How to Reconnect with the Teenager in Your Life
by Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin
“When I was your age . . .”
Maybe, like us, you’ve used this expression. But as kids head back to school this fall, here’s a tip: Cut this phrase from your vocabulary altogether.
Think about the tone in your voice when those words slide out: critical, judgmental, dismissive. This statement rarely precedes an empathetic response. Here’s the truth: We may have been teenagers once, but we’ve never been “their age.”
We can remember what it was like to be a teenager, but we’ve never been teenagers in their world.
On the flipside of “When I was your age” is another fallacy: “You’re so different from me.” We often assume that young people are so different—so other—from us that we couldn’t possibly understand them.
But rather than simply critique kids’ tech habits we don’t understand, we can empathize with a need we all share regardless of age: relationships. When you were in high school, you may have spent evenings at home in your bedroom on the family telephone—perhaps with a long curly cord plugged into a wall—talking to your best friend. Your parents may have even decided to pay extra for call waiting so other calls could get through during your hours-long conversations.
You get the point. You’ve been there. Relationships matter—to all of us, but especially to adolescents. Tap into your own memories from the past to strengthen your empathy muscles and build deeper connections with the young people in front of you today.
One of the best ways we can empathize with teenagers is to listen for their deepest questions. Every teenager is a walking bundle of questions.
For the young people in your life, the questions driving them today may be about friends, race, money, grades, abuse, justice, sports, future, family, social media or mental health. Sometimes their questions leak out and are muttered aloud. More commonly, they remain bottled inside a teenager’s curious mind and conflicted soul.
We’ve researched this generation for our newest book, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, and found that among the questions tumbling through any teenager’s mind at any time, the following often float to the top.
Who am I? The question of identity.
Where do I fit? The question of belonging.
What difference can I make? The question of purpose.
We wrote 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager to help you and any adult who cares about young people reconnect with the teenagers around you this year.
So next time you see something you don’t understand and are tempted to retort, “When I was your age . . .” remember to first empathize, then listen for the big question underneath the behavior. You’ll be well on your way to a stronger connection.
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