Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on rethinkingyouthministry.com and is reprinted here with permission.
by Brian Kirk
This summer, for the first time at my church, instead of taking a “youth mission trip,” we took an “all-church mission trip.” This meant that adults other than those who regularly work with our students went along for the journey. It occurred to me that if we were going to travel, live, and work together for a week, it might be helpful to give these other adults some pointers on hanging out with young people. What follows, in no particular order, are the top ten tips I shared with those adults prior to our trip.
1) Teenagers are people, too. Resist calling them “kids” (unless you mean it as a term of endearment) or speaking about them as if they aren’t in the room.
2) Teenagers need time. Particularly during discussions, young people need a little time to think about what they want to say. Resist the temptation to jump in with “the right answer,” and don’t feel you have to fill in every moment of silence with talking.
3) Teenagers like adults. Despite what you may remember from your younger days, teenagers do enjoy the companionship of adults. They just aren’t always sure that we like them, so they can seem standoff-ish at times. In fact, many are at a point in their lives when they are trying to put a little independent distance between themselves and their parents, so they are seeking other caring adults to serve as mentors and role models.
4) Teenagers have a lot to teach us. In many ways, The Breakfast Club got it right. Young people are unique individuals with unique talents, gifts, attitudes, and perspectives. It would be a mistake to lump them all together as one homogenous group.
5) Teenagers‘ body clocks are different from adults’. Most teens need between eight and ten hours of sleep a night and get much less. Additionally, most teens are not at their peak until late morning and many are “night owls.”
6) Teenagers are passionate. The first part of the teenage brain to fully develop is the emotions center. This means that teens can have high-highs and low-lows all in one day, can really connect with the hurt of others, and can be very passionate about the things they believe in.
7) Teenagers want to “own” their experiences. We have a temptation as adults, when teens talk about their struggles, to say things like, “I went through the same thing at your age,” or “I had the same problems and I survived it,” or “Here’s how I handled that problem.” In many ways, the experiences of teens today are quite different from when we were young. Their struggles are real, and they want them taken seriously, not summarily dismissed with, “I survived that and you will, too.” Often, the best approach with young people isn’t to offer advice, but just to listen.
8) Teenagers are fun to be around. You might think hanging out with adolescents would make you feel old, but it’s just the opposite. They often offer a perspective on life and the world that is refreshingly honest, hopeful, and new. And that sense of hope and possibility can be contagious.
9) Teenagers can be a great source of frustration. Teenagers are great, but let’s be realistic about this, too. They can be incredibly frustrating to work with…unless you are willing to be flexible, and can take a little good-natured ribbing and criticism, and remember that they still have a lot of growing up to do. Which leads to the final item on this list…
10) Teenagers are not adults. No matter how much they might look or act like adults, teenagers are still children, in the best sense of the word. For every moment of maturity, they have other moments where they grumble about taking out the trash, neglect their responsibilities, fight with their best friends and then make up an hour later, and choose goofing off over doing their work. Don’t expect them to act like adults. Expect them to act like young people who are still growing, adjusting, stumbling, and trying to figure it all out.