Saturday, May 17, 2008


    This summer, for the first time at my church, instead of taking a "youth mission trip," we are taking an "all-church mission trip." This means that adults other than those who regularly work with our youth will be along for the journey. It ocurred to me recently that if we are 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 teens. What follows, in no particular order, is the top ten tips I will share with those adults Sunday night. If you'd add any others to the list, please share.

    1) Teens 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) Teens need time. Particularly during discussions, teens 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) Teens like adults. Despite what you may remember from your younger days, teens do enjoy the companionship of adults. They just aren't always sure that we like them so the can seem stand-offish 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) Teens 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) Teens' body clocks are different from ours.
    Most teens need 8-10 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)Teens 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, they really connect with the hurt of others, and can be very passionate about the things they believe in.

    7) Teens want to "own" their experiences. We have a temptation as adults, when teens talk about their struggles, to say things like "Oh, 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 dismissed with "I survived that and you will, too." The best approach often with young people isn't to offer advice, but just to listen.

    8) Teens are fun to be around. You might think hanging 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) Teens can be a great source of frustration. Ok, Ok. Teens 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, can take a little good natured ribbing and criticism (Have I mentioned the girl at church who always tells me when my tie doesn't match my suit?), and remember that they still have a lot of growing up to do. Which leads to the final item on this list...

    10) Teen are not adults. No matter how much they might look or act like adults, teens 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.



    Anonymous said...

    We've always done all-church mission trips and they are amazing! At the beginning of the week, the teens and adults might be staying in their own corners so to speak, but not by the end.

    If you are doing a trip that involves any kind of construction, I would advise the adults not to put finishing the job above spending time with the students. It would be far easier for an adult with home repair experience to do it him/herself. Teens love it when an adult takes the time to show them how something is done. In our experience, that has prompted the teens to work harder and better to show the adults that they learned and understood.

    Brian said...

    Great suggestion. Thanks! We will have some "Habitat for Humanity" guys with us and it might be helpful to encourage them to use that "I'll show you how and then you can do it yourself" sort of approach that is often used with volunteers on Habitat projects.

    Anonymous said...

    wow what a brilliant idea!!

    How about:
    Teens want to talk to you, but they just do not know how to.

    Teens need to be lead from where they are at, not where you are at.

    Teens need to give their respect and trust. Their trust and respect cannot be assumed.

    Teens will do inappropriate things--it is a given. If there are rules, they will be rule breakers.

    Danny Bradfield said...

    Regarding #10, I try to remember what a fellow youth pastor once told me: "Teens are, by definition, immature." Often, adults get frustrated with teens (or even young children) because the adults are expecting the teens to act like adults. Why would one expect them to act like adults when they're not?

    Anonymous said...

    My favorite is #6) "The first part of the teenage brain to fully develop is the emotions center."

    One of the best books I have read for Youth Ministry last year was "Why Gender Matters," by Dr. Leonard Sax. It helped me see that we have much to learn about brain development in adolescents and how that should change the way we teach and learn.

    Overall boys tend to be late bloomers in the part of the brain that processes information. So when that young boy does something immature and you ask, "What were you thinking?" It is quite possible that he just really wasn't thinking. The connections were not being made. This research helps us see that processing events with young boys should continue a week, month, and even later after an event because it may take that long for them to fully process what is happening.

    Great top ten list.

    Jason Raitz said...

    Some great thoughts here, thanks.