As a mom of seven, a teacher and a social worker, I come in to contact with a lot of young adults. Often they come to me for advice, sometimes for an ear and other times for protection. Most youth ministers are volunteers, we often have no formal training. We must educate ourselves as it is exceedingly important to understand the development and needs of teens, during those difficult transitioning years, in order to work with this population.
1. The human brain doesn’t stop developing until about age 24. This is crucial, because as parents and teachers information, which may seem obvious to us, can be completely missed by our kids. They aren’t necessarily trying to be thick-headed, their thinking and reasoning process is just not fully developed yet.
2. Teens are searching for an identity. This development happens on many levels and some teens are farther along than others. Identity development seems to hinge on crisis. (Perhaps this is why teens spend a huge amount of time trying to create crisis out of what seems to adults to be small things.)
3. They are clinging and trying to separate at the same time. This also ties into identity, as teens want to be their own person, but may be uncomfortable with the reality of having full responsibility for their actions. I can remember gaining employment out of state when I was nineteen. I was so ready to fly, to be on my own, but the night before I left… I sat on my mother’s lap and I cried. The reality had finally hit me that I would be on my own and responsible for myself. No longer would I be my mom’s little girl, but the woman that I was trying to be.
4. Friends are really important. Teenagers seem to be strengthened dramatically by their friendships, but they can also react strongly to conflict within those friendships. This is very real to the teen. Minimizing the hurt does not address the real feelings the teens are experiencing. Listening and sharing from our own experiences can be much more helpful.
5. Teens have not learned yet many of the tools we use as adults for conflict resolution. This is another way we can impact the outcome of situations teens find themselves in. Focusing on teaching them faith-based conflict resolution and coping mechanisms can serve your students well their entire lives. I cringe inside when my own teen-age son says, “I may get a detention today, because this kid is bugging me and I may have to beat him up.” My adult brain (and sometimes my adult mouth) screams, “WHAT??” It seems silly to me, but it is very real to him. His future seems far away and the concept that the decisions he makes today could negatively impact his future doesn’t seem to matter. Which leads me to….
6. Teens live in the moment and everything is emotional. I often marvel at how my teenage daughter can literally be laughing and crying in almost the same moment. We can learn to live in the present when we are with young people, it is gift they possess that we often lose track of. We, on the other hand, can share with them that moments of pain, suffering and confusion are fleeting and that the sun will shine again tomorrow.
When working with these precious youths we can remind them that they are still growing and learning, that they have an identity as a child of God, and that life will provide enough challenges to help them develop their identity. Helping teens to accurately assess their situations while validating their feelings about them, is vital in helping them move past issues. We can listen, provide friendship and support to these young people trying to figure out who they are. God bless.