Connecting With Teenagers – Worth It!

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the “RIOT Graduation“, an evening in which the outgoing seniors of our church’s high school youth group were honored.  19 of the 37 seniors from the group were there with their friends and family to celebrate this milestone.

Part of the program for the evening included a time when each senior came up to the stage along with a friend, family member, or relational leader for a time of letter reading.  Each senior hand-picked someone in their lives to write a letter to them which was read up on the stage.  As one of the newer relational leaders of the team and as a father of a high school freshman, it was a great experience to watch as family, friends, and leaders expressed their thoughts and feelings about their senior.

I have to admit that there were a few moments when my eyes might have been watering just a little bit especially as parents expressed their admiration, love, and hope for their child.  That could be me someday.  It’s amazing how quickly it all goes.

I was especially impressed with relational leaders who were called to the stage to read a letter to one of the students.  It was obvious in these moments that relationships with teenage students can be life changing for both students and leaders.  We live in a world that is so busy and is so filled with distractions that one-on-one relationships often take a back seat to busy schedules and impersonal communication over social media or texting.  It was clear in these letters that leaders had taken time to connect with students beyond the casual hello at a youth group meeting.

I’m currently reading Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation by Jonathan McKee.  In the book, McKee shares his thoughts on connecting with students on an individual basis.  He gives reasons why this is important.  And then he shares practical ideas to help leaders (paid and volunteers) make meaningful connections with teens.  In Connect, Jonathan shares:

Face-to-face conversations can be transformative.  It’s amazing how God uses one-on-one interaction to shape lives.

Yes.  It can be uncomfortable at times.  Yes.  Teenagers say the strangest things and ask the weirdest questions.  Yes.  Students will stretch you.

But it’s worth it.  As I was reminded at last night’s RIOT Graduation event, real one-on-one relationships between students and leaders can make a huge difference in the life of a teenager.  Last night, I saw 19 young adults ready to take the next step of their lives better prepared because of the time investment made by the adults in their lives.

I’m thankful for people like Ray and Joann Rivera, Dave and Nora Kennedy, and Ken and Kathy Shumate who took time to invest in me when I was a teenager.  And I look forward to paying that forward for the teenagers in my life.

When you were a teenager, who invested time into your life?  How are you investing in the current generation of teenagers?