve created a protective barrier around themselves, often because of emotional pain from past experiences.
I call such hardened kids “caustic kids.” The word caustic comes from the same root as the word cauterize, a medical term that means to burn until a wound is closed off. Caustic kids are those who have burned relationships with peers and those in authority to the point where almost all their relationships have been closed off.
If you’re one who shies away from kids like this, I don’t blame you. They’re hard to interact with and it’s natural to distance yourself from them—they give you lots of reasons not to like them:
- They tend to be self-centered.
- They defy you at every step, refusing to cooperate.
- They can sabotage your ministry by talking bad about you to anyone who will listen—including their parents and other kids in the group.
- They tell magnetic stories about the parties they’ve gone to, movies they’ve seen, the classes they’ve skipped, the people they’ve hurt, the guns they own, and the joyrides they’ve taken in stolen cars.
- They bring the worst kind of music along in the church bus—and then they tune out everyone as they hide behind earbuds.
- They sneak off to smoke cigarettes… or worse.
- They’re strong-willed (just like most youth leaders!).
Though caustic kids offer us plenty of reasons to pull in the welcome mat, there are also a few compelling reasons we must minister to them:
Caustic youth require a long-term commitment and conditions might get worse before they get better. But, you really shouldn’t expect building relationships and communicating with these difficult students to be easy.
That’s why you also need the support of other adults to work successfully with caustic kids. When your efforts are continually frustrated, you may begin to lose your self-confidence and think that you’re a failure. You need people around you to show you that you’re not crazy and to encourage you in the truth that you can minister to these kids.
Finally, and most importantly, it’s essential to pray. In Mark 9:14-29, the disciples run into a situation that seems impossible. But in verse 29, Jesus reminds them that there is something they can do: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
The hurt and hardness of caustic kids can be softened only by the tenderness of God’s Holy Spirit. And that comes by prayer. Pray that the kids in your group would experience the love and healing power of God.
Les Christie chairs the youth ministry department at William Jessup University and has spoken at each YS National Youth Workers Convention for the last 30 years. He’s also authored more than 15 books and you can hear Les speak at both NYWC Sacramento and NYWC Atlanta!