by Arik Stewart, Youth & Business Pastor

At Hope Community Church we are currently in a sermon series entitled, “Listening to Others: The Way of Jesus in a Distracting World.” Though much of our dialogue about this topic has taken place corporately on Sunday mornings during the service, we have heard of numerous discussions elsewhere: smaller groups of us and pairs of us processing how to personally follow through with this calling to be better listeners. Many of us truly want to become more like Jesus, who was an excellent listener no matter who He was listening to.

In youth ministry, we recently asked the students how adults can be better listeners to teenagers. They were entirely willing to answer and even excited to do so, no doubt hoping that their responses might be relayed back to those who need to listen to them better. Parents, mentors, friends—anyone who interacts with our teenagers—listen to this:

Who listens well to teenagers?
When asked who listens to them well, our teens all had different answers. Some said their teachers listen to them well. It seems teachers teach best when they understand who they’re teaching. Some said their parents listen to them well; others, their siblings—those whom they see most often. Some noted close friends as confidants willing to hear them; others, their mentors—people within our church. The results were across the board, leading us to believe that anyone, no matter their role in a student’s life, can listen to them well by learning and practicing.

Who is the worst at listening to teenagers?
When asked who listens to them the worst, there was a similar response. The poorest listeners were not homogenous; they were all different. It seems that we all have the same opportunity to listen well to teenagers and the same potential to be poor listeners no matter who we are or what our relationship to them is.

What is a teenager’s advice to those who want to learn how to better listen to them?
Besides identifying who hears them well and who doesn’t, our students were willing to offer some advice for adult listeners to supplement the learning and equipping we’ve received from our sermon series. First, they said that adults need to get better at discerning when teens are initiating a deeper conversation. Those of us who have lived longer have had more practice in being vulnerable with others. Because of it, adults are often more willing than young people to be vulnerable. Teenagers, having had less practice, have to learn how to share their lives and their struggles with others. They don’t always know how best to initiate these conversations. A wise mentor can recognize when comments and tone of voice are indicative of a greater issue worth exploring and processing. The best way to know if a teen wants to be heard is to ask them questions—perhaps open-ended questions, as we’ve been learning.

Another bit of advice that was offered to adults wanting to listen well: remember that your adolescence took place in a different world than the one they are experiencing today. If you’re in your twenties, middle school was a decade ago. If you’re in your forties, even high school was at least two decades ago. Consider how much technology and culture develops in a single decade alone! The challenges our teens face with instant communication to the world and from the world via smartphones, tablets and computers are fairly new. Though some of us who are tech-savvy have some understanding of this, we will never fully understand what it is like to be a modern teenager unless we hear accounts first-hand of the struggles our students have in navigating this highly-opinionated, controversial social climate. To listen well, we need to understand the perspective they speak from. Truly, it’s different from our own.

This youth group conversation brought about great insights, but it was short. Perhaps you can practice listening well to teenagers by asking one of them how to listen to them well.