When you don’t know where to start…
Teenagers are not always the easiest to approach….there’s a reason why John Mulaney said eight graders are the scariest people in the world to him….but we can’t let fear stop us from reaching those who really need an advocate in their lives. You may not know how or where to even start with approaching the teen in your life to be a kind, loving, mature voice in their lives, so perhaps the tips below can help.
- Approach with Curiosity, not Nagging
Whether you are a mother, big sister, youth leader, or mentor figure in a teen’s life the last thing they want is a nosy nagging nuisance. The quick approach would be to out the door ask the questions that you really want to know the answers to, like what they are doing, what they are watching, and who they are letting influence them. Instead of hitting them head on with these questions, try the approach of coming in sideways with curiosity. Asking questions with a soft approach in connection. Don’t always go for the sucker punch of asking where their grades are either, but ask questions instead that open the door for them to share what they are really enjoying right now in learning. That could come from a school subject or something they are really enjoying videos on via YouTube, but feeling encouraged and not judged will go a long way.
2. Be a Safe Place
One of my favorite Bible stories is that of the Prodigal and his son. It is a direct metaphor for God and us as His children, but it is the approach of the Father that really sticks out to me when the son finally returns. The son expected to be met with, “I told you so” or “You are such a disappointing failure” but instead he was met outside with a warm hug to just come home. Your teen needs to know that you are a safe place for them. That does not mean the absence of consequence, it does not mean complete neglect of discipline, and it does not mean free passes, but what it means is they can ALWAYS come to you and know you are not going to reject or abandon them. Cultivate this before things go south by setting the tone that you can be approached with whatever they feel on their heart to share.
3. Do You Need to Vent, Advice, or to Throw Eggs?
When you have cultivated that safe place for the teen in your life to come forward and they do come in with an issue, ask these questions before you jump the gun. As a mentor, big sis, or parent it is going to be logical to find a solution to fix the issue, but that is not always the order the child needs. Ask them if they want to just vent and cry and scream and complain about the issue for a bit and then sit with present and engaged ears to hear. If they need advice, still listen and hear out their side of the story, but then thoughtfully and prayerfully offer advice on how to approach the issue. Lastly, consider throwing eggs. I mean it. As a youth group leader and mentor for nearly a decade I have learned a few things that can help. One time I had a darling teen that was going through a lot. She was going through a break-up, school was a mess, and she was having major issues with her best friend. I took the absolute last approach she would ever think I would and I said, “Wanna go throw eggs at a tree?” Her entire face in complete amused shock said, “YES!” We actually did take a carton of eggs and chucked them at a tree. They’re biodegradable and harmed no one, but she was able to release frustration, anger, and hurt in a way that was cathartic. Chopping logs is also a good option, as are batting cages, but the eggs have a little less room for potential injury.
4. Share Your Story
Teens often forget we were once their age too…to be honest I think we often forget we were once their age. Don’t shy away from sharing your own experiences-for the better or worse. It is easy to feel like you are the only person ever to be going through a certain challenge or circumstance and that there is no way anyone else could understand, but more than likely that is not true. Part of the gift of being a voice in a young person’s life is that you can share your own struggles, failures, victories, and lessons with them. Really have a sit down with the inner 16 year old you as well and offer to the current 16 year old in your life the wisdom you found along the way.
5. Pray, actually Pray
Finally, pray. God made the child in your life, and He knows better than any entity in the universe the best approach to help that child. Ask Him to use you as a vessel to come alongside and assist. Having an influence and voice in the life of a child is one of the greatest honors one can be bestowed on this earth, but it comes with a great responsibility. If you have found yourself with such an assignment then come before the Lord and genuinely ask Him for how to move forward by His direction. God will never steer you wrong and you owe it to that child to do it the right way – His way.
Don’t let fear hold you back from making a difference in the life of a young person. You may just prove to be one of the greatest helps in their journey, but if you stay silent you will never know.
And if you are looking for extra resources consider checking out my book, Hang in There, Girl. I wrote this book with the heart and intention to be a big sister in Christ to young women. Through my years as a mentor, youth leader, and US History teacher I learned a LOT about approaching topics big and small with teens. I felt led by God to write this book to serve as a friend at a coffee shop kind of book where they can find answers, hope, and connection when they need it most.