One of the most troubling things I have witnessed is the absence of good adult role models involved in the lives of young people. Quite often, it is not the things we speak to them that are so messed up but rather the absence of sharing, spending time with, or speaking life into them at all.
When we do speak however, we must ask ourselves: “what are they hearing?” and “are my words being wisely chosen?” because “death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).” After much thought, I’d like to share with you the five things I would consider the worse things to say to a teen. If you are a parent, mentor, spiritual guide, youth pastor, counselor or teacher – keep these things in mind as you seek to impact these young lives and help them dream about a better tomorrow.
1) Grow up.
Teenagers are at a very unique and important time in their physical, mental, social and spiritual lives. They feel stuck between freedom and captivity, play and work, knowledge and wisdom, love and sex, questions and answers. We have the wonderful opportunity in helping them navigate through these obstacles and prepare them for the time that they will be “on their own.” It is our blessed opportunity to help them on this journey. They know they need to “grow up” and they are trying. Sometimes, it’s just hard doing it alone and the faithful guidance and support of a loving adult is what they need most.
2) I know what you’re going through.
So, maybe you were a teenager once and maybe you did go through some similar situations, tragedies, lusts, heartaches, etc.; however, every person’s story is different and significant. They do not want to hear that we “get it.” They want us to know that they are experiencing a different struggle, dreadful day, or damaged heart. They want to know that we are not afraid to listen to or enter their story of brokenness.
3) BUT . . .
Sometimes we believe we are clever when we sneak in a little positive reinforcement while delivering needed criticism; when in fact, our teenagers would love them to be two separate conversations and the good outweigh the negative.
“Wonderful! You got an A on your test!! BUT . . . now you need to bring the rest of your grades up.”
“I love you so much BUT this attitude has got to stop!”
“I am proud of you BUT you really need to work on ____________________.”
Please, please understand that the teens in your life want to hear the “wonderful,” “I love you” and “I am proud of you” statements, but these beautiful words are often negated or drowned out by the other things we attach to them. Yes, they do need to be reminded of those things they need to work on BUT what they truly need is bucketfuls of affection poured on them each day so that when a grain of criticism is tossed their way they know without a doubt that it’s coming from someone who truly cares. Don’t have your love negated by coupling those beautiful, life-giving words with ones that seem to say the opposite.
4) You’re just like _______________.
I’ll keep it simple. Each young person is a special and unique creation of God. It is our job to help make them feel that way. This doesn’t happen when we compare them to their friends or siblings.
5) Just move on.
No matter how we say it: “It’s just a phase,” “Go to God,” “Pray about it,” or “Just move on,” they all communicate the same thing to our teens: “I don’t have time for you. Figure it out on your own.” And here’s the crazy thing, sometimes the teenagers we work or live with don’t always want a response, a word of wisdom, or an answer; quite often, they just want us to listen and to know that we are near. Our teenagers want to know that when they need us most – we will be there!
Steve Hinkle has spent several years loving, teaching, mentoring, and listening to young people as a middle and high school student pastor, counselor, single adults pastor, and both a junior and senior high school teacher.