5 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You

5 Things Your Teen Won't Tell You

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They are speaking. Are you hearing what they're not saying?

My nearly two-year-old daughter recently experienced physical pain. Her tiny hand was in the crack of a door that was closed - the person closing the door had no idea my daughter was standing with her hand at the hinge. The X-ray revealed a fractured thumb.

Because she is so small a splint didn't do much to help. She ended up in a cast that covered her arm from her hand to above her elbow. Thankfully, she only needed to wear the cast for a week, but when her cast was removed she continued to act as if it were still there. She guarded her thumb carefully, used only her right hand (even though her left hand was healed and free), and didn't really want anyone fussing over it. No matter how much we tried, we parents, the adults with the knowledge, couldn't convince her that her hand was okay to use again. She had to discover it on her own, in her own time.

As I tucked her into bed that night and reflected on her reaction to pain, the healing process for her, and how she told her own version of the story, something occurred to me.

She is doing what most of the teenagers in my youth group do when they experience pain.

When they emerge from adolescence or from going through something tough, they display actions that say: I'm still hurting. I'm not ready to go forward yet. I need some more time. I'm guarded. I'm unsure.

And we, as loving leaders and parents, must be observant and responsive to the things they aren't saying.

We can't understand everything. But we can be "with" teenagers in ways that address the needs they have, even needs they may not express with words.

Here are a few things teenagers would want you to know but may not express to you verbally.

1. If you make our home a welcoming place, my friends will want to be here, and I'll want to be here, too.
You'll know your teenager better if you get to know his or her friends. Be acquainted with them well enough that you can hold a simple conversation. You can do this by making your home a place that's inviting. Teenagers like to be in a place where they can sit on the floor or on the couch, scatter some crumbs, eat some food in the pantry, and stay up a little later because they have your permission.

2. I don't really want you to be like me or my friends.
I want you to be a great parent. I want you to be a great leader. I need that in my life more than anything else.

Teenagers are taking cues from us all day long. Whether we like it or not, they're placing value on the things we place value on. They want us to lead the way: not with a lecture, but with a lifestyle, and with conversations that give them space to choose. Make Jesus the center of your life. Lead and parent out of this priority and you'll influence the faith of the teen in your life more than anyone else.

3. As much as I want to be independent, I still want you to help me.
Help me find a safe place to work. Help me find good friends. Help me find a church that I feel comfortable entering to learn. I need you to be looking out for me because I'm a little afraid.

Teenagers have memories, just like we do. Past hurts or fears can creep in and keep them from doing great things. They want our gentle and wise leadership. They still want to be protected from things they may not be able to see on their own. I am thankful for the adults in my life who helped me see when I was in an unhealthy job situation and who introduced me to a youth group where I'd be included right away. I never asked for these things but I really wanted them.

4. Notice me when I'm struggling, when I'm guarded, and when I do weird things.
I'm growing in ways I can't explain and need your help to thrive in the midst of it.

Similar to the first two years of life, young teenagers face rapid developmental changes. Their social, emotional, relational, and spiritual selves are just as changing. They are building a worldview oftentimes on the opinions of their peers. They want and need direction and help coping. Even the best kids are capable of displaying out of character behaviors and making poor choices. As a parent or as a leader you may experience the type of shock that leaves you speechless and disappointed. Fight through to have honest and life-giving conversations.

5. Celebrate the little things. They mean a lot to me.
They may have a lot to celebrate or very little, but either way, they need to hear your voice and experience your presence that says, "I see you!" My daughter, after she was hurt, repeated the same line over and over again, "The door hurt me!" And when her cast was taken off she repeated, "My all better." Every time she said it, we had a mini party. Because it mattered to her every time. It's the same with the teenagers in our lives.

My daughter will probably forget what happened to her thumb. She'll eventually use both hands freely. But I will never forget how in those moments she needed loving adults to hold her, to listen to her repetitive stories, and to help her have courage when she was unsure.

My daughter starts whining around 4:00 P.M, about an hour before I come home. She looks forward to being with me when I get home. She never says, "Mommy, I'm so glad you're here." She just expects that I'll be there and I hope that I always will be. Our teenagers need us in the same way: Noticing and responding. Available.

They are speaking. Are you hearing what they're not saying?

Brooklyn Lindsey is middle school pastor and Saturday Night campus pastor, with her husband, Coy, at Highland Park Church of the Nazarene in Lakeland, Florida.

Holiness Today, July/August 2012