How to Answer High Schooler’s Biggest Questions with Action

Would you believe that the teen checking their phone during small group or strolling in late to your service has some questions stirring inside?

We’re not talking about “how many people will respond to my latest snap?” kind of questions. We mean big, deep, questions.

Questions whose answers can literally change the course of a teen’s life. Problems that demand to be solved, and ultimately will be—either by a teen’s own inner voice, their peers, or maybe even you.

Resource: Playing for Keeps by Reggie Joiner, Elizabeth Hanson and Kristen Ivy

First things first. To answer the question you have to know the question.

These big, internal wonderings will vary from age group to age group, but not so much between individuals. Here’s what you’re looking at grade by grade.

Freshmen ask: Where do I belong?

Sophomores ask: Why should I believe? and Why can’t I do this or that?

Juniors ask: How can I matter?

Seniors ask: What will I be?

Man, if those thoughts don’t bring up a few feelings from your younger days . . .

High school is all about refining abilities, discovering uniqueness and developing a sense of purpose. Figuring out where you fit in the world is a universal struggle for most any teenager. And what they do in the midst of this struggle affects the way they pursue community, live out their virtues and contribute to a greater mission. In other words, these are make-and-break-years in terms of building a strong character.

Thankfully, research gives us some specific ways we can help. It just takes three little words in action: Mobilize Their Potential. 

Mobilize a freshman’s potential through connection.

This guy is looking for a tribe. Help him find one by connecting him with other teens who have similar interests, hobbies and passions. Encourage big goals and silly fun. Then, listen carefully. Pay attention to what’s said and what’s left unsaid. Stalk him without hiding behind the bushes. Let him pick up on the fact that you’re working hard to know who he is and where he is finding acceptance.

Mobilize a sophomore’s potential with questions of your own.

She’s testing every boundary and pushing every limit. Believe it or not, she’s taking an important step toward becoming a mature, independent adult—one with her own set of standards and values. Embrace her skepticism and you may just find that she leaves her attitude at the door. Open your ears. Ask thoughtful questions as you work, with patience and grace, to lead her toward the truth.

Mobilize a junior’s potential by providing opportunities.

He doesn’t want to wait until he’s “old enough.” He’s ready to make a difference right now. And this year is a sweet spot for focusing on others. His hormones are regulated, peer pressure is way down and the future isn’t really a concern just yet. Look for ways that he can lead and serve—in the home, church and community. Show him how to hone his skills and prove to others that he can be trusted.

Mobilize a senior’s potential by helping them dream.

She’s just about all grown up. As the year comes to a close it will feel, to you both, like an exciting and scary time. Prep her for the decisions ahead by encouraging experiences and simplifying her options. Practice phrases like “Why don’t you talk to so-and-so? He does that for a living.” and “Why don’t you give her a call? She went to school there, too!” or even “Hey, we don’t have to decide today. Let’s talk about something else over ice cream.”

After all, high schoolers crave relationship with adults. Your positive influence and purposeful interactions go a long way toward provide a place to belong, a reason to believe, a way to matter and a future to look forward to.

8 Do’s and Don’ts for Interacting with High Schoolers on Social Media

Social media is the place where all the world’s a stage and you—a grown adult—find yourself playing understudy to the next generation. Hey, we get it. As soon as you get a grasp on Facebook or Instagram they announce another big change. And new social media platforms are popping up all the time.

You might be tempted to just stay away from social media, but then you’d miss out on some big opportunities for connection.

Related Reading: 3 Ways to Help High Schoolers Relate to God 

If you want to grow in relationship with your teen, you have to be willing to meet them when, where and how they need you. That includes social media. But before we can tackle how, we need to start with why.

Why do teens love social media?

Today’s high schoolers are busy. Sports and extracurriculars, AP courses, after-school jobs, internships, volunteer activities and SAT prep more-than fill up a semester. A scroll through Instagram gives students a chance to relax, breathe and maybe even laugh a little.

Social media isn’t just a means to community in the eyes of of a teen. It is community. When you choose to value community on their terms you set yourself up as a guide for positive social media experiences.

So we’re here to offer you a few do’s and don’ts for the road ahead.

Social Media Do’s:

Do encourage freedom.

Giving teens free reign of the internet might scare you—and it should. That’s why it’s important to set boundaries and enforce rules. Still, we can’t forget that high schoolers are merely adults in training. Allowing appropriate levels of freedom, based on age, enables you to coach moral abilities.

Do choose your battles wisely.

As students move from freshmen to seniors you should see more and more rationality and logic emerge. Oh happy day! Instead of hurrying the process to perfection, work with your teen help them grow in areas that seem to be the most challenging for them personally. When it comes to social media, address issues only after you consider their importance and how your correction may (or may not) help.

Do open their eyes to world.

Teens can tend to a bit self-focused. And social media, with it’s profile pictures and selfie posts, simply fuel the all-about-me flame. So fight fire with fire. Set the example for what it means to do social media right—and point students to other kids their own age who are making a difference online.

Do put everything into perspective.

High schoolers ask themselves questions like “Is everyone looking at me? Do they like me? Am I even being true to myself?” With instant likes and comments–or the lack thereof–social media sure is quick to judge. Talk regularly about the bigger picture, and about things that really matter. And do your best to encourage truth over a desire for popularity.

Social Media Don’ts

Don’t assume maturity.

With freedom comes responsibility, right? Unfortunately, we can’t trust that teens—who often struggle with long-term thinking—fully grasp what it means to be responsible on the internet. Make sure your social-media permission slip comes with a big warning paragraph and regular reminders of the fact that the internet is forever.

Don’t be merely a watchdog.

