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I think youth work is fantastic training for parenting small children and vice-versa. Those compliant teenagers kind of remind me of compliant toddlers. You know the type of children who wobble into the kitchen in the morning and are just pleasant. They somehow know to wait 15 minutes into the day before they start mewling. They half-hug you, mumble, “G’morng” in that WALL-E-like voice, they patiently wait for their Crunch-thingies with that frozen-in-time expression on their compliant little face.

Compliant teenagers have the same affect. They enter your youth room quietly, with a mannerly, non-judgmental smile. They say hello and laugh courteously (or sympathetically) at that tired joke you tell every kid you think hasn’t heard it before. They don’t punch your arm when you tease them about the same thing you did last week, and the week before. Spiritually dull or sharp-that’s not the point. They’re nice.

Then there’s the strong-willed child. This cartoon character passing himself off as your child stomps into your kitchen. But not before the odious whining, like a tea kettle about to whistle, escalates to a deafening, inhumane level. They don’t speak. They just bark an unintelligible order at you (understood because, despite the earned respect of your peers and Hybel-worthy leadership style, you’ve taken orders from this miniature prison warden for over two years). Just give him or her breakfast and no one gets hurt-for now. You’re thinking, I was just sitting here, slurping coffee, minding my own business. I haven’t even had a chance to think bad thoughts or yell at my other kids.

It’s the same with the strong-willed teenager who barges into your youth room, glares around, and meets your eyes with a condescending glare that coolly states, “You again.” It’s not just that they sit in the back row, talking during your message. Do they have to have more fun than you doing it?

How is it that you can commandeer a 15-passenger van through po-dunk towns and 8-lane freeways, organize a retreat, prepare a theologically sound, culturally relevant message week after week, and speak the secret code language of the business administrator; yet you can be overrun by a 3′ tall moppet and have your self-esteem pummeled by someone whose voice barely changed in the last couple of years?

Danette Matty’s Nana warned her Jesus was watching long before she started volunteering with teenagers and young adults 20+ years ago. She now lives in Minnesota with her husband and two kids. She’s a published author, freelance writer, and part of GROUP’s National Training Team.

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