Kids are bombarded by words these days, but what loud-and-clear teenage messages are they receiving in the process? Words have so much importance—often more than we realize. Words can wound, maybe even kill, but they also can affirm and build up. The teenage messages we convey as youth leaders can let kids know that they matter. The words we use can make a difference.
Here are 5 teenage messages kids need to hear from us as youth leaders:
1. God loves you, no matter what.
This is the most important truth of them all—and one we should keep repeating every single time we talk to teens. No matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’ll do, God will always love you. He loves you even if you’re the biggest sinner who ever walked the face of the earth. He loves you when you’re depressed and cutting yourself, he loves you when you’re having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, he loves you when you’re angry all the time, he loves you whether you’re gay or straight or confused. … Absolutely nothing you could ever do would make God stop loving you. Let’s tell teens that and affirm God’s love for them again and again.
2. I love you.
It may sound too cheesy, but do you know how many teens long to hear someone say this to them? Show kids you love them by spending time with them and investing in a relationship with them. But don’t forget to actually say the words as well: “Hey man, I love you, you’re like a little brother to me, you know that? I love you girl, I’m so blessed to know you and to have you in my life.” Say the words and watch them make a difference.
3. I forgive you.
Teens will mess up. At one point or another, they will make a mistake, cost you money, or end up hurting you. How you react to this can have a huge impact on them. The words kids need to hear are, “I forgive you” (possibly followed by “and I still love you!”). Teens need to know they have the room to make mistakes and that messing up every now and then is okay.
In his book Generation iY, Tim Elmore paints a startling picture of the current generation of teens. One thing he states is that this generation is spoiled. On one hand, their parents are usually overprotective and hovering, but on the other hand they’re afraid to set clear boundaries, deny their kids’ requests, and simply say no.
Teens need boundaries, they need rules, and they need to hear you say no. As a youth leader, it’s important to remember that you aren’t their buddy or BFF; you’re their leader. Kids follow you, not the other way around. That means setting boundaries and lovingly saying no when teens cross them. You may feel as if you’re hurting kids by saying no, but in the end it will be better for them … and for you.
5. Hang in there and don’t quit.
Barnabas is the best example of an encourager in the Bible. What strikes me as I read about him encouraging young believers is his message to them:
…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (Acts 14:22, NIV)
Sending encouraging teenage messages doesn’t mean telling kids everything’s gonna be okay, that things will look better tomorrow, or that other people have it way worse. Barnabas encouraged young believers by telling them the truth: Struggles and trials are part of life as a Christian. Just hang in there and don’t give up. And, I’d like to add, you’re not alone. Those are words all teens need to hear.
Being a teenager has never been easy, and it sure isn’t nowadays. Teens need our support and encouragement, both in their everyday struggles and in their faith. But let’s encourage them with the truth, not with platitudes. Through our teenage messages, let’s help kids continue in their faith, hang in there, and not quit.
Can you think of other teenage messages kids need to hear? What words or phrases do you use to affirm young people?