I am currently teaching a class that, in part, covers how to interact with teenagers. There have been many “what if” questions risen. “What if a teenager tells you this or that?” “How should I respond if I find this out?” “What if the teenager gets mad at me?” “Should I go behind the teenager’s back with certain info?” These are just a sampling of the questions that have come up. My response, as to how to handle these questions, was simple: Be straight up and honest right from the beginning. Is that it? Yep, teenagers respect authenticity and honesty.
Notice, I said teenagers respect authenticity and honesty. A key component that must be present, is respect of the teenager by the adult. Take a moment to understand what I am saying here. Adults, rightfully so, have an expectation that teenagers will respect them as elders. However, there are really two types of respect. First of all, there is “forced respect”. This is not true respect, but rather the forced compliance because of authority that one holds over another. For example, if a teenager fails to listen to mom and dad, there will be consequences. It is the consequences that are feared, not mom and dad. There is however “real respect”. Using the mom and dad example, this is where the teenager does what mom and dad says, not out of fear of the consequences, but because he or she really wants to honor mom and dad. This teenager feels respect from mom and dad, and therefore wants to give it back. This most likely means that mom and dad practice authenticity and honesty. This idea of respect is true for any teenage and adult relationship.
Once the foundation of respect is laid, it is important for adults to live a life of authenticity and honesty. Teenagers expect adults to be real, or authentic. Furthermore, teenagers can see through the many masks that adults tend to hide behind. For instance, if an adult comes across as caring, but is really annoyed, it shows. If an adult feels forced to interact with a teen, and tries to hide it, he or she will be found out. Many adults attempt to give advice to teens, but do so without an authentic concern for the teenager’s well-being. Teens will most likely block out the voice of such adults.
Coupled with authenticity is the character trait of honesty. Teenagers simply want adults to shoot straight with them. As soon as an adult lies to a teen, even for a so-called good reason, all bets are off. Once trust is broken, it is very hard to regain. Teenagers can also be hurt by false promises. A caring adult may say things in order to comfort a teen. While this sounds good, if it is false, it will destroy the relationship. Bottom line, do not try to protect the teens. You will simply wind up hurting them.
Parents, the best way to show love to your teenager is to be open and honest with him or her. You must also offer respect. Keep in mind, that respect does not necessarily mean agreement. They may not show it now, but they will love and appreciate this more later. While your relationship may hit some bumps in the road, it will only grow stronger. Work at gaining real respect.
Teenagers, you do have a part to play here. You must show those in authority, respect. There may be those that do not respect you, but you must do your part. Let people know that you appreciate open communication. You must also provide the same. When you look at this as a two-way street, you may just find that caring adult who provides authenticity and honesty.
Pastor Dave Jones has been working with children and youth since 1990. He holds an A.A.S. in nursing — R.N. (1995); a B.A. in Biblical studies and theology (2007); and M.Div. in preaching and pastoral ministries (2011). He works and resides in Milton. Pastor Jones is not a licensed counselor. To comment on his column email email@example.com.