Q: I've just been called as the leader of the girl's youth group at my church and I've swung from initial buzziness to packing for a foreign hideout destination. I was in a youth group for less than a year and can't remember too much of it so I could use some ideas for activities to get them excited and coming up with their own ideas for things they would like to do. Can you 5 remember a great activity - what was it and how did it make you feel? How did you change because of it? What really made it special? Thanks!

One (Pretty Dang Old): Honestly, I don't remember one particular activity. I certainly did lots of stuff - crafts and service and game nights and slumber parties - but all these years later, it's kind of a blur. What stands out very clearly in my quasi-geriatric mind, much more than anything we did, is how some of my adult leaders made me feel.  They made me feel *special* (and I use that word very advisedly).  When I look back and realize how those women were juggling their own jobs/kids/husbands/households/lives, and I remember how they used to go to girls camp eight months pregnant, or pick me up even though I wasn't even remotely on the way, or would stay super-late after activities just to talk (maybe because my parents kinda forgot to come get me), I am in awe.  I'm sure I didn't express my gratitude at the time, but I am deeply grateful now for the love and sacrifice.  Honestly, whatever you do, the kids will probably seem ungrateful, so I would say keep it simple and fun, and make lots of time to talk casually about things that really matter.  

Two (Teenagers Hate Me): I just went to a clothing swap in NYC.  It was great fun even though I didn't pick anything out for myself.  I also like crafts.  Check out the good life for some crafting ideas.  This woman transforms clothes from drab to fab and skanky to swanky.  Service is also wonderful and some of my favorite activities were when we would go and visit the mentally ill, the elderly, the sick or serve children in the community. 

Three (Hated Being a Teenager): Out of the five of us I'm the closest thing you'll get to the average teenager, so listen close.  Teenagers exist in the thin margin that separates children from adults.  They are stupid and rash and moody as heck.  Because they are figuring out who they want to be--not to mention who they are now--and that's a scary question. (Can you tell I was angsty?)  SO, with that in mind, I would suggest doing things that will help them answer such questions.  Have a literature night where they each talk about their favorite book.  Talk to them about their tastes in music or public media, and when they say things that shock you--because they probably will--try not judge.  Speaking of judging, I think that is the most important take away I have for you, the girls won't want to be there if they feel like you're overly critical of them. It can be painful to see people you care about screwing up their nubile lives.  And there will be times you'll want to hold their rouged cheeks in you hands and scream into those heavily lined-eyes until they "get it."  But refrain.  Show them love, and they will love you.  Because little Becky won't remember that you took her skating or taught her to cross-stitch, all she'll carry with her is the memory of how you made her feel.

Four (Never Really Was a Teenager): For the most part, my leaders really tried. They put a lot of effort into planning special activities, and, to be honest, I didn't appreciate them enough. (And I was a really good kid!). I would advise you to ask the girls in your group what they want to do. Our gang would have brainstorming sessions about 4X a year. Each girl was given a pack of sticky notes, a pen and 10 minutes to write down different ideas for activities. Some of the ideas were more realistic than others (e.g. learning to swing dance vs. learning to breed ligers), but everyone's ideas were taken into account--and all of the girls felt included and valued.... Or at least I did, and the others should have :) My favorite activities were service oriented. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, we put together hundreds of hygiene packs to send to the areas impacted by the storm. Each girl donated what she could (soap, toothbrushes, towels, etc.) and then we went door to door asking our neighbors to contribute. It was wonderful. Everyone was incredibly generous and it got us all involved in something really worthwhile. I also enjoyed our ice skating trips, sewing tutorials, cook-offs, and caroling trips to nursing homes. They're going to love you. And if they don't, remember this: they're stupid teenagers.  

Five (Hates Teenagers): Make them do manual labor. Either that or latchhook. Whatever you do, don't let them interact with young men. They'll ask, then beg, and then shamelessly manipulate, but DO NOT CAVE.
P.S. I'm actually still a participant of my youth group and I'm not giving enough credit to my current leaders, who do a pretty super job. My advice above still stands, but they would probably say to take advantage of promotional opportunities (i.e. first week of hot yoga FREE!), make your primary focus service, and to not stress out about your new duties too much. At worst, you'll badly influence these girls at a crucial point in their development and they'll go into a tailspin which they may or may not recover from, and may ultimately result in a homicidal rampage at a petting zoo. But a less than mind-blowing activity every few weeks probably won't do that.