Church of England

How can you engage teenagers in prayer and reflection? Does gender play a part in how boys and girls respond?

Rachel Warwick, a practitioner in creative spirituality, said this in an interview given to the Sophia Network:

In general, girls need to talk to each other to process their thoughts and experiences. They become quickly comfortable with each other, opening up and talking about all sorts of things and in doing so, learning from their own and others experiences. As a result, girls settle into a session with breathe or Orison fairly quickly, but will prefer to do it with a friend or two to share the experience. As facilitators we need to be able to recognise the difference between this helpful conversation and the more distracting chatter and gossip. It's a fine line, but in many cases, stopping the conversation reduces the effectiveness of the experience for the girls.

Boys, on the other hand, find it hard to open up to each other, instead choosing to process these thoughts on their own (although I suspect, in most cases, secretly longing for someone to talk it all over with?) In a class-sized context, boys will find it hard to focus, being distracted by the worry of what the other boys in the class might be thinking if they are spotted getting into it. There are often ringleaders in these groups - a small number of key boys that all the others look to for direction. If you can engage these boys, the others will follow. Giving boys headphones and an iPod as part of the experience, as we do in breathe, allows them to shut off from the environment and the other pupils and have a truly individual experience. I think the best way I ever heard this explained is that girls communicate face to face, while boys communicate side by side while they are doing something else. These are, of course, generalisations. Some boys will talk, some girls won't. Some girls will be the "alpha female" who stops the rest of the class from engaging because they're worried what she'll say if they do.