Hospital visits can be intimidating as a youth worker. It’s a scary time, often filled with uncertainty as tests are being run or treatments are being discussed. It’s one thing to know in your gut you should go, it’s quite another to know what you do when you get there.
Here are four quick tips on how to visit a teen in the hospital.
1) Be Quick
It’s important to go. As soon as you hear a student is in the hospital, start making arrangements to go. Attempt to contact the parents, but don’t wait for that connection to go. Many parents don’t want to a burden and may dissuade you from making the trip, especially if it is a long drive.
But it is important for you to go. It is better to have gone and not seen the student than to have not gone at all. Teens should see when crisis emerge their spiritual family stands with them.
It’s your job to be there. Go!
2) Be Brief
Hospital visits can be awkward. The patient is sitting their, often in a hospital gown, hooked up to tubes and machines, and with little else to do than wait. It’s a very vulnerable position for the patient, and exhausting. Those feelings are compounded if they feel they also have to play host.
During my hospital stays, I recall not knowing what to do when I was tired of my visitors but didn’t want to be rude. I couldn’t leave or make up an excuse to end the encounter, it was like being held hostage by care and concern. It was a weird feeling, and while I don’t hold it against them I certainly didn’t enjoy it.
When you visit a teen, make it a point not to stay too long. If it feels like you’ve done all you need to after just 10 or 15 minutes, then head out. You can always come back again.
3) Be Unique
“How are you feeling?” That’s the way almost every visitor starts their conversation, which is a silly question because you are in a hospital. If the patient was doing well they wouldn’t be there, so you’ve basically just forced them to either lie or start the conversation on a negative note.
The subsequent questions are almost as predictable. “What have the doctors said?” and “Do they know when you can leave?” and “Are you tired of hospital food?”
It makes sense that these questions are asked, and it is good for you to have accurate answers to share with others who may look to you for information. (Stopping the spread of bad information is an important role you can play as a youth worker.) But these are also the same questions everybody else is asking. If the teen is in the hospital for more than a day or two, these questions quickly become inane.
Ask about positive things, “Who has been the best medical staff?” or activities, “Have you listened to much music here?” or other visitors, “Have any of your teammates been down to see you?”
Try and be unique in your conversation instead of gravitating toward the obvious questions, you will be a breath of fresh air for your teen.
4) Be Their Pastor
You are representing the Church, and their specific spiritual family, coming alongside them in a time of need. Now is not the time to back away from prayer or the promises of the Bible. On your drive to the hospital, think through verses that may be encouraging or what you may say in prayer.
Don’t turn the visit into a Sunday School lesson, but do use it as an opportunity to remind them God is with us and the Bible is a true source of encouragement. This is expected when you visit, and to shy away is to neglect your role in their life. You are not their friend, you are their pastor, and in terrifying times of uncertainty a pastor relentlessly points to God.
Hospital visits are a (hopefully) rare but important part of youth ministry. Being quick to respond and intentional about your time visiting can plant seeds of assurance and faith in the lives of not just the student, but the family as well. It is a crucial time of ministry, even if it is incredibly brief.
Youth ministry is the practice of demonstrating how God shows up in adolescence, sometimes that means just physically showing up in times of need with a prayer and a word of encouragement.
Bonus Tip: Bring A Small Token
Bringing a small gift can help break the ice when you arrive, and provide a physical reminder of your visit after you’ve left. This could be a book or magazines (hospital stays are boring), a puzzle or toy, or something of comfort like a blanket or article of clothing.
My personal favorite is to go to the hospital gift shop and try to find the least comforting stuffed animal I can. Below is my favorite one I ever found.
Seriously, what is this doing in a hospital gift shop?