# 1 Tip to Engage and Connect with Teens in 2015

Even before 2015 started, my inbox and Facebook newsfeed began to be inundated with articles and links to promises of a better year.

“30 days to a better you.”
“Get fit and feel great in 60 days.”
“10 Tips for being the best you in 2015.”
“How to Start Over in 2015.”
” 4.7 ways to have more pillow fights in 2015.”

Ok I exaggerated on that last one, but you get the point. These are not bad in and of themselves. In fact I signed up to receive emails or PDF’s on how to better myself in 2015 from three authors I enjoy.

Seeing all of these made me wondering, how many people actually finish or follow the 30 days, 60 days or 4.7 tips? I personally have not cracked open one of the three PDF’s I received promising to better my life in 2015 and it is already mid January.

When I think about building positive relationships with teens, or improving your teen program in 2015, I have just ONE tips. One idea. One thing you can do each day that will make a difference.

Be Intentional.

Thats It, it is that simple.

Let me give you a few examples of being Intentional:

If you volunteer with a youth program, do not show up thinking this is just another volunteer opportunity. Before you even arrive think about what you want to accomplish during your time, what you want to talk about, which teen you might want to follow up with. Be Intentional. Develop a plan for how you are going to serve and connect with teens during your time. “I am going to follow up with Johnny tonight because he was having a rough day last week.” “I am going to learn 5 teens names tonight and something they are interested in.” “I am going to help greet and sign in all of the teens tonight.”

If you run a teen program, do not let the days fly by and fall into the same old routine. Be Intentional each day. Plan a new fun activity each day or week to engage the teens. Think about the teens you have not seen in a while and give them a call/text/email to see how they are doing. If a teen tells you about a TV show, movie or song they like, intentionally take time to check it out. Next time you see them mention it and start a conversation about why they like it.

These are little things that show the teen that you were thinking about them. Not just in that moment but before you even saw them. Before you or they even arrived.

If you are a parent of a teen, don’t just react and hope your teen will attempt to connect with you. Be Intentional. When you first see them after school, Instead of getting on them right away to do their school work, take time to ask them how their day was and truly LISTEN. Surprise them with their favorite snack or trip to their favorite restaurant. Ask them their opinion on topics ranging from daily news to decisions you are making that effect the family. Instead of harping on them about the music they listen to, the show they are watching or game they are playing, take time to ask them why they enjoy it. Sit down and have them teach you the game or watch the show with them.

Just doing something together, something they enjoy, can be a great bonding experience. It is an opportunity to come down to their level for a change and intentionally engage with them.

It shows that you truly care about them and that you are listening and paying attention to them. This is HUGE with teens and they love it.

Over my years of working with teens and consulting on teen programs, I have been blown away by the positive changes that occur when staff and volunteers choose to Be Intentional each day. One of the coolest, sometimes unexpected benefits of this practice is the effect it has on the adult. When you have a specific intention in your mind and you accomplish that, it makes you feel more engaged. It turns your volunteer time from, “I am spending an hour a week serving,” to “I just made an impact.”

In our busy world with tips and tricks to do everything, just chose to do this one thing this year. Be intentional in building relationships with the teens in your life and see where it takes you.

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make a Big Difference in Teens Lives

Every time I speak with youth workers or parents, I continually share the one idea that I feel will make a difference in teens lives today. One concept that if you use it with your teens over time, you will see a difference. A difference in your relationship. A difference in their respect for you. And a difference in the impact you can have on their lives.

The great thing about this ideas is how simple it is. Are you ready for it?

BE INTENTIONAL!

Simple right? Let me unpack this concept for you.

If you work with teens, before they even arrive for your program, have a plan in mind. I don’t just mean your program plan.

For Youth workers it looks like:

  • Having intentional plans about specific youth you want to connect with. Maybe a teen who you know had a bad day the previous day. Or one who had a big test today. Or had a court appearance. Seriously make a list of the teens you want to connect with and keep it in your pocket.
  • Have specific conversations in mind that you want to have with teens. About character traits. About events happening in pop culture that might connect to elements of your program.
  • Think about teens who you can complement them on what they have been doing well recently. Or just share how much you appreciate them.
  • Intentionally plan fun! We often get stuck in our program goals and forget to have fun. Teens want to have fun. Plan jokes, fun Minute to Win it games, Minute mysteries, icebreakers etc.
  • Be intentional with your staff and volunteers.
    • Have staff review a list of teens in your program. Identify which ones you know well and which ones you don’t. Then intentionally make efforts to reach out to the ones you don’t know as well. Make it your goal that day to learn one thing about one of those teens. If you continually do this, over a month you will know a decent amount about that teen.
    • If you volunteer with teens make sure you connect with the staff or other volunteers briefly to develop a game plan for the day. Who is going to lead discussions, who is leading activities, what topics may have been discussed on days when you were not present.

For Parents it can look like:

  • Intentionally make plans to hang out with your teen and do something they want to do. Schedule dates with them. My father-in law did this with all four of his daughters. He frequently made time to connect with each of them one-on-one, to listen to them and to connect with them. I have already started building daddy-daughter dates into my routine with my two girls even though they are not teens yet.
  • Write down the values and characteristics you want your teens to have and then figure out creative ways to introduce those to your teens. If you want them to be problem solvers invite them to help you the next time you have to fix an issue in your house, but let them come up with the solutions and try them out. If you want them to have a giving spirit, include them in conversations about what charities your family gives donations to. Even better, give them a set amount of money that they can donate to a charity of their choice. Walk alongside them as they investigate which charity they want to support.
  • Pay attention to what their favorite snacks are, TV shows, Movies or magazines. And when they are having a rough day or week, surprise them with their favorite snack or magazine.
  • Ask how their day was and truly listen. If they don’t respond be more specific, ask about a certain class, or teacher, or test, or activity they participate int.

Chap Clark in his book Hurt makes a powerful statement regarding adolescence today. He says, “we as adults who care have a long way to go to penetrate the layers of protection that keep us from being one more disappointment (to teens) in a world filled with them. But I am convinced that we are welcome there, if we mean it. And they need us to mean it.”

Do whatever you can not to be a disappointment to the teens in your life. I believe it all starts with being intentional.