I’ve been working with teenagers for about 26 years.
AND if there is one thing I know, it is how to love teenagers.
I’ve been a parent of a teenager for 13 years and if there is one thing I learned,
it was how to love MY teenagers.
I was a youth pastor for nearly 10 years and trust me, I was an expert at loving teenagers…
Until I became a parent. It is one thing to care for the spiritual guidance of teenagers for a few hours a week as a youth pastor and quite another when they live in your home.
I’ve worked with teenagers in more ways than I can count, but I think I learned the most about how to love teenagers by actually being one!
The problem we sometimes have as adults, and particularly as parents, we forget what it was like to be a teenager—to be constantly in transition, to love our days of childhood, but can’t wait to become adults ourselves, to have a genuine excitement about the future and to know that we have so many opportunities in front of us.
And yet, much of the joy of being a teenager was to live life for today! To really be present, in the moment and enjoying each day for what it has. I still remember as a senior in high school, preparing to graduate and looking at what my future might hold, I thought, “I’m going to miss high school so much! I’m never going to get another chance to live life so free without responsibility!”
These were the thoughts of a young man who played three sports every year, worked 20-30 hours a week and took at least a couple of college-prep classes while buying my own car, paying for my own gas, and buying my own school clothes.
For the next few blog posts, I’m going to remember what it was like to be a teenager and use those thoughts to remind us all HOW TO LOVE YOUR TEENAGER!
Sure, things have changed. Times are not the same. But, some things are ageless.
Coming of age. On the cusp. Ready for the world. Teenagers go through many of the same experiences and need many of the same things no matter what social world they find themselves.
Lesson 1: How to Love Your Teenager
One aspect of teenage life is they are learning who they are, they are developing their identity, they are becoming adults. They are no longer small versions of their parents, but are learning to think on their own. They are deciding for themselves what they accept from the adults in their lives and what they refuse to accept.
Therefore, teenagers need space to work these things out, to process on their own. So, it seems, and sounds like they just need space, which they do and we will discuss later, but they need adults (especially PARENTS) who will listen to them without judgment and without a critical mind.
Teenagers work through how they see the world and what they think and feel about it through their words. They want to talk, but they only want to talk when they won’t feel judged or criticized.
This can be such a fine line for a parent, coach, or teacher whose job it is to provide guidance. When young people share ideas or thoughts that don’t align with their wisdom or reality as the adult knows it, our tendency is to quickly clap back, to set them straight. Yet, what they truly need is someone to listen and allow them to process as they talk.
Listening also builds relationship. Teenagers love to express themselves. But, if they feel put down, they will quickly shut down. As you listen to them, you will find out things about them you never knew. Ask questions! Get to know them as if they were strangers, more than likely they will be if you remember them just a few years ago when they were ten. They change so quickly!
Listening well, without judgment, helps them feel accepted. Teenagers need acceptance. We all need acceptance! Listening well gives them a safe space to belong. It helps them know that they are loved no matter what. Who doesn’t need that?!?
Right now, you may be thinking that listening is an obvious way to love your teenager. You may think you are doing a great job at it. But, here’s one sure fire way to know if you are actually doing a good job. Does your teenager love to talk around, with or to you??? Or are they in a hurry to head off with their friends constantly?
Oh, I know they are social creatures and they love to be with kids their own age that they share many things in common with, but the reality is they also LOVE to talk to ADULTS that will listen to them. Are you one of those?
If not, now is a great time to be one. Start by listening. And asking questions. Fun questions. Without judgment or criticism. Give it a try.
It can also sound easier than it is to practice!
What are your thoughts about this? Challenges? Failures? Successes?