A couple weeks ago, we were wrapping up Thrive Friday for June and I was thinking about future professional development topics and volunteer training resource ideas.
Suddenly, a strange realization hit me.
We spend a lot of time talking and teaching about the importance of building relationships with teenagers and how to do that.
Which is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But it sparked the question “why do we need to teach people how to be in relationship with younger generations? We don’t teach people how to build relationships with adults or as adults, right?”
So what happens to our relational skills?
As I reflected on that, a couple reasons came to mind. See if you or any of your volunteers identify with any of these.
- We feel insecure with parts of ourselves and worry that our teens will reject us because of our failings.
- We can be totally at a loss of right words to say when really we want to respond with “dude, in like 5 years, that stuff won’t even matter”.
- Some of us may think we stink at small talk or are awkward.
Those are just the first ones that came to mind. I could make a list that goes on and on. But what it comes down to, is that no matter what WE think or what WE’RE struggling with, it’s not about us. It’s about being an example of Jesus’ love to others. The teens we minister to don’t care about the small talk stuff or our failings or anything like that. They want people to take an active interest in their lives, love them, and make them feel like they matter.
That’s what we children of God all want, right?
Many of our teens are bombarded with the message that they’re too young to matter. They’ll understand when they get older. That “you don’t count yet, but think of what you can be when you grow up!” Our teens end up having adults in their lives that aren’t interested in building relationships with them. So, they walk in with their defenses up or a chip on their shoulder. And often times, we, as the adults who want to pour into their lives, aren’t sure how to break through the wall. We can feel anxious and worried that we will say the wrong thing or won’t be able to connect with them.
So, let’s take a step back and look at a couple things to remember next time you are experiencing anxiety over building those relationships with teens. And if you never experience that anxiety, maybe you can share this with someone in your ministry that does.
TEENS WANT TO KNOW THE REAL YOU
Teens can smell inauthenticity a mile away. If they see you aren’t being real with them, how can you expect them to trust you enough to show you the real them?
YOU DON’T HAVE TO FIX EVERYTHING
I’m a fixer by nature and I have to tell myself to just stop and listen. Do these three steps – 1. Listen, 2. Validate feelings, and 3. Ask “is there anything I can do to help you?”.
The answer will most of the time be “no”. And that’s great, because then you can continue just being there for them. And maybe offering a humorous comment to break the tension if it’s appropriate.
IT’S OK TO CALL THEM OUT.
You have to. While you are building relationships with your teens, be very clear about boundaries. You absolutely cannot let them do things that are immoral, stupid, endangering themselves or others, or disrespectful. Teens are going to test your limits, your boundaries. They will respect you and trust you more when you lovingly let them know they are getting off track and help them get back on. If you truly love them and want what’s best for them, call them out when they need it.
Those are three very actionable tips to use. And honestly, that goes for all relationships you have in your life.