I have some sayings that are like, my maxims for youth ministry. Today I want to talk about one in particular. I’ve alluded to this before. Commit this to memory:
Teens do not want to be treated like children.
Your approach to relating with teens needs to honor this fact. Not only do you have to consciously avoid talking down to teens, but you need to consciously work to include them as equals when possible. Focusing on these two things will go a long way toward establishing a fun, respectful environment for your students. Also, it helps differentiate your program from school or work in their lives; places where they are at the bottom of the totem pole.
Which leads me to my tip for today. I remember when I made the decision to start doing this thing. I was watching ESPN (I love my sports). This was around the time Tim Tebow was playing with the Patriots and sucking at it (obviously). The coverage was all about how awesome a dude he is despite somehow forgetting how to play football after college. One reporter remarked how Tebow always addressed people as “sir,” or “ma’am.” I thought about the fact that I never do that. I was raised in a family where everyone was pretty much treated equally. There were never children's tables or anything like that. I was always comfortable with adults. For a while I didn’t bother calling people “sir,” or “ma’am” because it wasn’t something I was used to saying. But watching ESPN that day I decided that I would make the effort because, even if I didn’t find it necessary to address people this way, it is always respectful to do so. I always feel good when people call me “sir.” It was a few months later that I started referring to my students the same way.
I address my fifth graders, middle schoolers, and high schoolers the same way that I address my volunteers and bosses. It’s something that teachers, parents, and other adults hardly ever do for them. Again, this sets your youth ministry program apart in their lives. Youth group will be a place where they are particularly respected. Any chance you have to respect and magnify a teenager’s dignity, take it!
Quick tip complete! I hope that helps and I hope to hear back from you guys on this topic. Let me know how this works for you.