27 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments

99 Red Balloons

This post is mostly for those adults that work directly with our young people in ministry settings, but there are some obvious parenting applications.

The test balloon is something kids float out there to see your reaction.  Example: I once had a kid who always (almost weekly) cussed in our group, out loud, in front of adults.  Not the end of the world, but also something an adult in youth group can’t ignore.  The way she would always start is to say a swear word in a conversation with another kid and make sure an adult heard it.  Later, if we didn’t address it  the first time, she would inevitably swear again in a more blatant way, exhibiting what a mature miniature adult she was.

Another place we see the test balloon is to see if the group is safe.  A kid might float something about themselves or their struggle that isn’t real significant, like “I failed a quiz,” only to judge whether or not to share something more substantial such as their grandparent nearing death.

This behavior isn’t unique to teenagers, but it’s something we need to be aware of in our ministries.

I like to address the test balloon right away (easier when you know the kids well).  When I can that a kid is testing a behavior boundary with a test balloon I try to jump on it in the most graceful and loving way I can muster.  If I somehow miss this opportunity, I am extra aware of the need to set the boundary when the behavior escalates.

When we can sense that a young person is testing the safety of a group, it is important to set a tone that this is a safe place to share big and small issues.  It may take weeks for them to open up, but you can help that happen with your (and the group’s) reaction to the test balloon.

This feels minor, like NBD (that’s a shorthand way of saying no big deal), but paying attention to the little things can make a world of difference.  Watch for the test balloon in all your interactions.  Kids aren’t as good as adults at faking it.  Sometimes it can feel like it’s taking forever to get to know a group of kids, but when you start to recognize the test balloons their floating you can see that they’re trying to figure you out.

I don’t think any kid or adult would articulate or even recognize their use of the test balloon, but once you start watching for it you see it all the time. This has been a useful ministry tool for me over the years, and a good way to both assert myself and nurture a caring community.

Leave a Reply