From roommates to lab partners, the English TA to the go-to ride to the volunteer site, to the academic advisor to the social concerns office staffer, from each encouraging moment to each disappointment, relationships that happen in the college context are key to formation for university students and young adults. In these relationships students are not only learning how to navigate important relationships within community, but they are also learning and growing from them in real-time and carrying these lessons over with them into the next relationship.
Because relationships are key to the young adult experience here are some things we should think about when working with this demographic:
The Stress of Being Friends: As young adults get older they start to enter the types of relationships that they may have not encountered before and with this comes both good and bad stress. Certainly this pertains to romantic relationships that college students start to enter, but also peer friendships where students are starting to meet others with different stories, backgrounds, experiences, and perhaps values than those they had experience with in high school or local communities.
While meeting different people and having new types of relationships is a great thing for experience and growth it can cause stress, both good and bad, and walking along students as they discern and deal with this stress is important. Ask intentional questions about new friends and help young adults discern the relational stress in their lives and where it comes from –i.e. pressure, concern, hopes and dreams, newness, joy etc. Additionally try to reserve judgment; students need safe spaces for opening up about the meaningful parts of their lives and experiences with adults other than their parents. These young people are becoming adults and are able to make their own choices and learn from them; certainly we can encourage but remember that they are not kids anymore.
Everyone Could Use a Network: College/university relationships go beyond studying, partying, having fun, and dating. Many of the relationships these students will make will also engage the academic and vocational aspects of their time at school and these relationships are just as important to student growth and experience as peer friend groups or dating relationships. Networking and engaging others in light of academic and vocational pursuits are important in college, they can help pave the way for vocational doors to open or lead to grad school recommendations in addition to life-long friendships.
Encourage your students to engage in these relationships, not just for a hoped for thing to get out of it, but because learning to network and have professional relationships is key to life and the world beyond college/university. Encourage students to meet others in their field of study who are doing what they might hope to do and or encourage students to find a mentor or someone they can learn from or apprentice under. Letting students know that these types of relationships have value that is multi-dimensional, important, and has long-lasting effects will be key for student growth in navigating the “adult” world.
Space for Student/Member Relationships:
I was so grateful to my youth pastors for creating space for us every holiday, or time when we were home, to connect with them and other former youth group members. It was like a fun reunion each holiday. This relationship with this community always led me back to the relationship I have with Christ; it modeled Christ’s love for me. It also reinforced that our lives, my life, still mattered to the church and to those who had walked with us in high school in areas of faith and life. Additionally, it reminded me that other adults still cared about how we were doing and what was going on in our life – if we wanted someone to listen we knew someone would be there.
By creating space in your congregations and communities for college students to continue relationships with members, or start new relationships with members, you are letting your students know you care, leaving the door open for continued conversations about faith and life, and the things that are important to these students. Please don’t underestimate how important this is –regardless of how many college friends a student has, mentors or networks, girlfriends or boyfriends, every student needs loving adults in their life that care for them other than their parents – you and your community can be those adults to your college students this year.