Have you ever had the opportunity to be the speaker for a group of teens? By some chance, were you the only person there who wasn’t a teen? Was the situation a little intimidating? As we grow older a challenge such as this may become even more frightening. But why should an adult be frightened to be with a group of youngsters that may only be one-third or even one-quarter of his age? But whether you’re a parent, youth worker, or minister, the more you understand teenagers, the better you will be able to connect with them.
Jay Kesler in his book, Too Big to Spank, gives four things we adults need to understand when dealing with teens. One of the first things we can do is to put ourselves in their shoes as much as possible without taking our own shoes off. The greatest thing that is happening in a teen’s life is he is trying to come to terms with a challenging body.
“How does their concern with their physical bodies relate to spiritual input? We are interrelated in our makeup, and much of their behavior can only be understood when we understand how important the physical drives and urges are in teenagers. Hyperactivity and exuberance to extreme moodiness and withdrawal are related to their physical selves. . . .
“As a teenager is trying to deal with his physical body and also deal with these spiritual injunctions, he often finds a tremendous sense of frustration. He is fighting against some forces that are innate to being a teenager. They aren’t going to be solved easily. In fact, some of them never do get solved. He just outgrows them. . . .
“There is a physical-spiritual connection and it comes about through a maturing process. If young people were immediately mature then we wouldn’t have such a thing as youth or adolescence. Adolescence is the process of moving from total selfishness, irresponsibility and dependence to responsibility, carefulness and independence. . .”
The second thing to keep in mind about teenagers is that they are trying to find their independence from their parents. Young people crave originality and creativity. This is a time in their lives when they may test their own faith and may want to attend a different church from the one their parents attend. They may define their faith differently from the way we do. Realize, as you are dealing with young people, that to be young is to be different, to be rebellious, to question, and test. This means teens are trying to find their own set of values in the midst of their parents.
The third thing to focus on is that teens are under tremendous pressure from their peer group.
“Teenagers will oftentimes act in disharmony with their own value structure as will adults. They will behave inconsistently with what they believe. When you’re dealing with your own teenager understand that some of the ideas he’s sharing are being tested on you. It is often a matter of finding out what you believe about the things his peers are telling him and also how you react to them” (Ibid).
The fourth thing you should keep in mind when you’re “trying to make spiritual input is the fact that kids are in the process of internalizing their own value structure. They must do this at the rate of speed at which they are comfortable. . .
“This internalization process takes time and actually never really finishes in any of our lives. This is what the Scripture talks about when it speaks of being ‘conformed to the image of God’s son’” (Ibid).
After understanding the four things Mr. Kesler suggested that would help us to connect with teenagers, where do we go from there to ensure our teen is an obedient believer in Christ?
“Keeping up an honest, open line of communication is one of the best ways to help your teen abide by your rules. Your teenager many times wants to talk with you about anything and everything – he just doesn’t know how to get started. He sometimes wants to talk about moral issues, including sexual morality, faith, and family closeness. He values your input above peer input. He just doesn’t know how to go about letting you know this. . . .
“I have found the very best place for talking is in a car. Every time our family takes a vacation, my teenagers and I get into some interesting conversations.
“I just ride along, saying nothing. If there is anything a teen gets uneasy about, it’s silence – especially when a parent says nothing. Soon he starts talking. If you are patient enough, he will soon get to the real reason he started the conversation. It is in these times that your topics of conversation can run from why babies cry at two in the morning, to dating, and to spirituality. . .
“Your teenager knows you want him to accept your faith, but he is uncomfortable with a restricting God. He needs to see God as One who liberates. He needs to know God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. If you tell him only of the God who controls and disciplines, and you start demanding that he believe exactly the way you do, you will lessen the chance of him following your teaching. Your teen must feel free to question and doubt, and arrive at some of his own answers about spirituality” (Kids Who Follow, Kids Who Don’t by Ross Campbell, M.D.).
Parents, it is your obligation to pass on your religion – our precious faith to the next generation. There is nothing that is more important. We must not allow what has happened in Europe to happen in America. Understanding your teenager, connecting with her in such a way that you will keep her in the faith is your highest calling. Judges 2 tells us that the Israelites failed to pass their faith on to their children. “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers (died), another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers” (Judges 2:10-12). Please don’t let this happen in our time.