Teenagers can be a conundrum. The mood swings, questionable decision making skills, and insatiable appetites – teens are simultaneously endearing and overwhelming. In my last post, I suggested a few ways that churches could engage teens. As one person commented, this is hard work. She’s right. We’ve all been teenagers, but we often find it daunting to work with teens. It’s as if we were never there, or perhaps it was so challenging we have put the memories of how it feels to be 15 years old out of our minds.
Try to remember how you felt when you were 15. Ask yourself these questions; take all the time you need.
- What clothes did you like to wear? Were you allowed to wear whatever you wanted?
- What music do you listen to? Do you still listen to any of those artists or songs today? What did your parents/caregivers think about your music choices?
- Who were your friends? Did your parents like them? Where did you meet them – school? Church? Somewhere else?
- How did you feel about your parents, or the adults who cared for you? Did you have a special relative, mentor, or other adult advocate? Did you feel supported? To whom did you matter?
- How does it feel to reflect on your teenage self?
When we take the time to open our hearts and minds to building relationships with young people, it’s helpful to think about our own lives as teens. Consider the struggle between independence and insecurity, uniqueness and fitting in. Consider the critical brain development happening. For all of these reasons and more, teens can seem inaccessible, or not worth the trouble. Let someone else figure it out. Trust me, it’s worth the time and energy. Once that teen feels invested in your program, they will bring their friends.
When I think about what made a difference in my life as a teenager, it was that I felt very loved. A handful of the parishioners at my church growing up were like grandparents and aunts. I had a group of people who cared about my success; people I could call if I were in trouble, and there were times I did call on them. I’m extremely thankful for those relationships, and I want our kids to have them, too.
You have so much to offer to the teens at your church, and in your life, and they have lots to give to us. I believe that for every teen in your church, there is at least one adult who has a common thread that can be stitched into a great relationship. The critical ingredients include faith, trust, listening, and determination. And most of all, love.
If folks in your church find working with teens overwhelming, that’s okay. Please remember that just as not everyone is on the vestry, altar guild, or choir, not everyone needs to try to work with teens. But there are some people in your congregation who may be blessed by forming relationships with young people. If you’re a parent, or a youth leader, consider who those people might be.
One way to start: host an event planned by teens, or a group of teens and adults. Our church has had success with our annual Art and Talent show. Those who attend the talent show are clear choices to recruit for other intergenerational projects, like Bible study, churchwide event planning, book clubs… the list goes on.
The key to all of this is not to give up. Teens need you, and you need them. They need your wisdom and guidance as they find their way following Jesus. Please let me know your ideas, and how they’re working. However you find a way to work with teens, I’ll be praying for you and your families.
How can your own experience as a teenager help you work with teens today?
What gifts can you offer to the teens in your life?