I watched a baby boy squirm under the waters of baptism. The congregation promised to love, pray for, and train him in the way of God. Many will live out their vows as Sunday school teachers, choir directors, or prayer warriors as he grows. But one day this baby will become a teen—and just when he may need support the most, the adults in the congregation may pull back. They’ll say things like, “How can I connect with a teen?” “What will we talk about?” “Teenagers don’t want to hear what I have to say.”
Adults sometimes think teens live in a different world—and in some ways it’s true. Their daily lives, responsibilities, and identities are unique. If you feel that way, remember that you were once a teen—however long ago—and that teens have hopes, fears, hurts, and feelings just like everyone else. Just like you.
As I began working with the high school group at my church, I wanted to connect with them but I wasn’t sure how. For answers, I went straight to the source: the high schoolers themselves. Their insights were simple and profound, resulting in some easy-to-remember do’s and don’t’s:
DO: Own your identity. Teens need to respect you if you want a relationship. So be true to your own identity in Christ. Don’t try to act like a teen to win their favor. They’re not looking for another teenage friend; they’re looking for godly adults to emulate.
DO: Care deeply. Teens have an uncanny ability to see through anything fake. So show genuine concern. Care deeply about them as individuals, sloughing off stereotypes and listening to their stories. They’ll be more open to dialogue and friendship.
Teens are not looking for another teenage friend; they’re looking for godly adults to emulate.
DO: Ask specific questions and really listen to the answers. Questions like “How’s school?” solicit general answers that typically stay on the surface. Ask more specific questions that invite teens to share their lives—and take the time to listen.
DO: Find common ground. Common interests and activities foster friendship and camaraderie. Find similar interests and discuss or do those things together.
DO: Be open. Relationships need to go both ways. As you ask questions, be sure to share your own life too, otherwise they’ll feel like they’re being quizzed. They can’t respect you if they don’t know you.
DON’T: Try too hard. This goes hand-in-hand with owning your identity. If you try to act the way you assume teens act, they will not want to talk with you. If you aren’t naturally funny, don’t try to be. You may text them, but BTW, don’t use texting language in your speech!
DON’T: Treat them like little children. Teens are in limbo between childhood and adulthood. As they find their place in the present, they’re eagerly awaiting the future, always looking forward to the next year or the next step of maturity. As they grow up they want to be treated like adults.
DON’T: Try to fix their problems. If teens confide in you, they probably trust you and value your opinion. Be tactful when dispensing advice. Practice the steps of listening and gaining respect before instructing. If you try to change them before you know them, your advice will fall on deaf ears.
Teens do want meaningful relationships with adults other than their parents. They recognize the encouragement, accountability, and advice such relationships can offer.
One young person I spoke to put it beautifully: “It should not be thought of as an adult/teenager relationship. It should just be a friendship.”
So strike up a new friendship. It may change a teen’s life—and possibly your own.