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.


3 Ways to Help High Schoolers Relate to God

One of the incredible things about a relationship with God is the way He has something unique to show us at every phase. Just like the same dad would respond differently to his three-year-old than his 13-year-old, our heavenly Father seems to respond in different ways at different times so we can better understand how completely He loves us. High school is a time to test the limits. They are ready for new experiences and desire greater independence from authority.

Related: Why Kids Need More Than Just Their Parents

Teenagers who think like philosophers look for principles that will give their story meaning. They relate to a God who guides their decisions, promotes love and forgiveness, empowers their freedom, enables them to live more fully, moves them toward a greater purpose and identity, and connects them to a bigger story.

Here are three ideas to help high schoolers mature in their relationship with God:

1. Give an application.

Don’t let the term philosopher confuse you. High schoolers want more than theory. They want to know what is helpful for life right now. The best way to help a high schooler remember what you say is to say something they can do this week. Then maybe post what you said to their social media channel mid-week just as a reminder. Continue reading “3 Ways to Help High Schoolers Relate to God”

Voices of the Phase Project :: Duffy Robbins

If anyone has gone deep in student ministry, it’s Dr. Duffy Robbins. A longtime friend of Orange, he serves as Professor of Youth Ministry at Eastern University and has a 35-year-history in working with teenagers. Duffy’s warm, conversational style and quick sense of humor have placed him in high demand for everything from Bible camps to music festivals. In fact, his resume spans so many publications, conferences and even international locations it might just give your brain whiplash. But what matters most to us at the Phase Project? Duffy Robbins doesn’t just work with teens—he truly loves building relationships with them.

Continue Watching: An Interview with Josh Shipp

Important Mental and Physical Changes That Happen at Every Phase

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses addressed the nation of Israel and made a passionate plea to “impress” on the hearts of children core truths that relate to God’s character. Some translations use the phrase “teach diligently.” The phrase can also be translated to mean “to cause to learn.” He wasn’t advocating a lecture-based, Torah literacy program where a teacher’s responsibility ended once they presented the content.

What Moses knew was this. The role of a leader is not to simply present accurate information. The role of a leader is to keep presenting, to keep translating, to keep creating experiences until someone has learned what they need to know.

So your job is simple.

Know what can be expected of them and know how they think so they will hear what you say and know what to do.


Mental: The brain has 100 billion neurons (roughly the number of stars in the Milky Way), more than at any other time in life

Physical: Double their birth weight and learning to roll over


Mental:Understands roughly 70 words and learning to walk

Physical:Has grown to half their adult height and can follow two-part instructions

Watch Now: They Grow Up So Fast


Mental: Has one quadrillion (a thousand trillion) connections between brain cells (twice as many as an adult)

Physical: Can stand on one foot, jump, walk backward, and pedal a tricycle Continue reading “Important Mental and Physical Changes That Happen at Every Phase”