I have a confession: If I had to choose one audience to write for – adults or teenagers – I would choose teenagers.
Why? Because they’re easier to influence. They are moldable in ways that adults are not.
I first discovered this while writing an article on teen depression. At the time I was blogging for parents, but during my interview with the doctor, she made a remark that stirred in me a desire to help a younger audience.
“The reason I love working with children and teenagers,” she said, “is because they’re so resilient. You can change the whole trajectory of their life. Early intervention is key. It’s a lot easier to intervene effectively when they’re young instead of years later, when they’ve been depressed so long the illness becomes incorporated into part of their identity.”
In short, adults are hard to change. We are more set in our ways, our beliefs, and our mindsets. Children, on the other hand, are still forming their identities and mindsets. They are what parenting expert Haim Ginott once called “wet cement.”
“Children are like wet cement,” he said. “Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
Right now, if you are raising or influencing teenagers, you have a window of opportunity that won’t always exist. Their concrete is still wet; their hearts and minds are still open. They are being deeply influenced by the people they know, the words they hear, and the events that shape them.
As they grow up, their cement will harden. Their early impressions will solidify and set the stage for their self-perception and worldview. We all want the best for the next generation, and that is why it’s worth considering the marks we leave on their identities and mindsets as we parent them, coach them, teach them, guide them, and impact their lives.
In Ephesians 4:15, God tells us to speak the truth in love. In Proverbs 18:21, He says the tongue has the power of life and death. But what does this mean? How do we disciple and discipline adolescents – who can certainly be challenging and surly at times – in a way that builds their spirit, not breaks their spirit?
I believe the starting point is to have God’s spirit inside us. His spirit enables us to hear Him, reflect Him, control knee-jerk reactions, and recognize wisdom when we hear it. I’m as guilty as anyone in blurting out the first thoughts that come to mind, and rarely are those the most effective words. My best moments of clarity often come from watching and listening to other adults who speak the truth in love well and learning from their example.
Donald Miller once said, “Nobody will listen to you unless they sense that you like them.” What widens the gap between adults and teenagers is when we try to give lessons, advice, or lectures without love. It doesn’t resonate. It won’t speak their heart. Only when they sense that we care and genuinely like them do we have a shot at getting through to them.
Following is a list of phrases that I believe speak life to teenagers:
“How can I pray for you this week?”
“You can do hard things. I believe in you.”
“You are a gift. Know your worth and never settle for a bad relationship.”
“I love you, and nothing you do or tell me can make you lose my love.”
“Thank you for making good choices. I know it’s not easy.”
“Have a vision for your life, and make choices that help you get there.”
“I’m so thankful God chose me as your mom. I’d take a hundred kids like you.”
“God has a great plan for your life, and today is just one chapter in a much bigger story.”
“You are enough. You have nothing to prove.”
“These are the strengths I see in you.”
“Do your best – and leave the results to God.”
“You only get one body in life, so be kind to it. Make healthy choices that help you feel strong and good about yourself.”
“You have the rest of your life to drink. Don’t rush it.”
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There are times in life when we observe, not participate. If people start doing things you don’t agree with, leave.”
“You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s OK. At the end of the day, what matters most is pleasing God and carrying out His purpose for you. Do that and the right people will enter your life.”
“Set a high bar for yourself, and remember that you and your peers are better than the lifestyle this world pushes on teenagers.”
“You have the world telling you what’s wrong with you. I want you to tell you what’s right with you.”
“Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right or someone gives you a funny vibe, there’s usually a reason. Listen to your instincts and distance yourself.”
“Make it your goal to bless people, not impress people.”
“Be a leader.”
“Be a light.”
“Live for your audience of One.”
“My life is an open book, if there is anything I can share that might help you, I will. I want you to learn from my mistakes.”
“You are too smart to be making poor choices. That isn’t who you are or who you’re going to be. I’m very upset and disappointed about what you did, but I still love you.”
“You always have a choice. Think for yourself and make choices that give you peace.”
“This mistake is part of your story, not the end of your story. Right your wrong, ask God to forgive you, and move on.”
“How did you feel after making that choice? What would you do differently next time?”
“What will your recovery be? How will be respond to this disappointment/heartache?”
“I get it. I get stressed out/jealous/sad/angry too.”
“Be wise when choosing who to listen to. Not everyone deserves a voice in your life.”
“I’m proud of you – not because of your accomplishments, but because of who you are.”
“Never give up on yourself or God.”
There are many adults in this world who don’t like teenagers. Some of them work directly with teenagers, which always baffles me.
What they don’t realize is the opportunity they’re missing. By speaking an encouraging word, pointing out strengths and potential, instilling hope when a mistake is made, or helping teenagers see themselves in a positive light, they could change the entire trajectory of a teenager’s life.
If that doesn’t give someone a sense of purpose, I’m not sure what will.
Love is essential for the truth to be accepted. Otherwise, anything we say goes in one ear and out the other. There may be a temporary change in behavior, but not a change heart. If we really want to impact the next generation – build them up while they’re wet cement – we should think about how we approach them. If they sense our genuine love and care before a word is ever spoken, it could be the deciding factor in whether they choose to actually listen.
Thanks for reading this message. If you enjoyed it, please share it on social media.
My newest book, More Than a Mom: How Prioritizing Your Wellness Helps You (and Your Family) Thrive, is now available. It’s the perfect Mother’s Day gift for you and your friends!
I also have a book for girl moms, Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter and books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, These resources have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies.
Posted by Kari on February 19, 2019