|THRILLER! What's up with this photo?|
When my husband and I were first engaged, his friend was ecstatic. "You guys make the perfect couple," she explained to Phillip. "She's cute, and you're there."
Now, my husband may not be cute. But he's definitely got something even better going for him.
Phillip is cool. Just ask the kids in our youth group. Phillip can hardly log onto Facebook without getting chat requests from three or four different teens vying for his attention.
It is Phillip's cool factor more than anything else that landed us one of the most coveted jobs in our town. Once a month, Phillip and I chaperone the homeschool teen dances. Tonight just happens to be one of our dance nights, so in just three hours, Phillip and I are going to put on our craziest dancing gear, get under those black lights, and have ourselves a (hands-free) boogy fest. Of course, we're also going to see that there's no cuddling in corners or smoking in bathrooms, but in addition to making sure the students at the dance stay safe and respectable, Phillip and I expect to have a lot of fun.
I may not be cool enough to rap to "Ice Ice Baby" like Phillip does while flapping around on the dance floor like an undulating fish. But I don't even break into a sweat during the Macarena (which I remember way back from junior high), and I can do "Thriller" like no one else.
I have to laugh when I realize that I used to be scared of teenagers (even when I was one). The one thing I told God I'd never do was youth ministry. If God wasn't laughing when I signed up to spend a year ministering at a live-in counseling home for troubled teens, I know he was guffawing by the time I married my youth-pastor husband.
As it turns out, I'm pretty sure there are lots of adults out there who don't really know how to interact with teens. Since I've been in this whole youth ministry thing for nearly a decade now, I'm going to be presumptuous enough to give you a few pointers. (Please note that I am another decade away from considering myself an actual expert. In ten years I will have three teenaged boys living under my roof. If that doesn't make me an expert, nothing will.)
1. Remember that uncool is ok. At the girls home I worked at I was wearing a nice, comfy, oversized Calvin Klein sweatshirt. It had been given to me as a hand-me-down. I wasn't thinking about brand names at all, and I admit it was really ratty and faded by the time I got it. "Look at Alana's shirt!" one of the teens shouted, then asked her friend, "Do you remember when Calvin Klein used to be so cool?!" We all had a good laugh at both my ten year-old fashion statement, and at my young friend's unintentional insult.
2. Smile. I use this one a lot at the homeschool dances. I smile when I tell that girl to scoot off her boyfriend's lap. I smile when I tell that boy to stop trying to suffocate his date during the slow dances. I smile when I ask that girl sitting in the corner by herself if she's having any fun at all. The teens don't always smile back. But they know (hopefully) that I care about them.
3. Don't be a poser. Ok, I'm probably dating myself because I don't think the word "poser" has been in vogue since my high school days (please refer to suggestion number 1). But teens will have absolutely no respect for you if they find you bending over backwards to be on their level. Who really wants to go to church to watch a 35 year-old youth pastor preach with his pants sagging so far down he has to walk like a penguin? And I guarantee you that no one in the youth group wants to see me come to a meeting in skinny pants.
On the other hand, feel free to jump off that high horse. Teens want to know that you are real, and genuine, and just as prone to mistakes as they are.
4. When in doubt, talk about bodily functions. I call this my "can't beat 'em, join 'em" rule. It doesn't really help me get any spiritual points across during youth group. But it's kind of fun to see the teen's scandalized faces when the usually-demure youth pastor's wife says the word "fart."
5. Lastly, if you still find yourself having a hard time relating to teens, you could always learn how to dance Thriller. Even if you don't score all that many cool points, you'll probably have a lot of fun.
Just like I'll be having three hours from now.
What about you? Do you have a hard time interacting with teenagers? Do you have any advice to share? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)