Two statements that we both talk about a lot are: (1) the world is often a discouraging place, and (2) people are hungry for encouragement.
Teenagers are surrounded by discouragement and are desperate for encouragement (just like most of our adult friends—but that’s another topic for later). As teenagers explore their identity and make mistakes, a kind word from a caring friend can soften the blow of failure. A typical response to failure is blame, ridicule, satire, posturing and sarcasm–it’s human nature to tear others down in a fruitless attempt to feel better about ourselves. Youth workers can/should be different!
It’s difficult to determine the impact words can make on an individual’s life. Some words–good or bad–remain lodged within for an entire life. Our guess is that words have both wounded and brought healing to you and you’re well aware of the power of the spoken word. Here are five ideas to add more muscle to your conversations with teenagers.
1. Catch your students doing something right. Be on the look out! It won’t take long to see something worthy of encouragement. Verbally celebrate the positive that you see!
2. Make encouragement your automatic response. We had some good discussion about this and its challenge. We recognize that this comes more naturally for some (Doug), while it’s more difficult for others (Matt). Examine your typical response to the people in your life and determine if you need to change your default response. Then, rinse and repeat until encouragement becomes more natural. We can all learn to be more positive.
3. Pray for opportunities to encourage. When we talk to God about teenagers, we will begin to look at them more like He does: loved and filled with promise and potential.
4. Choose care over criticism. It’s easy to critique and complain—criticism doesn’t require much intelligence. It’s much more difficult to think about how to verbally care for others. When you care, you soften hearts and open up eyes (and, you’ll become better at it too).
5. Go deeper than the surface. If we’re being technical, it is encouraging to say something like,
“You don’t seem to sweat much for a husky kid.”
“You seem smart for a drop out.”
“It’s really amazing how your pasty white skin shines in the sun.”
Don’t settle for a superficial word of encouragement when you can dig a little deeper and add meaning to your words. If you need to start by commenting on how they’re dressed… okay, start there but don’t stay at the superficial. Keep looking past the surface and you’ll move from their clothing to their character—that type of encouragement is memorable and transformational.
A quick aside: Encouragement shouldn’t become a substitute for a confrontation that may need to happen. There will be times when you the best thing you can say to a student may actually sting the recipient. But, when you have a solid relationship that’s bathed in encouragement, confrontations are easier and more effective.
Our world is starving for encouragement, what are your teenagers hearing from you?