Many adults say that they can’t relate to teens. Many adults are afraid of teens. Sometimes, we adults wonder why teenagers think we are ridiculous? Perhaps the question we need to ponder is, “Why do we think teenagers are ridiculous?”
Graduation season is upon us. I’ve got 4 youth girls that I’ve watched grow through tough times and amazing times over the past 4 years. As I write out their graduation cards and smile at their future, I remember why I love working with youth. The energy, the passion, the joy and effervescence! Not the drama–never the drama. Not even when I was in high school did I deal well with the drama. BUT, this post CELEBRATES our next generation.
When I worked as a youth leader, I figured out a few things quickly:
1) Teens want adults to cheer them on. They want adults who will believe in their dreams–even if they’re unrealistic. They want adults to celebrate even small successes with them. Those girls’ faces lit up and they couldn’t wait to introduce me around when I showed up at their recitals, performances, sporting events.
2) Teens don’t care how old you are if you love them. In my 40s, many of the teen girls gravitated to me. They didn’t care that I grew up with their parents. They only cared that I cared for them. They listened to me, even though they wouldn’t listen to their parents who were saying the same things that I said. It’s the time of life when kids want to find their own way and start to separate from their parents. My own kids did–I was NOT ‘the cool youth leader’ at home … I was MOM.
3) Teens want an adult to hug them when life throws them an ugly curve ball. They want an adult to whisper that they may hurt badly now, but they will heal. They want an adult to cry with them when life falls apart–even if it seems trivial in perspective to adult pressures. They want their pain to be taken seriously. They look to adults for stability and need us to express faith that even though today is unbearable, God can, and will, heal.
4) Teens sometimes need just presence with no words. I remember holding one girl when a dear friend committed suicide. I remember spending time with her 6 months later when another friend killed himself and yet another had attempted suicide. I remember there being very few words in those moments. Ecclesiastes 3:7 offers wisdom, “A time to be silent and a time to speak.” In the moment of crisis, often teens need adults who feel no shame in their tears. A time comes to offer hope, prayer and reassurance; but there is a time to simply feel and empathize.
5) Teens want to believe in the wonderful, the miracle, the hope of life. They want to believe in God and that He loves us. They want to believe they are part of something bigger, better, more than just high school.
6) Teens want to be wanted. They love it when youth leaders spend time with them. My daughter recently took a middle schooler out to an educational store and they played with puppets to the delight of both of them. The youth girls I mentored never said, ‘No,’ when I asked if they wanted to go to Starbucks or get some ice cream–and they didn’t want to leave quickly; they wanted to linger and share their thoughts, ideas and passions.
7) Teens want respect. They want an adult to listen to their views without belittling or condescending to them. They want intelligent conversations that challenge without patronizing. They want to grow in understanding their world and how to solve the world’s vast problems.
8) Teens want adults who can laugh with them, laugh at themselves and enjoy life! Not everything is a learning experience. Sometimes, we just have to cut loose in healthy silly ways. Laughter reduces stress and helps us put our annoyances in perspective.
9) Teens want to know adults are in their corner. They want help getting up, dusting off and bandaging up. They want to know that they may get knocked down; but they don’t have to stay down. They can heal the broken dreams, bring into focus what they really want to do and even change up the dreams altogether.
10) Teens want freedom. Freedom to explore. Freedom to fail. Freedom without ‘I told you so.’
For all the adults out there, have you seen it yet? Teens aren’t much different than us. We’ve just lost some of the passion, energy and belief that we can change the world. Cynicism infects us as we find that our dreams may not come true in the form we hoped. Hang out with some teenagers for a bit and you will find that the passion, energy and hope may invade you to your core. You may believe in your youthful dreams again and have the maturity, wisdom and knowledge to affect change in your corner of the world.