I was talking about the power of written communication with students in group this week.
We were discussing pros and cons about using social media, texting, and direct messaging to talk to each other. One example of a pro given was asking someone out on a date. “While you are holding you’re breath wondering what they’ll say it’s way less awkward than trying to admit your feelings in person.” I had them howling when I walked through what a scenario would look like in my High School years of rejecting some innocent kid who just wanted to tell you they “like” you. As we moved on I made the point that when this action comes in writing you have time to respond. “If you want to let the boy/girl down you can ask a friend you trust or parent for advice on how to handle it well.” That’s when one boy quipped, “Yeah, if we want to know how to handle this in the 1980’s.” The group of course died laughing while I retorted, “I don’t think you give us ancient people enough credit.”
I know he was trying to be funny, but it isn’t the first time I have heard a teen say that they would rely on the counsel of a peer while mocking what their parents might say. Those of us in youth ministry too often unintentionally side with the student who claims that the older generation is “out of touch” asking them to look to younger folks for counsel. That moment got me thinking that we might need to help students learn how to listen not just to their parents, but also to the larger, older generation that surrounds them.
How do we do this?
Create A Multigenerational Team
During the teen years it has been proven that students look to adults as role models and coaches. In other words they are absorbing by watching more than from listening. It’s important to surround students with people of all generations. This means you have to let those over 60 know you need them and want them. I heard about a church that was concerned because their focus had become so much on “not losing” the millennial generation, that the baby boomers were becoming apathetic. So they set up a program partnering a person over 55 with a teen to read and study the Bible together. They found it kept both generations from becoming apathetic in getting closer to the Lord through His word. In addition, they learned from each other. When students are around different generations being taught by them then they can begin to see the value in the wisdom they offer.
Find Ways for Students to Listen To Various Generations
Recently, I took students to an assisted living center just for the purpose of helping out with a Halloween activity. Instead, they ended up listening to the stories of an older generation that felt forgotten. The students had a great time learning about lives that had seen unique experiences and perspective they have not had. There is history a person over 60 has experienced that the rest of us can only read about. The current generation of teens enjoys the power of stories more than any other before. They have had so much access to information since birth they want to assess the how, what, and why of everything encounter. The generation directly in front of them can tell them how they recently navigated the teen years. Then we have to remember the more years alive means there are more experiences to share. Bring in guest speakers, take students to places where they can hear from many voices from many generations.
Genuinely Partner With Parents
Growing Leaders founder Tim Elmore discusses that we need “parent collaboration instead of parent collision.” There are a variety of reasons why we might communicate information to and for parents without genuinely partnering with them. Yet, let’s face it we can tell parents things with out ever knowing them. It’s interesting because every statistic I read continues to state that the greatest influence in the life of a child is the parent. Some researchers argue this influence is heightened and more needed during adolescence. Take if from the parent of 3 teens, more often than not many of us disengage because the labyrinth of figuring our kids out at this age is overwhelming and exhausting. We can’t find a way out anyway, so might as well find an “expert.” Find ways to pour into parents and support them. Their kids are watching and modeling their teaching (whether any of us like it or not). Why not help students go to their parents and help parents start conversations with their kids.
I have heard more than once from search committees at churches, “we need a twenty something as a youth pastor because students don’t listen to older folks.” In contrast I was talking to a Junior in High School last week who had this to say, “I think it’s dumb that people say kids my age keep saying they only want to hear from twenty somethings. Sure, sometimes we could say they remember our age better because they just left it. However, I want to talk to someone about the Bible and life who I can say might have lived long enough to know something, not just relate to me.”
I think maybe it’s just about letting the rest of them know this is true.