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Spanning The Ages Part 2 - Teaching Teenagers

This is Part Two in a series of articles on teaching/preaching to a group which spans the ages from young children to our senior citizens. Part One can be found here: Teaching Children

In this article, we look at some of the things we need to understand about teenagers in order to be effective teachers in this age group.

Teenagers and Relationships
No, I'm not talking about puppy love, and the romances that come and go among teenagers. I'm talking about your relationship with the teenagers.

As children enter the teenage years, they begin a very difficult process of gaining independence from parents, and taking more and more responsibility for themselves and their own decisions. This can be a difficult process - especially if they don't see eye to eye with their parents about the degree of responsibility and independence they should have. In addition to this, teens are going through both physical and social changes which may exacerbate any other difficulties they are having.

As a result of all these changes, teenagers can become very insecure, and begin to sense that they are unimportant or even invisible to others (and particularly to adults). Consequently, you will find teenagers approaching any teaching/learning setting with an attitude that seems to say "I dare you to teach me. I dare you to show me something I don't already know." This attitude seems sullen and belligerent, but in reality it is more suspicious than anything else. In many cases what the teenager is really thinking is: "I dare you to actually care about me."

I love teaching at summer camps, because at a summer camp you have an entire week to get to know a group of teenagers. Not just as a group, but to spend time getting to know individual teens within this group. This time spent developing relationships with the teenagers helps the teens see that I really do care, and goes a long way toward removing the "I dare you..." attitude.

Let me add a word of caution, however. Do not approach a teenager with the idea: "I'm going to get to know this teenager so they'll listen to me later." No. You get to know them because they are important to you. And whether or not that helps you teach is irrelevant. Teenagers, for the most part, are quite intelligent when it comes to spotting fakes; if you spend time with them for the sake of making it easier to teach, they won't be fooled. If you really don't care about the teens, and think they are important, you probably should re-evaluate whether you should be teaching them in the first place.

Teenagers and Significance
Many teachers make the mistake of thinking they must keep the teens entertained in order to keep them attentive. This is a dangerous philosophy. Why? Because teenagers are surrounded by entertainment. Whether it is television, music, movies, video games, amusement parks, or any other form of amusement, teenagers can have ready made entertainment in the blink of an eye.

And you cannot compete. Certainly, you may make them laugh, and they may walk away from your lesson thinking "that was fun", but I guarantee that if you teach the same group of teens week after week after week, you will quickly run out of stunts to keep their attention. If you rely on being funny and entertaining to keep the teens' attention, sooner or later you will fall flat on your face.

Instead of tapping into the hunger for entertainment, you should tap into another hunger - the hunger for meaning and significance. Keep in mind that you have at your disposal the Words of Life. Remember that Jesus said He had come to give not just life, but abundant life. And you have it in your power to show the teens the ways to discover that abundant life. You have it in your power to show them how their lives really can have significance and meaning.

This is something you can offer that no one else is giving them!

Don't be afraid to challenge a teenager to make a change of life and character. Far too often we are afraid to ask anything of teens, for fear we will lose them. But if a teenager is feeling insignificant, then a change may very well be a step toward significance. As such, it may very well be a welcome thing, provided you explain why the change is important.

Teenagers and Hypocrisy
As I mentioned earlier, teens are quite quick to spot a fake. So don't be a fake. Don't put on airs. Don't pretend to be something other than what you are. Be yourself. Be honest. If you struggle with something, don't be afraid to speak of it. Don't be afraid to talk to your teens about your past and present failures. If you struggled with applying a particular lesson in your own life, let them know that. Your honesty will be refreshing and welcome.

Some of the most important lessons I've taught have been lessons in which I shared with a group of teens some of my own personal failings, and how I learned to apply the lesson of the day in my own life.

A couple years ago, I asked one of my youth group leaders to teach a lesson from the book of Philippians while I was away. The passage for the week was about contentment. A week before he was supposed to teach the lesson, I got an email from him. He wrote that he didn't think he should teach the lesson, because he wasn't feeling very "contented" himself. So I encouraged him to pick a different lesson to teach, and I let him know how glad I was that he recognized that he could not effectively teach the teens a lesson he had not learned himself.

Part Three of this series can be found here: Teaching Adults

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