Friendships and relationships. What do those words mean to you? Recently these words have taken on such new meaning considering our present context. Before COVID-19 students could engage in friendships simply by going through their daily rhythms. They saw friends at school, hung out at Starbucks, went to youth group, and could go over to one another’s homes.

Today that isn’t the case: we are being told to stay home and distance ourselves from one another. Because of this, many relationships are struggling and students are feeling it. But this begs the question, why? Why are students hurting so badly in isolation? Why are relationships struggling?

The answer lies within the context of Scripture: We were created for community. Going all the way back to the beginning in Genesis, we see that God designed humanity in His image and likeness. God is a triune God which means He desires community. But even more than being crafted in His image, God designed humankind to desire community with one another. That is why Adam and Eve were put in the garden and told to share in its duties together.

Community and relationships are things that are rooted deep within us. The desire to be with and connected to others is part of who we are. But how do we do that in our present circumstance? How can we continue to maintain friendships and relationships? And how can we help our students not simply maintain but strengthen their friendships during this time? I want to offer some helpful tips for how to do this so our students not only survive but thrive during this period of their lives.

1. Pray for your students and their friends.

Prayer is and always will be essential. But in these days, we realize the need for it so much more. Students’ lives are being challenged and up-heaved, and they are asking deep and profound questions about the nature of everything that is happening.

Let me challenge you to pray all the more for your students. Pray for their spiritual walks, for their relationships, for their witness to their peers, for their friends and their families. Be in prayer for them as the attempt to adjust to what is happening. Pray that God gives them deep and meaningful friendships. Pray for your students to have friends that reflect Jesus to them, but also that they can share Jesus with friends who don’t know Jesus. Prayer is a powerful tool, and we must be on our knees daily for our students as they navigate our ever-changing world.

2. Encourage students and parents to structure screen engagement.

Screens are more a part of our lives then they have ever been. Students are being pushed to online learning, they are connecting over social media, Zoom calls abound, and sadly this is just to manage school. What I would encourage is this: balance the time spent on screens. Don’t let it simply be one-sided. Challenge your students to have positive intake coming into their lives through the screen. Whether that is through watching sermons or youth group lessons, engaging in conversations with friends and family members, or through listening to worship music. Encourage positive inflow.

But even more than just having positive inflow, encourage students and families to create time away from screens. Have them set up intentional time to engage as a family, to play games, watch a church service together, go on walks, plant some flowers, cook dinner together, throw around a football. Building relationships within the family helps to model what this looks like in other relationships.

I would also encourage you to have your students think about calling or writing their friends. Send handwritten notes, have an actual phone call away from the screen. Moments like these may seem simple, but are actually refreshing in a screen saturated world.

3. Help students understand relationships aren’t one sided.

Friendships these days tend to be one-sided. We enter into them expecting to be filled and encouraged but we don’t often think about what we can give. Our culture dictates that we should expect to receive more than give, and unfortunately this has bled into our relationships. So help your students understand that they have to be willing to give to the relationship and not just receive. A few easy ways to challenge your students with this include:

  • Have them ask how the other person is doing, and then follow up on it at a later time.
  • Challenge them to be willing to call or reach out to the other person and not just expect to be called.
  • Push your students to keep reaching out, even if to them it doesn’t seem worth it.
  • Encourage your students to be kind and thoughtful toward their friends, and to think about the words or style of words that they use (sarcasm is no one’s friend).
  • Have students think of a tangible way they could bless one friend a week during this time and follow through on it.

4. Encourage students to be intentional.

Having good friendships and relationships take work, which means we have to be willing to engage with them. And that means we must be intentional. Friendships don’t just continue to exist if we aren’t actively engaged with them. We must be willing to be intentional and, at times, sacrifice for our friendships. Students must be challenged to be intentional in their friendships especially during this time. Simply shooting off a text, or not responding for a week, or not reaching out to people you were connected to will cause hurt and tension in relationships for both parties.

We are designed for community but we cannot simply hope that everything will be the same if we do not intentionally engage. Intentionality shows others that they have value and meaning, and it allows for the person showing it to grow as well. Challenge your students to take the first step, and the second, and third. It may not always be reciprocated, but showing intentionality will encourage and help others, and your students will see when others are doing that for them.

5. Encourage students to be transparent.

Our culture demands that we appear to have it all together, to make it appear as if our lives are perfect and nothing is wrong. Many people, our students included, struggle with this reality. But we must realize that part of friendship is a willingness to be authentic and transparent. To be willing to share how you really are doing. We must challenge our students to be who they really are in their friendships, to let them know it is okay to show vulnerability around their peers.

Transparency and authenticity are large parts of any friendship and relationship. In order for relationships to grow and trust to be formed, people must be vulnerable by being transparent. This allows others to see and know you for who you are, and to value and love you regardless of faults. Being transparent allows for trust, friendship, and growth to happen in a relationship, and if we can challenge our students to do this, we will begin to see them thrive in their friendships.

How do you encourage students to build lasting friendships?

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