When I get outside of my bubble, I frequently find myself in conversation with adults who think talking to teenagers is as scary as approaching a wolverine. They ask me “what do I say?” or “how do I approach them?” (when you talk about approaching a teenager, it does sound like you are stalking a wolverine..FYI)
There has been a bunch of talk over the years about the words we adults say to teenagers or the words we use to address them. Mark Oestreicher at The Youth Cartel posted a great little blog or rant about some of the words we in youth ministry and the church need to quit saying. MarkO talks about words that make teenagers seem childish, or titles that are unwelcoming in terms of gender and finally he addresses the creepy statement “we need to go LOVE ON teenagers.” There has been great discussion and Mark brings up some great thoughts.
So what do you say to a teenager?
Here are a few thoughts and bits…
1. Cut ‘em From the Herd- even if you are the teenager whisperer, you will have a hard time engaging in a meaningful relationship while they are “herded” up and on their turf. For most humans in general, timing is pretty important when it comes to dialogue. If you make a beeline for Sarah while she is in the middle of her friends at a football game, rest assured you will most likely get the head nod or the quick hug/high five. Many volunteers have good luck talking to teenagers in appropriate places, yet situations where they aren’t distracted by their peers.
2. Act Your Age- it is absolutely painful when adults attempt to learn teenage lingo and then use at as means to be “cool.” No need for trendy language or complicated handshakes. If you look like an uncle/aunt or parent to them, then they probably expect you to act that way. Now this does not mean you are automatically lame, it just means that you aren’t 15, so don’t talk about your swagger. Dress, talk and interact the way that is most natural for you and nobody else. Laughing at yourself can be helpful as well.
3. Delight- when any person with a heartbeat is genuinely delighted in….well….they like it. I have written about this word before, because I love it. Some of the most rebellious teenagers are willing to trust and engage in a conversation when they realize you delight in them….not for how they should be, but for how they are.
4. Show Interest- this sounds like a no brainer..but it is not. Asking questions is a lost art these days. You don’t want to interrogate nor do you want to blabber nervously. Show genuine interest in the things that interest them. Be a learner and not always an advisor when you are in conversation with a teenager.
5. Know When to Fold ‘em- sometimes it is best to head ‘em up and move ‘em out. I remember a girl who was standing with all her friends who I happened to know. I just walked up to say hello and one of them said…”you can leave now!” So I did. And rolled my eyes internally. And pouted in my office.
Teenagers will often feel as awkward as you do in a conversation. Yet I believe each person really has a need to be known and taken seriously, so cracking the code on teenage conversation is of great importance.
I know that a few teenagers are reading this post….so give us adults some pointers. Am I way off?