Youth Counselors provide care, attention, advocacy and support for children and teens in structured settings and aid students in their growth and development. Before you make the decision to see one (or become one) it is important to know the tasks that you will have to perform.
Youth counselors are employees or volunteers at churches or youth organizations such as Young Life or the YMCA who have a passion for working with children and teens, helping them grow spiritually, emotionally and socially. Some youth counselors may have degrees in youth ministry or pastoral counseling or social work; others simply have a natural talent for engaging young people and helping them deal with life circumstances by participating in fun, community or faith-based activities.
Youth Counselors come in many shapes and sizes. Faith-based youth counselors work with churches or youth ministries. Their primary focus with their students is spiritual life, as well as social life. Camp counselors have a limited time with their students — usually in a specific kind of program such as a sports or arts camp, Red Cross training, health and recreation camp or school-based program. Camp youth counselors only see their students for a day, a week or a few weeks. Activities focus usually on skill-building in the areas of the camp program. Other youth counselors are focused on at-risk students, working in youth shelters, residential care facilities, organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters or weekly programs.
The range of duties for a youth counselor varies. All youth counselors must be responsible to work well with children and teens, plan interactive and educational activities, and manage youths' time with individuals and groups. Sometimes youth counselors give presentations on relevant topics to their student groups at retreats or in trainings with other counselors.
Some youth counselors need to meet with parents, set manageable goals with students for personal growth, write progress reports and even perform advocacy or intervention in school or family settings. These duties are usually limited to the more intensive, at-risk programs, but even church youth counselors need to be prepared to mediate conflicts between students or students and their parents.
Nonparental adults who support youths in their formative years can be extremely helpful to a student’s emotional, psychological, spiritual and even physical well-being. Youth counselors, professionally trained and volunteer, provide a safe and interactive environment for students to develop and practice social skills and become healthy, mature adults. Sometimes they are absolutely essential to a student’s well-being if there are crises or life challenges a student cannot face alone or cannot discuss with a parent or caregiver.
Not all youth counselors are trained professional counselors, and some students require more specialized skills than a volunteer or even paid counselor can provide. In church and school settings or camp settings, youth counselors are trained to provide activities and socialization. They may need backup when very serious issues arise. Youth counselors, parents, guardians and caregivers must be aware when a situation is beyond the capacity of the youth counselor’s skills.
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