When you were a teenager what did you want more than anything? The things that jump to mind are new stylish clothes, my own car to drive, freedom to do whatever I want, the newest in cell phone technology. Did you want those things? Most of us did. Many times we want those things because we think those things help us connect to the people we think we need in our lives. And connecting with other people, especially as a teenager, is really what we want more than anything. We want to be known.
God designed us to be relational beings. He created us to be with Him, to be known by Him. The Bible repeatedly stresses the importance of community. The writer of Psalm 139 talks about how God has “searched me” and “knows me”, and “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” He continues with “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” and “my frame was not hidden from you when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body…”
We are known intimately by our Creator. We are at our best when we allow others to know us, and when we take the time to know others. By turning our backs on community, we refuse to share those gifts and abilities and passions that God has blessed us with. Those things are what He has given us to bring healing to the world, to show the world who He is. It is in us to be in a relationship.
On the other side of that is that we might do the opposite of refusing to be with community and seek it out at all cost. Since we are wired to be in community, to be known, if we don’t have that in our core relationships we tend to seek it out in other places. That can be the beginning of some dangerous paths.
Teenagers want to be known. They seek out people that will pay attention and validate them. Do you remember wanting to be liked? I do. In fact, I still do. I’d like to say that the difference now is that I have a strong core relationship with God and being liked by others is no longer important. There is a difference in that my hope and my joy are based on my relationship with Jesus, but I still want to be liked.
As parents, we watch our children go from wanting to play with us, be read to by us, and be held by us to wanting others to show interest in them. They want to be known by more than just us, and sometimes by anyone but us it seems. Even during those time when they seem to be searching for validation from someone else they still need you. They need you to know them, to seek them out, to validate that they are enough.
It can be easy during these years as there seems to be a distance between us and our teenage children to focus on the immaturity, the inconsistency, and irresponsibility. We can easily become a nagging voice, instead of that voice that once told them “you can be anything you want to be”. The distance can lead to us not knowing each other.
Your teen probably won’t invite personal time with you, but it is still important. They need to know that you like them enough to spend time with them, and love them enough to look through the failures and point out the accomplishments and strengths. You know them better than anyone, they need to see how important they are to you.
How can you do this? Have you intentionally made time to tell your teen how much you admire them? You might meet resistance at first, but make a regular (even if it is monthly) time for just the two of you to see a movie, grab a coffee (yes, they love lattes, and yes they can be decaffeinated) and talk, make cookies together as a service project. Have a “date night” and spend part of your time together telling them things that you see in them that you admire. Leave them notes of encouragement. Tell them you love them.
Don’t let the teen years be the time when walls are built and distances are deepened. Be intentional about letting your teenager know you like them, and you love them. Every day, say something that is encouraging because the world does enough every day to discourage them. If they know you are a source of love and encouragement they may be more apt to seek it from you, than from the world. Most importantly, pray for them every day, and for yourself to be that strong source of love and encouragement.
Assistant Director of Youth Ministries
Wesley UMC / Bloomington IL