3 Strategies To Break The Ice With New Students

Courtesy of Niko Herlin/Creative Commons License

A few months ago a fellow youth worker, with Juvenile Justice Ministry, recruited me to mentor youth at the local juvenile detention center.  Each week I go there to sit down and just talk, listen and mentor young men who are in an unknown season of life.
First time I walked in I had no idea with what I was supposed to say or do.  Granted my friend had assigned me to one particular individual giving me some back story and common ground; however, it was still intimidating.  I didn’t know what I was going to say and I wasn’t sure where to start the conversation.
You don’t need to be in prison ministry to know that breaking the ice a teenager can be intimidating.  Like a first date you dread the silence; however, you don’t want to sound stupid.  Doesn’t matter if you are mentoring one on one or leading a small group, you want meaningful and deep conversations; however, to get there you need to overcome that first obstacle:


So, to help you break the ice, I have three strategies to get the conversation rolling:

  • TIP #1 – Pick The Right Environment

Granted you might not always have control over the environment in which you meet; however, if you do, pick a place where you know you will be comfortable.  Conversations are especially awkward when both parties are unsure of themselves.  So what makes you most comfortable?  Is it a coffee house, diner, the church?  

    • TIP #2 – Have Something Tangible

    Now when I’m meeting with a teen for the first time I bring with me a set of Uno cards.  It’s a game most people aren’t opposed to and it creates a fallback discussion.  Sometimes we need the tangible to help with the intangible.  It could be anything from a deck of cards, to a frisbee or football.  If you can’t think of an activity consider meeting at an eatery where food can be the focus. 

      • TIP #3 – Bring A Third Wheel

      If you know someone who knows the teen you are meeting with, don’t be afraid to bring them along.  This does two things, it gives you both common ground and secondly it gives you validity.  If the teen you are meeting with trusts the person you’ve brought along, then you can be trusted too.  It can be an adult or a teen, just make sure it’s someone you can count on to bridge the gaps.

        Starting out in a relationship is always difficult.  Granted there might be times you just hit it off; however, don’t be afraid of silence or bad questions.  You don’t know them, they don’t know you but God has brought you together for a reason.  Lean in and engage.

        How do you break the ice with teenagers?