As I was looking for which seminar to attend for the first session, immediately I was drawn to Heather Flies seminar on ministering to middle school girls. I did this partially because she is entertaining and high energy and if there is anything I struggle with in ministry it is relating to girls. There are two reasons, one because of the issues of boundaries with students of the opposite sex, and two because I just don't understand teen girls. There are the emotions, the ups and downs, and the craziness of being a teen girl in today's image driven society. I was not disappointed in the session and here are a few of the things I took away from the seminar.
Her basic points were these in the form of the acronym SHARE...
S-Show up (if you want to reach a middle school girl, you've got to be present in her life-the concerts, the events, the activities of school, there must be that relationship. Basically she said that they have to know you care about them beyond their attendance and what you need them for).
H-Hear her heart (look for what's going on BEYOND what she says, and then listen to it-really listen to it)
A-Affirm her character (acknowledge who she is becoming and affirm that-take notice of things like when she changes her hair, because she wants these things to be noticed-and guys we can acknowledge these things too, just be careful how you do it).
R-Reassure her of her source of worth (Help her to see who God made her to be and who she can become. Help her to see past the expectations the world places on her for image and how she portrays herself)
E-Encourage female relationships (Teen girls, especially middle schools are noticing boys and are driven by that in many ways. Make sure you encourage your girls to look beyond just those and plan deliberate times for just the girls-guys of course make sure we include our spouses or another sponsor on this one and maybe even remove ourselves from those times so the girls can be girls.
Above all this she mentioned that there are exceptions to the rules as well. For the quiet girl-make sure find out what she likes and then let her talk about it. For the non-girly girl offer another option (she used the example of taking girls to the amusement park instead of shopping during the girls only event.
Another issue I am glad she addressed just briefly was the idea of how to deal with the "mean girls." This seems to be a growing issue. I know speaking as a guy here that teen girls can be catty, especially middle school girls and their relationships can come and go and they can be very abrasive at times-which can harm the ministry if not kept in check. She offered these three steps...first talk to the girls individually. If this does not solve the problem bring them together as a group. If that doesn't work, then do not be afraid to get the parents involved. I know this is a very real issue and PLEASE be aware of it. I can tell you, there was a rift in my youth ministry one year for almost a full year. Two girls who had been best friends since preschool decided to be enemies for an entire school year and it split our youth ministry. My suggestion in this are is to bathe it in prayer more than anything else except that God will move in your ministry.
This session was VERY helpful to me, and while I still feel I have a long way to go with working with middle school girls (that's why I'm glad I've been blessed with a wonderful wife), I think I took a few steps forward today.