The Top 5 Needs of Teens

Giving must be more than wrapping presents and an act we do during the holidays or on birthdays. Children (of all ages, even adults) need to receive gifts throughout the year. Not the ones with shiny paper, perfect bows, or stuffed gift bags. Presents that can't be bought like blessings offered throughout the Scripture are more meaningful. Gary Smalley and John T. Trent's The Blessing encourages us to give a meaningful touch, a spoken message, some expression of high value, a statement about a special future, and a sense of active commitment. What wonderful gifts!

A Gallup Youth Survey of teens 13 to 17 years of age asked them what they considered most basic to their emotional, social, physical, and spiritual well-being. The top five needs these adolescents revealed included:

1. To Be Trusted

Being trusted does several things for a person. If the trust is given, the individual requesting it feels validated. It indicates that there is an acceptable relationship, an anticipated outcome for the future. Hearing "I trust you," suggests that there is a level of vulnerability that allows for mutual expression of fears and "okay-ness" with the request at hand. With teenagers, the gift of trust is offered for specific events and activities. Parents rarely give trust carte-blanche. We are constantly looking for reassurance that understanding, agreements, and behaviors are congruent to our expectations.

The question is not, "Why should I trust you?" The response needs to be specific regarding what teenagers need to do to be trustworthy. Give a list of your expectations and a "to do" list of what you are looking for that would make them more trustworthy in your eyes. The list might include "Call me from your friend's house when you arrive," "Be home by 10:30 p.m. not 10:40 p.m.," "Don't go places that would embarrass you, your family, or your God."

2. To Be Safe

Teenagers live in a scary world. Even though it is the same place we live, they are closer to the battle line of poor choices, temptations, "freaks," and pressures to achieve. It doesn't seem that students enjoy life as much as they used to, nor do they feel the safety that our generation experienced. As parents we don't feel that the outside world is safe enough either.

Teenagers are bombarded with the risks and impact of poor choices. The ecstasy of some drugs, the rush of sexual relationships and pornography, the capacity to drive fast, the need to be different coupled with the availability of "trouble," and the busyness of today's family increase the chances of disaster happening with our children.

An increasing number of students mention that it is "cool to go along with the crowd" and "I can handle anything." The truth is that they want to be safe but haven't learned how to be "cool" or "okay" without having someone to blame for not allowing them to do the unacceptable or questionable activity. Be their excuse or "the bad guy." Give them the security that your marriage will last forever and withstand the tests of time. Let them use your cell phone when they are away on dates in case they need to call you. (Not the rest of the world!) When they are going to be out late say, "We'll leave the lights on!" (This was what my parents did for me, and I was apprehensive about leaving the house without hearing it!)

3. To Be Loved

Ironic, isn't it? Occasionally, the behaviors, moods, and responses from teenagers suggest that they are perfectly fine with being unlovable. The obnoxious and annoying behaviors, unappreciative attitudes, projection of self-entitlement, and sarcastic sense of humor are just ordinary ways for developing students to express themselves. These odd ways of asking for love and attention repulse some adults.

Our job as parents is to love without conditions and teach them the "ways" to go. This two-fold approach of love and teaching addresses teenagers' need to be loved. They can be rejected by their peers, criticized by the general adult population, and ripped apart by the insensitivity of other students, but they should never be unloved by the most important person in their life - their parent.

Find ways to express daily love to your teenager. Tell them they are the greatest. Recognize their brave attempts to try new things or take stands for what is right. Discover what matters to her and make it the focus of your next conversation. Speak to them often about what your dreams are for their lives and what you like about their personality. Give them the blessing with your words, affection, and prayers.

4. To Be Heard

Teachers talk to them. Preachers preach at them. The computer exchanges information but never "hears" their real needs or emotions. Coaches bark out demands for the next play. The printed pages of magazines, books, and newspapers give a one-dimensional form of communication. Even the 1-900 numbers don't listen to their responses.

Teenagers have this incredible need to be heard. Their opinions, ideas, suggestions, insights, and emotions are packed full of words and feelings that parents need to hear. Listening demonstrates a true commitment to love and communicates value. Taking the time to pay attention will make a lifelong impact.

Unfortunately, parents judge whether or not the student is listening by whether or not they do what we've asked. This can be tricky because sometimes they hear us but don't comply or respond quickly enough. Students regularly form an opinion about their parents' listening by the same standard. Find ways to demonstrate and communicate that you truly do hear what your child is saying.

5. To Find Purpose in Life

The beginning of the second semester of each school year offers huge challenges. The younger adolescent feels more mature and has an increased connection to the teenage peer group. Fifteen and 16-year-olds anticipate new freedoms like driving, dating, and gaining some newfound privileges. The older teenager is considering young adult choices, like college and vocations. Each developmental phase carries with it a variety of purposes and discoveries that are as unpredictable as holiday presents from disconnected relatives.

Take caution when you are discussing the future of your teenager. Realize that their purpose in life may not be the one you would pick for them. Remember our job is to teach and love them and not choose for them. It is understandable and appropriate to share your hopes and dreams for them; but, ultimately, it has to be their decision. Talk often with them about their thoughts and ideas concerning their future.

A second chance? Thirty minutes of your time? A day to go fishing with you? A word of encouragement? What do you need to give your teenager today? Don't spend a dime on it! Don't wrap it up! Go give it to them - today.

Tony Rankin is a Christian therapist and a freelance writer who contributes regularly to various publications.


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