The best way to keep the communication lines wide open with teenagers is to consistently show them respect. Distance is what adolescents often feel from adults. They think adults don’t understand them, are vastly different from them, and don’t struggle with what they struggle with.
This could not be further from the truth. Here are three things that teenagers need to constantly hear from you through verbal and nonverbal vibes…
1. “WE ARE MORE ALIKE THAN WE ARE DIFFERENT”
If you feel like the person across the table is vastly different from you, then distance and lack of connection will characterize the relationship. We need to do everything we can to remove distance in our relationships with adolescents. The Apostle Paul taught this concept that we are all more like one another than different than one another when he said:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
It is so important for parents of teenagers to have fun with their kids and to keep the lines of communication open with them. The same is true for youth workers. Although there is an age difference, any trustworthy adult can easily win the trust of teenagers by coming down to their level and relating with them. Parents and youth workers alike need to be real with their feelings and be appropriately transparent with their struggles.
The best way to bridge this gap and keep the communication lines wide open with teenagers is to consistently show them through your actions and your words that you are more like each another than different from each another. That will build strong connections that make teenagers feel more secure in their relationship with you.
2. “I RESPECT YOU…”
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves… (Philippians 2:3)
One of the greatest needs of adolescents is to feel like others respect them. They know they are full of faults and defects. You don’t have to tell a teenager that they’ve got issues. They know it. They may cover it up with boasting or pride, but under that shell, they want to be loved and respected.
Respect is a two-edged sword. 1) You first need to have a high opinion of them and truly compliment them on the admirable qualities you see in them. And then 2) you need to speak politely to them, showing them respect in the way you display common courtesy.
Even if a teenager is behaving in such a way that makes you not respect them very much. They way to their heart is through respect. I encourage youth workers and parents alike to find anything and everything you respect about them and remind them often what it is you respect about them. And when they act out and behave anything but respectable, seek to understand them first in a respectful way, and you’ll see them grow through it rather than become enslaved by their emotions.
3. “YOU’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES …”
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
Confidence is something that most people struggle with. But in adolescence the storm of insecurity is at its height. They feel the tension of having to carry some adult responsibility, yet they often feel like adults don’t believe in them the way they think they deserve.
On top of that, their friends at times cut them down to size through criticism. Or even worse, they get ignored by some kids and this can make them feel alone. This is all rooted in insecurity. So a vital role that parents and youth workers can serve is to encourage their teens that they have what it takes to make something of themselves and succeed in the world. This is not a feel-good cliché that I’m talking about. If you want a teenager to really believe that they have what it takes, you need to go beyond the customary pat on the back. You must invest in them. Here are some examples of intentional investment in adolescents that help them believe they have what it takes:
- Help them understand what good relationships look like.
- Give them a very clear understanding of the Gospel so that they know God has done everything for them… it’s not all up to them.
- Teach them life skills that they will need when they become responsible adults. Three basic life skills that teenagers need but won’t usually ask for are:
- People skills
- Study skills
- Vocational skills
- Provide experiences for them to get exposed to a diversity of people and circumstances so that they do not develop an aversion to change.