Bless my mom’s heart. My attitude as a teenager was like a summer storm; you could see it coming but were never sure if it would blow over or turn into a mighty squall. I once asked my mom, “Will you take me to get my haircut?” She replied, “No, you don’t need a haircut.” Irrational infuriation took over my body. I would not accept “No, you don’t need a haircut,” for an answer. I took matters, and scissors, into my own hands. The next thing my mom knew I had hair three inches shorter than a half hour ago. Mission accomplished! I showed my mom that I will do whatever I want! In my mind I gave myself a pretty good haircut for the first (and last) time cutting my own hair. I never saw the back of it however and it did require professional help.
Working with teenagers isn’t always fun. Plenty of fun is had to be certain, however teenagers often do things that cause us to shake our heads and ask, “But why?”. If you have ever been a teenager, raised a teenager or met a teenager this isn’t news to you. So how can we get through the “But why?” moments? I would like to suggest three ways.
Listening to teens helps to get through the “But why?” moments. Verbalizing “But why?” to a teenager and actually listening to them may answer the question. Just because a behavior looks careless or purposeless doesn’t mean it actually is. One Forbes article reminds us that listening can lead to discovering solutions, overcoming resentment and frustrations dissolving. When we listen to teens it communicates that we value their thoughts and ideas. If we don’t listen to teens we may miss out on valuable information. Young people have had brilliant ideas and changed the world. What if an adult hadn’t listened to them?
Listening also communicates respect. Often times adults demand the respect of teenagers. I have found however that teenagers want adults to earn their respect. One great way of earning their respect is to respect them. It isn’t rocket science but it is something we don’t often think of. Teenagers are no longer children and don’t want to be treated like children. Listening communicates that we respect them and what they have to say. Listening to teenagers also builds understanding which brings us to the next way we can get through “But why?” moments.
If you dig down deep inside you can put yourself in the shoes of a teenager. Many of us remember what it was like to be angst filled, over concerned about how others thought of us and constantly feeling misunderstood by adults. Yes, these are stereotypes so maybe you didn’t feel this way; I would guess many of you did however. If you struggle to put yourself in the shoes of a teenager lets talk about statistics. The following are just a few statics that may help you understand teenagers today.
Most teens (and probably adults) use some form of social media. Social media acts as a huge influence in the lives of teenagers. One article from February of this year explained that social media use can intensify depressive symptoms and cause anxiety. Too much time on social media can also lead to less sleep. Teens relationships can suffer because they do not communicate face to face as often and tend to compare themselves to others online. Mental illness is also impacting teens profoundly these days. According to one article from January of 2017 suicide was the second leading cause of death for teenagers. 80% of the teens who attempted suicide showed showed warning signs that were either missed or ignored. Not all statistics are negative however another article explains that teens today value volunteering, protecting the earth, honesty in leaders and university education.
If we study the teenagers we work with we are able to understand them better. Growing in understanding of someone makes it easier to empathize with them. When we work to understand we communicate that we value the other person. This type of understanding helps us to move beyond the “But why?” moments and see the teen as a person instead of just seeing the bad choice.
Remember the Mission
If working with teenagers can be so frustrating why do we bother doing it? We bother because teens are valuable human beings who deserve to be heard and to be understood. We bother because Jesus told us to love everyone and that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are childlike. (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) We bother because it is important.
Working with teenagers is hard because participating in the work of the heavenly kingdom is hard. When we participate in Kingdom work opposition occurs. Confrontation from the enemy exists because the enemy does not want the Kingdom of Jesus to advance. We fight a battle not of this world but of the spiritual world we Jesus followers truly belong to. (Ephesians 6:12) As Jesus followers we must discern attacks from the enemy by checking if our discouragement comes from thoughts that line up with God’s truth. Many times the stuck feeling we experience in the “But why?” moments comes from attacks of the enemy. When we remember the mission we enable ourselves to push past the stuck feeling and see the meaning in the work we participate in.
So friends, as you are working with teenagers try to listen, to understand, and to remember the mission. Listening helps teens to feel respected, understanding communicates that we value them, and remembering the mission enables us to see the meaning in the work we do. Teens will continue to make choices that cause us to shake our heads and ask “But why?”. Working with teenagers isn’t always fun but it is always, one hundred percent of the time, worth it.