I've been in YW non-stop since we moved to the great Midwest and while our crowd may be different from yours (we have less than a dozen YW and don't split up by age group or have advisors), I have a sneaky feeling YW everywhere have a lot in common. And it always bums me out when I hear from friends who aren't having great experiences serving in YW...it is such an awesome opportunity to work with such a great age group, and I love the crap out of our little crowd so much that I really want other people to love it like I do. This topic has popped up a lot lately with my real-life friends and e-friends and such, and surprise, surprise, I have a bunch to say.
So, let me climb aboard my e-soapbox and share a few grouchy tidbits...
Gurrbonzo's Grouchy Bits of Advice for YW Leaders: Part 1
(1) It's not about you! My own experience in YW was really, really lame. We moved to a new ward when I was 9th gradeish and there were like forty girls my age, I felt like I had nothing in common with any of them, I felt grouchy and misunderstood, square peg in a round hole, whatever you want to say about it. Guess what? My YW now aren't me. They aren't a 2012 version of me, either. And my favorite rants or topics or teen baggage AREN'T THEIR PROBLEM. So resist the urge to teach and preach what your former self would have needed/wanted and instead, look around and see if you can figure out what these actual girls are interested in or in need of. They aren't us; they're them.
(2) On a related note, be the grown up. We aren't their peers. That's a weird feeling because when you chat with teens, it comes back fast. I remember so vividly so much about being that age. Once a few years ago, an 8th grade YW was chatting with me at an activity and out of nowhere snapped my bra. Seriously. I almost died. I was tempted to laugh but then I realized that can't happen. So I just said, "Sweetie, I'm a grown up. Totally inappropriate. Never do that again." And then we started talking about something else. She was a little startled but it hasn't happened again and now we have a great relationship.
It's a tough balance, and I don't mean they should salute you and curtsy or that you need to be super distant, but you're the adult and they are teens. Even if you're not that much older than they are, keep in mind you aren't peers.
(3) Stop talking about clothes. Just stop. I don't want to hear any more from either side of the modesty debate. I am totally over that conversation and for teen girls to get the message that looks aren't everything, we've gotta talk about stuff that's more interesting and important. If, say, what the kid is wearing at an activity is TOTALLY out of control, take her aside and privately say something like, "Throw a shirt on that covers up a little more. I'll run you home and you can get one, then let's grab a slurpee and we'll be back in time for the closing prayer." Don't make it any more than it is.
(4) Get off their cases. Peers, parents, media, church, everyone has so much to say about what teen girls should or shouldn't wear, what they should or shouldn't do, what they should or shouldn't say. What they need more than anything is our love and our trust and our examples. My job isn't to nag; they have the whole planet for that. My job is to show them what a happy, healthy woman is like and to high five and hug as needed. They are aching for our love and for our examples. Show them how it's done.
(5) Go to their stuff. I know this is hard depending on schedules, etc., but it's my favorite. For example, a few of our YW are in jazz band and we go to their awesome performances all the time. My kids love it, and I know the YW and their friends, and they are (most of the time) excited to see me, and it's good and fun and normal.
I got a mean farmer tan from the last JV soccer game I went to, but it was totally worth it. My kids played on the playground and my dear YW was thrilled to see us. I didn't bombard her or even talk to her after because she was booked, but I waved and my four-year-old shouted, "Go Lucy!" and I think that's enough. If anyone in YW had given a teensy shit about what I was up to at that age, I think it would have meant a lot to me. (Wait, it's not about me...d'oh...still, most of the time they love it.)
(6) Let them do stuff. For example, we had a whole lesson on how to give a lesson (I'll post it if you want to check it out), and then we've started having YW teach once a month. This won't work for every group but for ours, it has ROCKED. They can count it for Personal Progress and it is honestly beautiful to see. The first few months were a little rocky (e.g., we had a few ten minute lessons...bahahaha) but the last year or so, everyone's really gotten into it. The YW make especially great comments when one of them is leading the discussion, and it seems to provide decent experience so they are braver the next time they have to do something, and they're more supportive when an adult is teaching bc they know what's it like to be on that end.
Last year, we were talking as a ward about what talks from General Conference we should use for lessons, and everyone was excited about Elder Cook's "LDS Women Are Incredible!" talk. Now, say what you will about the talk, but I had to chime in: if LDS women are incredible, how about...wait for it...a talk by an LDS woman? Annnnd we used Sylvia Allred's RS talk for the lesson. If something's important, stop talking about how important it is and just let the importance shine. See what I'm saying? We've gotta stop telling them they're awesome and start giving them opportunities to be awesome, whether through teaching or service or whatever.
(7) Let them botch it once in a while. That's the logical extension of letting them do stuff. They need the chance to fail. That's scary for adults like me that like to do everything themselves, but it's like teaching your kid to make her bed. Yeah, it's easier for us to just make the bed, but getting the bed made isn't the point; teaching them to make the bed is the point.
Last year, I asked a girl to do a musical number for our Night of Excellence. She said yes, we reminded her a few times, and that day she laughed about how she hadn't prepared anything. I was tempted to take her off the program but then I caught myself and realized you know, she committed to do it, let's see what happens. She traipsed through a painful version of a song and it was awful and awkward and I'd bet a lot of money she won't be unprepared again. (Won't work for everyone but for her personality it was a great lesson.) Let them fail. Otherwise, they grow up thinking someone else will fix everything, and I've got some bad news: someone else won't. Bahahahaha.
(8) Don't go to every activity. You'll lose your mind and it's not fair to your family. Let your counselors or whoever go to stuff (or if you're an advisor or counselor, let the YW president know when you want to swap dates). It took me a year or two to figure it out, but everyone doesn't have to go to everything. We make sure two adults are at a Wednesday activity and then call it good, and split it up so that one person doesn't have to go too many times in a row. I spent all of Sunday on YW stuff (morning meeting, evening fireside) so you know what that means? I'm not going on Wednesday, and I feel great about it.
Annnnd that's it for now. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Anything to add? Part 2 coming soon.