“Please stop referring to the kids in our youth groups as ‘students,’ author Jeff White requested in a personal comment in his excellent little book The Skinny on Communication. His premise for this preference is that, “The word student is an academic term that implies a primary role or learning and studying.” He expounds, “Will teens learn stuff? Of course. Is that the main reason they’re a part of your group? I sure hope not.” I think that’s a great insight and one that caught my attention and caused me to reflect.

Interestingly, I have chosen to call youth “students” for the past 15 years intentionally rather than “kids” as White refers to them as, for a similar reason. “Kids” is the term that we use in our church to refer to our ministry to babies through elementary school. Calling teenagers “kids” can also carry connotations we don’t really want to communicate. Kids [doesn’t have to, but] can imply that they are immature and/or potentially incapable of dealing with the things that we want to challenge them with as they are in the process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The reason I chose to go with the term “students” many years ago was not because I wanted to communicate that when we come together we will simply be engaging in academic exercises, but rather because it is a term that captures the phase of life the youth I am working with are in. (For example, on a form it will ask for occupation, and there is usually an option for “Student.”)

Youth. Teenagers. Students. Young People. Kids. These are several terms we use to refer to the people we work with in youth ministry. At the end of the day, this might be just an exercise in semantics, but each word can communicate something slightly different. Of course, I have found that I vacillate between terms myself. While most of the time I call them “students”, I certainly find myself at times calling them “my kids,” or “the young people I work with,” or the other terms afore mentioned.

Youth Workers: Have you ever thought about the terms you use to refer to the youth you work with? What term do you use most frequently? Why do you prefer that term? I would love your input. 

Youth: What term do you hear most frequently from your youth workers? What term do you prefer to be called? Why? I would love your input. 

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