Teens are motivated to make good choices in the future when you catch them doing good in the present. So look for the good online. When you witness a kind comment, brag away. And remember that you can monitor high schoolers with your eyes, yes, but also your ears. Listening is the best tool around.

Don’t be embarrassing.

Yeah, we know. Our mere existence as adults can sometimes cause high schoolers to slide under the table in shame. We’re not asking for miracles here, but simply intention and forethought. Don’t leave a comment, share a story or post a picture that might embarrass your teen. If you’re unsure of how they might feel, ask.

Don’t dismiss the power of your voice

As students inch toward graduation, they may also lean in relationally, discovering that they need you more than they thought. Make the most of your relationship by showing up—through comments, messages and texts, but also the old-fashioned way. Pick up the phone and call. Leave a voicemail if you have to. Be okay if all you get back is a text. Your voice—your actual voice—matters.

Additional Reading: Why Kids Need More Than Just Their Parents

And isn’t that what this balancing act is all about? An opportunity for you to use your voice for good in the life of a teen. The ear of a high schooler is quite the coveted thing.

 

6 Ways To Embrace The Physical Needs of a Toddler

Toddlers get a bad rap. Sure they whine and throw tantrums. But can you blame them? There’s a lot going on in those pint-sized bodies.

By age two your little one will grow to half their adult height—something they’ll spend the next two decades reaching. And their shape will morph from one designed for doing a whole bunch of nothing to one that can crawl, walk and run.

With the world at their fingertips, there’s still so much they can’t do. That’s where you come in.

Your Toddler’s Physical Needs

Toddlers bring to us four basic physical needs: independence, affection, rest and wide open spaces. Your toddler probably isn’t even aware of these longings. But now you are.

So let’s break it down, shall we?  Continue reading “6 Ways To Embrace The Physical Needs of a Toddler”

5 Things All First Graders Have in Common

Enter a room full of six- and seven-year-olds and you’re bound to spot one thing right away: the cute little gaps of kids who whistle while they talk. Forget calling it first grade. This is the Missing Teeth Club.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Here are five things all first graders have in common and what you can do to leverage this phase of life.

1. First Graders Talk Nonstop

With this group, breath takes a backseat to words. They say what they think and they talk without thinking. And then, only when absolutely necessary, they gulp in some air and start again. This pace of conversation leads to lots of laughs and . . . maybe some embarrassment too.

Related Reading: Important Mental and Physical Changes That Happen at Every Phase

What you can do: Make the most of your time together by leaving room for informal conversation—just let those kids ramble. You can figure out a lot about their life just by listening.

2. First Graders Love to Learn

Oh the wonder of letters, numbers, shapes and colors! These kids are writing names and tying shoes with determination. The ability to really focus in on an activity longer than ever before (we’re talking 15 minutes here, so don’t get any wild ideas) means challenges are simply a platform for discovery and growth.

What you can do: Engage your budding scientist by giving concrete examples during teachable moments. First graders genuinely desire understanding and soak up information like a sponge.

3. First Graders Need Structure (and boy, are they getting it!)

If kindergarten was a toe in the water, first grade is a jump off the diving board. School schedules mean less time for play, more early morning alarm clocks and a higher demand for focused attention. Thankfully, six- and seven-year-olds find their sweet spot in routine.

Related Reading: 3 Questions Every Elementary Schooler is Asking Themselves

What you can do: Encourage a solid 10-12 hours of sleep each night and some predictability during the day. Weekends offer the perfect opportunity for regularly scheduled time together. Try Saturday morning donuts or Sunday afternoon walks.

4. First Graders Crave Fun

Kids will be kids, the saying goes. And what a beautiful truth. Kids need room to run, a place to be loud and the freedom to act a little crazy. First graders are no exception. These are an optimistic, happy bunch, floating from play group to play group and finding all kinds of ways to use their imagination.

What you can do: Motivate your first grader by playing on their level. Let loose. Get goofy. The key to coaching moral abilities isn’t always hidden in heart-to-heart moments. It’s found in fun. That’s because first graders more easily express themselves through play.

Related Reading: How to Help Elementary Schoolers Develop Friends 

5. First Graders Want Your Attention

Those big, toothless grins tell us only half the story. While our first graders are a fun-loving crew, they’re also desperate for attention. The smiles of these little people-pleasers shout, “Hey! Look at me!” in a room full of competition.

What you can do: Answer the call by giving your undivided attention freely and as often as possible. Be proactive. Encourage your first grader at every turn and offer help when needed. You can instill purpose and capture their heart as you foster growth through relationship.

Life with a first grader is talkative, energetic and fun one. Remember, it’s just a phase. . . so don’t miss it.

Read Next: How to Help Elementary Schoolers Develop Friends

3 Easy Ways to Impact a Middle Schooler’s Identity and Faith

11, 12, 13. These are the awkward years. You remember right? Greasy hair, frizzy hair, don’t care. Weight gain and weight loss. You feel like an adult but everyone treats you like a kid.

Life for a middle schooler is rough. Forget trying to figure out who you are in Christ. Preteens are hanging onto the struggle bus for dear life.

Of course you now know that middle school drama, like everything else, won’t matter in a few short years. With the right approach you can help preteens focus on things that really count.

What is a Middle Schooler, Anyway?

The next time you take in an all-star performance from a middle schooler—complete with tears, of course—consider this: behind those emotions is a brain hard at work analyzing, processing and planning the next move.

What we’re talking about is a duality of sorts—the middle schooler you see and the middle schooler you don’t see. Continue reading “3 Easy Ways to Impact a Middle Schooler’s Identity and Faith”