Of all the age groups I have ever had the privilege of mentoring, by far my favorite group is teenagers. Babies and toddlers give unconditional love and believe nearly everything you tell them, but they often cannot articulate their feelings beyond whining and crying. Grade-school-aged children and most middle schoolers are hilariously goofy, but one can only take so many fart and booger jokes.
Although high school students and beginning college students are often full of themselves – convinced they have all the answers – they are closer to having to stand on and defend their developing faith. Faced with choices that will determine their life’s trajectory, many begin to understand – perhaps for the first time – the significance of the habits they have developed or of the skills they have neglected to hone. In that moment where they realize they must leave behind the childishness of their early years and begin to think and act like the men and women God has called them to be, when they find themselves on the cusp of adulthood, full of promise and unlimited potential, poised to take command of the rest of their lives, it is here that they are most likely to be open to a mentor or a parent who will share and model authentic faith.
Over the years that I have mentored, listened to, and laughed with the teenagers in my life, I have also learned a great deal from each one of them – both what I should do and what I should never do if I desire to maintain a healthy relationship, based on mutual respect with the potential to last a lifetime. I humbly share my list of blunders with you. I hope it blesses you and the teenagers in your life.
Blunder #1: Lecturing
No one enjoys a one-sided conversation in which they’ve been relegated to the role of non-stop listener. For the mature adult patiently listening to some know-it-all bluster on and on without reprieve is next to impossible. For most teenagers, who characteristically have shorter attention spans, it is impossible. Polite teenagers will silently tune out while remaining bodily present. The less than polite will simply get up and leave. And who can blame them?
Before you launch into your next great speech, try asking open-ended questions that will require a thoughtful response. My rule of thumb is if I find myself speaking more than three sentences without interruption, then I’m probably talking too much.
Blunder #2: Offering Unwelcome Advice
When was the last time you asked a teenager (or anyone for that matter), “I have an opinion about that. Would you like to hear it?” When was the last time you waited to be asked for your thoughts before you offered them?
Even though the exact right advice might be on the tip of your tongue, exercise self-control. Wait to be asked for your opinion, or ask permission to offer it first. Teenagers’ biggest complaint is adults’ lack of respect for their personhood. Nothing shouts “I don’t respect you!” like clobbering someone over the head with your unsolicited opinion.
I remember confiding in a relative about a problem I was facing as a young woman of 20. Her entire answer to me was, “Let go and let God.” It was the single most useless piece of solicited advice I believe I have ever received. She might as well have said, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” I was emotionally and physically exhausted from having just poured out my soul to her. And all she had to offer was some non-sequiter platitude. Fail.
If you find what you hear to be overwhelming, tragic, or simply ridiculous, take your cues from the emotional state of the person talking. Again, open-ended questions can’t go wrong here (unless of course they’ve already been answered and you weren’t listening). Sometimes restating to the person what they’ve said can help you to better understand the significance of the problem, as well as how to pray for that person.
Blunder #4 Trying To Sound “Cool” Or “Hip”
Here’s a hint: If “Cool” or “Hip” is in your vocabulary, you’re probably neither. Teenagers are experts at spotting fakes. If you don’t instinctively listen to the same music they listen to, dress the way they dress, or use the same slang they do, then don’t pretend that you do. You won’t fool anyone; and you’ll only embarrass everyone. How does the saying go? There’s no fool like an old fool? Just make sure it’s not you.
Be yourself. Or as my husband likes to say, “Do you.” Rock your Jesus the way you do. If folks find your brand appealing, great. If not, great. Authenticity speaks louder and more convincingly than any falsehood.
To learn more about the Blunders Adults Make When Engaging Teens, click here.
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