As you read the rest of this article, I’m going to tell you to drop your guard a little. Be careful not to read this as “I’m the only person who can/needs to have this role in their life” because that will lead to “I’ve just been fired and am on a sexual offender list.” Am I being dramatic? Of course. I’m a female.
Words of Caution: Know your church’s policies. Always have another leader with you, especially if you are meeting with a girl in private. Always gauge where a girl’s personal boundaries are, and don’t cross them. If you feel that a relationship is getting inappropriate, always get another leader involved. There are many things that your female leaders need to take the lead on in their lives, but understand that we all need role models from both genders, and you can provide a crucial role.
Just as I have learned to put up appropriate boundaries with my males students, here are some tips for male youth workers who are wondering how to put up appropriate boundaries with female students:
Don’t be afraid to be appropriately affectionate.
Girls need love from men, and I’d argue that it is ingrained in us. When we get it in a healthy way, we don’t feel the need to seek it out otherwise. It is perfectly okay to give hugs or pats on the shoulder–whatever you are most comfortable with. Be fatherly. Be appropriate. Be affectionate in a way that is comfortable for both you and others.
I think there is this notion that guys have to stick with guys and girls have to stick with girls–but that’s totally off. Everyone needs both genders in their life. There are many girls who don’t have redemptive relationships with their fathers, so many of them may look to you for that. Hear me out: Know your boundaries. But also listen up: My girls need appropriate men in their life.
Be sensitive—don’t shame them.
They’re not always going to want to play messy games, and you need to be okay with that. They are going to sin, and you can’t cast them away for that. Girls over-think things. If you say something rude to them, comment on their outfit, or do something else that is dumb, they will remember that. And they will replay it over and over.
This seems like a no-brainer, but I am constantly reminded that it’s not. Sometimes girls get upset about things, and then guys think it’s funny…and then girls get even more ticked off because guys just don’t understand. This will be a theme throughout your entire life, so take heart: When a girl says be serious, time to get serious. If you can’t handle all the emotions, have another leader help you out.
Choose a role and be consistent at it.
Whoever you are in your relationship with your girls, just be consistent at it. Youth workers have a reputation of coming and going, which adds to teenagers feeling alone. And even if you don’t leave physically, here’s another one that you may not have thought of: Don’t be awkward when puberty hits.
When they grow breasts and their shorts get shorter overnight, don’t put them at an arm’s length. Don’t get scared when teenagers’ bodies change. They’re pretty aware that they’re looking different. When you take away the affection and consistency you once offered, they notice that. And if YOU pull away from them when bodies start getting awkward, they WILL look for that affection somewhere else.
Don’t be the only role model in her life—place women in her life to disciple her and show her what it looks like to have strong women leading a life of discipleship. Any role that you have a male in—teaching, leading worship, mentoring, etc.—put a female in. Show women that they can do anything in God’s kingdom, a kingdom in which there are no boundaries in how you love and serve God.
Header image provided through unsplash.com by Morgan Sessions.