Top Tips for Teenagers
Earlier this year, I was invited to speak to a group of parents and teenagers about navigating the transition from being a teenager to being an adult. I thought it was a great idea.
Transitions are so important to think about and the transition from teens to adulthood may be one of the most significant we all go through. It’s an exciting time – part of God’s plan for us to mature into the adults he has created us to be – but it can also be a difficult time. As a guy in my early 30s, I’m now well through that transition (and would quite like some teaching on how to transition well into mid-life!). I certainly don’t think that I navigated my transition into adulthood perfectly, but I found it really interesting and enjoyable to look back and reflect on the lessons that I learnt.
In the session, I gave four pieces of advice to teenagers and three pieces of advice to parents and other adults. I deliberately addressed the advice directly to each group but also knowing the other group would be overhearing. It’s good for us to hear both sides of the coin.
Here’s a summary of the advice I gave for teenagers – addressed to teenagers. I’ll follow up with a second post with my advice for parents and other adults.
For teenagers – Four lessons to learn
1. Learn to connect with Jesus.
You may not yet be a follower of Jesus, or you may have made a choice to follow Jesus at a young age but now you’re not so sure. My advice to you is don’t let anything stop you exploring the claims of Jesus. You may feel uninterested. You may be concerned about the impact following Jesus would have on your life. You may have been hurt by Christians – I know that’s a sadly common reality, and I’m sorry if it’s been your experience. But none of these things – our level of interest, the potential impact on our lives, even the ways Christians have hurt us – change the reality of whether Jesus is who he says he is and whether what he says is true. If he is, and if it is, it is the most important thing ever. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the claims of Jesus. Maybe for you that means doing an Alpha Course or Christianity Explored at a church. Maybe you just need to open a Bible and read Mark’s Gospel to see what Jesus says for himself.
If you are already a follower of Jesus, learn to connect with Jesus. It’s easy to be a Christian but not to really connect personally with Jesus, to have responded to the gospel but not develop a relationship with Jesus. I know that because I did that for many years. Everything changed in my mid-teens when I did something radical: I gave up watching Neighbours (the now-resurrected Australian soap). Instead, each day, I used that time to connect with Jesus. I started to read the Bible, to pray, and to worship in my bedroom. I began to develop a personal relationship with Jesus, and it was transformative, laying a foundation that saw me through ups and downs in the years to come. This sort of disciplined, deliberate connection with God is vital – it’s what Jesus calls us to (Matthew 6:6) and what he exemplified in his life on earth (Mark 1:35). If you want to start to connect with Jesus personally but you’re not sure how, ask another Christian to help you – a parent, youth leader or member of your church.
2. Learn to expect things (other than Jesus) to disappoint you.
It’s easy to look to the wrong things to satisfy us. You might have a vision of what your life in adulthood will be like. There might be lots of good things you’re hoping for. It’s easy to look to those to satisfy you, but that, and you’ll find they’ll always let you down.
I learnt this the hard way. I thought that by 30 I would have a decent job, I would have accomplished some stuff, I’d be earning money, have somewhere nice to live and life would be great. I got to 30 and most of those things had become a reality, but they didn’t satisfy like I thought they would. Multiple degrees, a worthwhile job, publishing books, speaking to large crowds – all of these things I thought would satisfy me didn’t.
And when that happened, it wasn’t something going wrong, it was things going right because those things were never designed to satisfy me. There’s only one thing that can truly satisfy us – and it’s not actually a thing, it’s a person. What every human heart truly longs for, deep down, is intimate relationship with God. Everything else will let us down. God never will. Prioritise relationship with Jesus, connect with him personally, put him first, look to him to meet your heart’s desire. That becomes the foundation from which to enjoy all of God’s good gifts, remembering that it is not the gifts that are the greatest blessing, but the giver himself.
3. Learn to prioritise friendship.
Second to Jesus himself, I think friendship may be the greatest blessing that God gives us in this lifetime. I’m talking about real friendship – deep connections with genuine, mutual love and sharing of life together.
It’s important to realise this now. Lots of people find they have lots of friends in their teen years, but then they enter their 20s and gradually lose these friends until they reach 30 and have few if any real friends. Friendship takes deliberate effort, especially in adulthood.
This is another thing that Jesus calls us to (John 15:12-18) and that he illustrates himself – Jesus was a man of friendship. Sometimes people joke that Jesus’s greatest miracle was having 12 close friends at the age of 30. It’s a joke, but it’s also very insightful. It notices both that friendship is rare for adults and that Jesus was a man of friendship.
True friends will bring joy and laughter into your life. They’ll bring love and care. They’ll uphold you when life falls apart and celebrate with you when things go well. Friendship can bring more good into your life than the best job, best house, best car or any amount of money. Learn to prioritise friendship.
4. Learn to experience who you are.
Knowing who you are is vital. Identity – our sense of self – shapes how we think, feel and live. Many of us find our identities in wrong and unhelpful ways. We might allow our sense of self to be shaped by what other people think about us. Or we might allow our sense of self to be shaped by what we find inside – our feelings and our desires. Both of those are unhelpful ways to find our identity. The right way, the life-giving way, is to look to God and to receive our identity from him, to allow our sense of self to be shaped by what God says about us.
Knowing who you are is vital. But experiencing who you are is even more important. I learnt this the hard way. If you’d asked me in my 20s who I truly am, what my identity is, I could have easily listed off all the right answers about who God says I am as a Christian. But I wasn’t experiencing that reality. A series of mental health meltdowns and a season of Christian counselling helped me realise I was actually living with a really destructive identity where I was allowing an assumption of what other people thought about me to shape my sense of self: I had come to believe that I was a freak and weirdo and that nobody loved me or liked me.
I needed to learn to experience who I am. That’s what we all need. And that takes some deliberate effort and some hard work. It requires taking steps that slowly move truth from our head to our heart – things like meditating on Scripture, praying our identity, and declaring it in song (there’s a playlist to help with that). Maybe you want to do that but you’re not sure where to start. Why not ask another Christian to help you? Learn to experience who you are.
There’s lots more that could be said, but these are my stab at top tips for teenagers. Maybe you’re a teenager and these can be useful to you. Maybe you know a teenager you could share this post with, or maybe these bits of advice can equip you as you seek to love and support the young people in your life.
And what about those of us involved in the lives of young people? I have three bits of advice for us too – three things we need to understand. Look out for that post soon.