Teenagers are the scariest thing on the planet. And carrying a conversation with them? Even scarier!
It may seem like this is the case, but my hope is that after reading this, you will feel more equipped to spend some quality time with the teenagers that God has placed into your life.
Keep in mind that the things we are talking about here are things that any person can incorporate into their life. It doesn’t matter if you are the youth leader who meets with these teens for multiple hours every week or the greeter for your church that only sees the teenagers for a few minutes on Sunday morning. By being a friend and having a quality conversation with the teens in your life, you can make a difference in their lives. To learn more about the impact of supportive adults in the lives of teenagers, I recommend you read about Supportive Adults in our 7 Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry.
Let’s jump into some important keys that we can keep in mind when talking with teens.
Ask Better Questions
The best part of a teenager’s day is when they get in the car or arrive home and their mom or dad asks, “How was your day?” And I bet you can guess their response. “Good” “Fine” “Okay”. A conversation like this is enjoyable to no one. Jesus modeled asking good questions throughout His time on earth. Often in asking the right questions helps us to to see more of a young person’s heart. So, how can we ask better questions?
This may be an obvious one but try to keep your questions open ended. An open-ended question is one that could not be answered with a simple one-word answer. Instead of asking, “Did you have a good week?”, you could ask, “What are some good things that happened this week?”. This has them thinking about the week for something specific to share and usually comes with an exciting and personal story. Another open-ended technique that I employ is asking for highs and lows, where the teens shares something good happening in their life and shares a tougher situation that they are dealing with. Asking open ended questions are a great first step for taking a conversation with a teenager to the next level.
Listen With Care
As you ask better questions, the next step to having better conversations with teens is to listen with care. It is easy to hear the words that others are saying but it is totally different to be engaged and listening with care. There are several ways to do this.
One way to listen with care is to empathize with what the teen is sharing with you. It can be easy to hear something that a teen shares and think that they shouldn’t be worried or concerned with a situation that seems trivial to you. What seems trivial to you may mean the world to them. Instead, showing empathy takes some sacrifice by the listener to try to put themselves in the shoes of the teen so that they can begin to share the burden. We see this taught in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he encourages them to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15). We are not called to push the issues of others aside, even if they appear to be trivial, but instead empathize and show care.
When intentionally trying to listen with care, it is also important to keep in mind ways to properly respond. I know I can be quick to jump in and attempt to find a solution to any problem that the teen may be facing. I have come to realize that most people, including myself, usually don’t want others to get advice right away, and teens feel the same way.
Instead, it is usually wise to only give advice or solutions when it is asked for. A technique that I use to do this well is to be upfront and ask, “Do you just need my ears for me to listen or are you looking for advice?”. Usually, they just want me to listen.
Follow Up and Be Consistent
One thing that is important to remember is that these tips will not produce magical results overnight. I find that to be a blessing. This means that the impact that you have on the life of a teen does not come down to a single interaction. You have the gift of time which allows you to invest in them for the long run. For the youth leaders who spend lots of time with them, it may be a little easier to get to know the teens. Even if you’re someone who sees a youth for a few minutes each week, a regular occurring interaction with them can really make a huge difference. It shows them that they aren’t just some teen, but instead an equally valuable member of Christ’s body.
As you ask better questions, listen with care, and be a consistent presence in their lives, you will get to know them better and have opportunities to deepen your relationships with them. Over time, the teenagers that you get to know will learn that you care about them and begin to care about you too.
God will work through you as youth learn they can trust you, with both little things and big things. The best conversations that I have had with teens have come long after I have met them. You will be able to point them to Jesus as their savior who loves them and help them remain connected to God’s church. Your relationship with teens matter. You’ve got this!