Recently I read that the University of Phoenix ran a poll that found that the average teen has 3.5 hours of homework a night. That’s outrageous. Assuming I had spent the time to do all my homework in high school, which is a poor assumption, it surely wouldn’t have amounted to such a number. And other than a cultural fun-fact or piece of useless trivia, this is also a professional concern of mine. As a youth leader, it has to be. If your teens are like mine, there are soccer practices and dance troupes, boy scouts and after school jobs, friends and hobbies…all of which can take time away from youth ministry.
So, assuming that the average student, with the average 3.5 hours, attends the usual 5 days a week, that’s 17.5 hours a week (I used a calculator, so it must be true), and though some have less than that, some have more. That’s a part-time job! Add that to the 40+ hours of at-school time, and it’s no wonder that teens are running out of hours in the day. Who knew my youth are keeping the same crazy work hours I do?
Short of calling up the school board and complaining, there’s nothing we can do, right? I am not a parent or guardian of a student. It’s easy to feel powerless, while week after week youth are forced to choose between studying the Bible with their youth group or studying for their classes. But there is good news, there are a few things you can do about the situation.
1. BE UNDERSTANDING
The last thing we should do as youth workers and Christian leaders is guilt these busy teens. Even though it may be frustrating, be able to accept homework as a reason they can’t be where you would like them to be. Guilt is a powerful motivator and has been used to do so for hundreds of years in the church, but it’s the wrong avenue. Be supportive and positive. You’ll be waiting for them when they are available.
2. HELP TO TEACH TIME MANAGEMENT
Model setting goals, being on time and working in a logical progression. We use activities to develop leadership and foster teamwork, why not also add a component of using our time wisely? We are stewards of all God gave us, and that includes our time as much as our talents and money. If youth can save time and be more efficient, they (hopefully) have more time to spend with God and goofing off with their youth group.
3. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP
Once, in exchange for a youth’s attendance to youth fellowship, I promised to use every one of her vocabulary words in our lesson that evening. It was unusual and it made me think outside the box, but the youth was present that Sunday night AND passed her vocab. test. Ask teens if they need help. If logical, set up tutoring. Get creative. The problems are specific and unique, so the solutions should be too. Not only are you helping or trying to help, you are teaching your youth that they are worth the time and effort, which of course they are.
4. MAXIMIZE THE TIME YOU DO HAVE
If you only see a teen once a month, be sure to connect with that teen. Create events during spring breaks, winter breaks, long weekends, summertime…find when the teens are available. And when you meet, be efficient. Downtime is easy to waste but use it to connect and chat with every single youth. Find out what’s going on with them, their family, their school and their heart. If a teen can only come once a week, you can bet I will work to make every single second purposeful.
Homework is a part of teen life, which makes it part of my life. I can’t get around it unless I can convince everyone to drop out and do youth group full time, which is frowned upon (apparently). Be understanding, model time management, get creative and make the most of every moment you get to work with your teens. This is exactly why you got into ministry, to make a difference in the lives and faith of others, so don’t let a book report or algebra test get in the way.
This article was originally published by Youth Specialties here.