By Aaron Berry, Crosswalk.com
Remember your teen years? The peer pressure, the awkward dates, and the raging hormones? The teenage years can be very formative, yet very difficult times. And this generation of teenagers, specifically, are dealing with new challenges and questions that weren’t as prominent in past generations. So many voices and influences battle for residence in the hearts of Christian teenagers today.
If you are a youth pastor, a teacher, or a parent of a teen, you’re one of those voices.
You have the incredible opportunity of shaping a generation for Christ.
Sadly, we’re all guilty of squandering that opportunity. We need God’s grace and wisdom to know how to be effective and loving leaders for the teenagers in our realm of influence.
As you pray for that grace and for the right words to say, consider these 5 things not to say to Christian teens today:
1. I’ll tell you when you’re older.
There are a lot topics that we wish young people could be insulated from until they grow up, but the cold truth is that the world isn’t waiting until they’re older.
Are you putting off having “the talk” with your teen because you think they aren’t ready? If so, all you’re doing is delegating “the talk” to the culture around you. Your teen has already been exposed to a lot more than you think.
Are you brushing off the hard questions your teen is asking?
Are you postponing the deep discussions about life, suffering, purpose, and God?
Every day you wait is another day for the world to get a head start shaping the thinking, desires, and priorities of your teenager. You may think that your teen isn’t mature enough to handle such serious topics, but we need to realize that our role as leaders and parents isn’t to isolate teens from the world, but to prepare them to think and live biblically in the world.
2. Be whoever you want to be.
If there is one message that your teen is hearing all around him, it’s the message that self-actualization, or being true to yourself, is the most important thing. It’s the ideal toward which every individual must aspire.
In previous generations, the “be whoever you want to be” message simply had to do with deciding between being a firefighter, an astronaut, or a lawyer when you grow up. Today, it includes finding one’s true gender (“am I a boy or girl?”) and sexuality (“will I sleep with men or women?”).
No barriers exist around what a teen can be or do.
We must lovingly and compassionately tell our teens that the most important thing is not being true to yourself—it’s being true to Christ. The greatest goal is not to find purpose in who I am, but to die to yourself and live for Jesus (Col 3:1-4), the one who gave everything, even his own life, to purchase us from slavery to sin.
Jesus is so much greater—so much more valuable and satisfying and hope-giving—than self-actualization. We are hopelessly lost without Christ.
Help your teen see that the worth of knowing Jesus surpasses anything this world has to offer.
3. Everyone in your generation is ________.
It’s weird to think that the Millennials are becoming the ‘old people.’ As our Gen Z-er teens are growing up, it’s easy to be critical of them. In fact it happens with every generation (Millennials, you of all people should be painfully aware of the broad generalizations assigned to your generation).
Don’t see the teen in your church or home as nothing more than a Gen Z-er. Don’t simply define them by Fortnite and flossing and “Yeet” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it).
Each member of each generation is an individual who, while often possessing some generational characteristics, is unique. Each teenager has their own interests and personalities and dreams and goals.
If you want to show Christ’s love to your teen, love them as Christ would—as an individual, not a demographic.
Sit down with your teen and listen to him. Ask her questions about who she is as a person. There’s no more effective way to build a wall between you and your teen than to write them off as a generational clone.
There’s no more effective way to build trust with you and your teen than to listen to them and learn from them.Your teen will never trust you with the big questions about God, the Bible, and eternity, if he can’t trust you to listen to and love them.
4. Just take my word for it.
Teens aren’t content with simply knowing what to do—they need to know why they should do it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, a teen can simply be looking for excuses to throw off authority, but the need to know why is absolutely essential if you want your teen to continue in Christianity.
If you’re raising your teen to simply conform to a list of do’s and don’ts, with communicating a Scriptural foundation or worldview that fuels their actions, then I fear it’s only a matter of time before your teen throws it all away.
Don’t aim for simple conformity in your teen. Aim for transformation (Rom. 12:1-2).
It’s entirely possible that your teen is going through all motions (going to church, obeying the rules, etc.), all the while completely rejecting Christ and his Word in his heart. Help your teen, not just to act well, but to think well.
Don’t be afraid to give the why along with the what.
5. I can’t wait for you to move out and have teens of your own.
At the very the least, most parents of teens have thought this, even if they haven’t said it out loud. Parenting teenagers can certainly be a trying task. There are countless moments of frustration.
I remember hearing a Christian comedian say that teens were part of the curse on mankind, as if God said, “Well, let’s see how they like to have someone who’s made in their image, but denies their existence?”
Ok, that’s funny…But I implore you, don’t give your teen the impression that she is nothing more than an inconvenience and a burden. Chances are, your teen already feels like that, not just to you, but to friends and classmates.
Christ showed love at the most inconvenient times. When the multitude followed him into the wilderness where he was trying to rest, he was “moved with compassion, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36).
When he was suffering and dying on the cross, he showed love to his family, his captors, his disciples, and the thief on the cross. Have compassion for your teen.
Realize that your teen, like the multitudes who came to Jesus, often feels “harassed and helpless.”
Will you have compassion on them and shepherd them lovingly? Or will you do nothing more than count down the days until they’re out of your hair for good?
Aaron Berry is a co-author for the Pursuing the Pursuer Blog. You can read more articles from Aaron and his colleagues by subscribing to their blog or following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Aaron currently resides in Allen Park, MI with his wife and two children, where he serves in his local church and recently completed an MDiv degree at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.
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