Incident at Bluffton High School shows why connecting with youth is so important

danielgriswold@gmail.comMay 7, 2013 

I was at a staff meeting last Wednesday when I heard that Bluffton High School had been locked down. I know many of the young people there, and a mother of one of them was sitting near me at that meeting.

We found out online that a young man had walked into the school with a bag full of weaponry. Bluffton had the potential to be added to a growing list of one of many instances in which our whole country looks on in horror; but something else happened. Something miraculous, likely saving the life of one troubled young man and the lives of many in the school.

A teacher at the school, Maggy Williams, was doing her job as she likely does every day, but this day was a bit different. She was sought out, found and asked to talk. She sensed something was wrong, listened and convinced the young man to turn himself in. In this event, she did what good teachers and youth workers all across the world do each and every day, and yet here we see the tangible miracle of investing in relationships -- lives were saved.

Let's hope that the message of what happened will not be forgotten. Are you listening to the young?

"To answer before listening, that is folly and shame. The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out." (Proverbs 18:13-15)

The knowledge in our present time that I believe many are not understanding is, young people, every single one of them, need to be heard. Their stories are valuable, their tales of victory and of extreme pain are very important. Also, they need safe places with adults they trust to instruct them in more than knowledge. This generation has an overwhelming need for the wealth of wisdom that many adults can provide.

The catch is, we need to earn their trust first.

This is easier than it sounds. I hope you don't think you need to take expensive classes on youth culture or engineer some elaborate plan to trap young people to lecture them about how things used to be and how they need to be.

The easiest way to act is to:

1. Genuinely care and pray for the young people in your sphere of influence. If there aren't any, look for a way to expand your circles. There are great programs, such as Impact Mentoring, which I enjoy in one of our local middle schools, with a great need for volunteers to help at different levels in the school systems. Just ask around.

2. Open yourself to learning about the lives of those you meet. Listen to their concerns, wait to respond until they ask you for help. Ask them questions about their favorite music, what makes them laugh and how they've been doing today. Laugh and smile with them, cry when they cry, and give of yourself like you would a friend.

Over time you'll be able to build a baseline like Maggy Williams was able to do. She knew something was wrong, because she already knew her students. She observed them and cared enough to notice when something was off. She wasn't judgmental and was able to help because she was trusted and had earned the right to be heard. Every adult has this potential, and I strongly believe that everyone is a youth minister waiting to be unleashed.

I believe the future is very bright if we can own this responsibility of being a community that doesn't just pass on knowledge, rather that we'll be known for the nurturing of our young. Let's not allow Bluffton to pass and forget the lesson we've learned here, and let's ensure that not one young spirit will be crushed.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog at

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