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Friday, October 24, 2014

Eight Suggestions for Understanding Teenagers

Photo by: Ambro

Teenagers are some of my favorite people. Throughout this post, you’ll see why. I feel that maybe they’ve gotten short shrift in Christian circles. Maybe it’s because we forget who we were at that age. I don’t know. But, let me offer a few ideas for understanding and teaching teens. (They go hand-in-hand.) These ideas are for parents, youth workers, and anyone desiring to influence teens for God.
  1. Listen and Watch--The cries of anguish and thirst for attention are expressed in different ways, depending on each individual teen’s personality. He may be the class clown, or she may be all made up and gaudy. He might be always in a corner with his smartphone, and she may spend hours in her room chatting online. He might drive fast and try to impress his buddies with goofy crudeness. She might play basketball and never cry when hurt. He or she might spend money like water. How the teen cries for attention reveals who he is. It’s so important that adults watch. Watching is part of listening. Talk, yes, but listen more. Don’t try to intrude, but find out where the teen is in his life. Only then can you meet his needs with the most adequate type of attention.
  2. Be Kind--No one wants someone down on him and on his case. You don’t, and your teen doesn’t. In these hormonally challenged years, teens are especially sensitive and touchy. They need thoughtfully kind, sincere compliments. They need a treat--think food--on a hard day. They need positive remarks, not negative criticism. Say please and thank you when you ask them to do tasks. A little kindness goes a long way.
  3. Build Bridges--To minister to a teen, you have to find common ground. Find an interest the two of you have in common. Discover a common challenge or goal. This takes communication, of course. How do you communicate with your teen? If they are gadget freaks, get a gadget and text them. If they are withdrawn, find something quiet you can enjoy together. If the teen likes music, get tickets and go to a concert together. If he hikes or bikes, do it with him. If he likes a certain sport, make popcorn and watch it with him. Sharing builds confidence, and confidence opens up talking and ministry.
  4. Laugh--Nothing is less appealing to a teen than a prune-faced Christian. Show teens good, wholesome fun. I believe it’s very important to plan games and activities where no one is singled out, where no one is embarrassed, and where everyone participates and joins in on the fun. The activities should include all the kids--the sporty ones and the nerds. Do crazy, simple, silly activities. Laugh along with (not at) the kids. Cheer. This goes for families as well as teen leaders. When Dad and Mom are the coolest, funniest people on earth, teens will listen to your ideas.
  5. Show--Teens quickly pick up on hypocrisy. They see right off whether you practice what you preach--or not. Be consistent. Be godly. Be real. I believe that one of the biggest reasons that children don’t follow their parents’ habits of church attendance and Bible reading is the poor example they see at home. Dad sits down to a movie and says, “Don’t come in here, Bobby; this movie is only for adults.” What message does 13-year-old Bobby get? Oh, it’s okay for my dad to be looking at filth, but it’s not for me? He jumps to the conclusion: my dad’s a hypocrite, and when I get older, I’ll watch whatever I want. Your personal godliness and discipline are being watched every day of your life. Make sure your example is consistent. This goes for parents and everyone else. No one picks up on hypocrisy in the church faster than teens! And, when you blow it--you will--apologize privately to each teen that your actions affect. Believe it or not, you will go up in their eyes, not down. Be big enough to admit mistakes.
  6. Love--Kids pick up super fast whether you genuinely love them or if you’re only tolerating them. Be genuinely loving. Don’t hold hands with your fourteen year old son or daughter in public, but hug them in private. Touching, like a pat on the arm or a tag as you walk by, shows your son or daughter you care for and love them. Don’t embarrass them in public, but demonstrate love as a family, at home. 
  7. Ask Your Teen for Advice--When teens see that we value what they think and what they have to say, they will automatically take us more seriously. They may lack maturity, but they have innovative and interesting ideas and solutions. Ask them for problem-solving measures. Then, take them seriously and act on their ideas. Let your teens figure out how to budget your vacation and let him express where he’d like to go. Let him show you what he’d do to fix a machine, your car, or a decorating issue. Talk about interpersonal problems, and see what he or she advises. Let the kids plan and cook meals. Find out their ideas on many subjects. Let them help you think.
  8. Expect Great Things--I don’t know where it started, but there’s a very damaging philosophy out there: that teens will be rebellious, and adults just expect it. I really don’t think that’s right. As a parent, tell your pre-teen, “I’m looking forward to your teen years. Then, we can . . . .” Anticipate the teen years as something good and positive. Then, when the kids arrive at the age of thirteen, celebrate! Later, start giving them more responsibilities--a little at a time--to prepare them for adulthood. Before you know it, your thirteen-year-old will be eighteen! You can give your older teen more freedom (within limits) and teach him to do things on his own. Enjoy your older children! Enjoy the teens in your church! Don’t expect rebellion. Expect godliness. The Bible teaches that a young person is responsible for his actions. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9). God wants young people to be examples. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
Just as adults like to be respected and taken seriously, so do our teens. They feel like adults in some ways and like children in others. They’re in that in-between, growing up part of life, and they need to be understood. Take the time and effort needed to get closer to your teens today. Love them exactly as they are. Enjoy them!

(When I started writing this, I quickly realized it would run to two posts. The sequel will address how to teach biblical truths to Christian teens. Lord willing, it will be posted on Monday. Stay tuned!)

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