I have just begun to volunteer with my church’s youth group (high school age). We’re a new-ish church, and the youth group is quite small – only three kids, really, and they aren’t terribly close. So we’re trying to engage new youth, to do community-forming activities, and to draw the youth and the adult members of the church closer.
This weekend, I was on a retreat with the women of the church. We got to talking about the youth, and the women of the church expressed how much they wanted the youth group to grow and to engage with the adults. I replied by saying how wonderful that would be, and started giving some ideas about how she could start that process. She seemed surprised, and countered with ideas about how the youth could start that process.
The problem here is that teenagers, including church youth, often feel ostracised by the adults around them, whether that is the intention of the adults or not. So teenagers don’t tend to reach out. They can’t be the ones expected to start the relationship. Adults have to be the ones. They have to prove that they want the teenagers around before teenagers are willing to take part.
So at church this Sunday, or at school, or in your neighborhood, or wherever you go where teenagers also tread, remember that you have to be the one to go up to the teenagers and start the conversation. Take that responsibility! Claim it as yours!
Then come back and let us know how it went, engaging with teenagers you don’t yet know.
So any suggestions as how to begin that conversation besides – “Hi I’m an adult reaching out to you, an adolescent!” I don’t on a very regular basis come into contact with many teenagers, but maybe that’s because I’m not really trying….
Well, yes, it may be a bit awkward at first. Getting to know anyone can be awkward at first. But it’s not that different to start talking with a teenager than with another adult. Ask them what their name is, why they are there (whether it’s church or some place else), what they enjoy doing with their free time, if they’ve seen any good movies recently, what kind of music they like, anything! Then follow-up their answers with things you enjoy, or other natural conversation replies.
Off-limits topics include only school, unless they bring it up first. And try not to barrage them with questions, because they’ll feel like they’re on trial for something.
So, what you are saying, and it is irritating to hear because I think most of us tend to think of kids and teenagers as a different species, is to treat teenagers as if they were adults we were coming in contact with and wanted to develop a relationship with. Right? I believe that most adults are intimidated by the bad press on teenagers, and that, like Robert, we don’t know how to ‘treat’ this ‘adolescent’, and so we ignore them. I also feel like I don’t come into regular contact with teenagers, so I’m taking your post as a challenge to NOTICE this week when I do come in contact with an adolescent and to try to say something, anything, to them. Thanks for the challenge.
I’m particularly interested, Dorian, that you feel that you don’t come into contact with teenagers – but you’re self-realization that you may just not be noticing them. This is particularly interesting to me because I know that in the past you’ve had good relationships with teenagers and that you’ve been a welcomed advisor with a church youth group.
What this suggests is that even when you’ve hung out with teenagers easily in the past, interacting with teenagers is a habit that can you can loose if you don’t work to keep it up.
Or, it may mean that teens are tremendously segregated in the community I live and interact in – I’m not sure, I’ll be watching to try and figure that out. My church is VERY small and does not seem to have any teen members, my workplace is filled with adults only (I think). I pass teens on the street when I’m walking my dog, but it is hard to strike up a conversation in that situation (although even before this post I was aware that was an opportunity I wanted to try and reach out during. I’d love to get to know teens who live in my community). I’m also aware I am very careful about who I speak to and when because my days go by so fast, I’m always trying to “get something done” and I’m worried about getting delayed by an enriching conversation that takes too much time. Life is so full of good things, but the presence of adolescents would be a good thing also.
I think the main thing that holds me back is that I hated being 11-16 and I want to stay away from anything or anyone that reminds me of that time in my life.
I just found your blog and wanted to comment. I write a blog about adultism (http://adultism.blogspot.com)and just wrote this week about the impact of adultism on adult/teen relationships. I think the honest discussion here among those who commented on your post gets at the core issue: adults are either afraid of teenagers or make all sorts of assumptions about how they will act/react to an encounter. Or, teenagers are invisible. I totally agree that adults need to make the moves: we have all the power. If we want relationships with young people, we need to find ways to make it safe for them to trust us.
I’ll keep reading your blog. What I’ve seen so far is great!
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