Listening: The Most Important Counseling Technique for Youth Workers

Most likely you’ve heard this statement from one or more of your students: “No one ever listens to me.” It’s common and also very true. The most important counseling technique does not need to be done by a professional. Students will know that you are taking them seriously and will open up their lives to you if they know you will listen to them. Listening is the real language of love.

Students do not always need to immediately hear the right answer as much as they need an atmosphere of openness in which they genuinely feel that you are actively listening. Listening communicates value and significance to your students. It lets them know that they are of worth to you. Listening opens doors for students to be ready to hear the advice that they need.

It’s been said: “People who give students their ears, capture their hearts.” To illustrate this, take out a blank piece of paper. Take just a minute and write on one side of the paper words that express how you feel when you are talking with someone and they don’t listen to you. On the other side, write some of the words that express how you feel when you share something with someone and walk away feeling truly listened to. Now examine the words on each side of the paper. When students come to us for counsel, they will find themselves feeling what you expressed on either one side of the paper or the other. The question is, Which side will express what they find in you? As youth workers and counselors, we need to communicate and counsel from the second side of the paper. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Effective Listening Qualities

A good listener is actively involved in the conversation. It takes work to develop the important qualities of listening to young people. One of the special people in my life lives in a little town in Oklahoma. She doesn’t have much up-front ability. She’ll never be famous. She really doesn’t keep up much with the latest music or youth culture trends. Yet when I recently asked one of the students in her youth ministry how he liked the group, he replied with so much enthusiasm. He said, “Sydney is the greatest youth leader in the world. She listens to all of us. She’s available, she’s not judgmental, and we know she cares.” I’ve probably never known of more students year after year who want to go into full-time youth ministry or the mission field than from Sydney’s group. It’s not her up-front skills—it’s her quiet, gentle listening ear. It’s her attitude that really says to the kids, “I care about you.”

Listening is difficult; it takes energy and focus. However, if we look at the impact that is made by the simple act of listening, the investment and effort are worth it all. Here are some effective listening qualities that every youth worker must keep in mind and practice:

  • A genuine desire to listen to your students
  • A willingness to accept their feelings and emotions whether they are right or wrong
  • A desire to not always be right
  • A nonjudgmental attitude
  • Eye contact and little distractive movement
  • A display of appreciation because you feel honored to have them choose to share their story with you
  • A willingness to not only listen but to also keep in touch and be supportive

Effective listening does not mean that we never have to help students work through their problems. But, always remember, listening comes first.

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Closer, and Doing Life with Your Adult Children. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve and Matt, and Andy; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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