If you have not read my previous posts in this series on Building Relationships with Teens, I encourage you to go back and read my first post to get an idea of why I started this series. (Here are links to posts two and three)
This is the fourth post in a series on how to connect with teens based on the Teen Voice 2010 study from the Search Institute and Best Buy Children’s Foundation. In this study, they shared a list of “10 tips from Teens to Adults” that outlined how to best connect with teens and what they look for in a caring adult relationship. In my third post, I focused on the tip, “Listen,” and shared examples of how I did this (or, in some cases how I failed to listen) in my work with teens. Today, I will share practical examples of how to connect with teens using Tip #4.
Tip #4: Be dependable. Do what you say you’re going to do.
In preparing for this series, I reached out to several teens I used to work with. They are all adults now, some with their own families—many are now working with youth. I shared this list and asked them if any stories came to mind about how I displayed or did not display the behaviors listed. Matt, who I have known since he was around 13 years old, told me this story.
He said that one day he and I were sitting in the computer lab talking about religion, one of Matt’s favorite topics. I was sharing with him some of the principles I learned from the pastor at my church and the daily implications of this teaching. Matt was engaged in the conversation, asking questions and, if I remember correctly, challenging or debating me. He had a tendency to do that. But I remember that he was very interested in what we were talking about.
I mentioned that our church had created a bumper sticker with one of its key principles on it as a reminder or display. Matt casually mentioned how he would like one of those stickers to remind him of these principles, so I told him I would see if I could get one for him. When I was at church that week, I picked one up for him and gave it to him the next time I saw him.
Here is what Matt had to say about this interaction: “I remember one day we were discussing church and you were telling me about Mars Hill and the concept of “Love Wins.” I was completely amazed by the idea and asked you to get me a bumper sticker. The next time I saw you, you had my bumper sticker. Throughout my time under your leadership you were always adequately prepared and dependable. I can’t think of a time where you didn’t keep your word.”
To tell the truth I had completely forgotten about this encounter with Matt, but for some reason it has stuck with him all these years. I have talked to countless teens just this last year who have told me stories of adults asking for their feedback and then doing nothing with it. They share with me how an adult says they will provide something, like a field trip, as an incentive. But once the teens accomplish the task set before them, they never get the field trip.
Through my experiences working with teens, I quickly learned the importance of keeping my word and being dependable. I noticed this when teens would light up when I remembered a promise I made regarding a new game I bought for our teen center. I began to realize that many of the teens I was working with were promised stuff by adults all the time. By their teachers, their parents and other youth workers. But often those adults made up excuses to why they could not fulfill those promises. They began to expect that a promise or an adult’s word was not worth much, and they wouldn’t hold their hopes on it. Because of this, I made it a priority to never make a promise I could not keep and to follow through on what I say I am going to do for them.
Tips for Parents and Youth Workers:
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you have any doubt that you will be able to do something be honest. Teens will value and trust you more if you are open and tell them something might not happen (and WHY when possible) than if you just fail to produce.
- The small stuff matters. More than five years later, Matt still remembers about a sticker I brought him.
- Be an example. It has been said many times that teens watch what you do more than they listen to what you say. I found this to be very true in my experiences working with teens. Lead by example and be dependable. If you say they need to meet you at 8 a.m. you better be there at 7:50, waiting.