The Power of Affirming Words in the Life of Your Young Person
“When you’re a teenager, you’re always in trouble…” She was speaking as a recent graduate of our youth group and was trying to give me a little insight as to how most teenagers feel. I thought I would put her theory to the test. A week or so later, in front of a gathering of several hundred teenagers I asked this question, “How many of you feel like someone is always on your case—like you’re always trouble?” Now, mind you, this was in a group of pretty good kids—most of them had good attitudes and sincere hearts. Never have I seen such immediate and unanimous response from teenagers! Every single hand went straight up into the air. An unsuspecting eye might have thought we were at a charismatic healing convention!
I must say, while we all laughed briefly, my heart went out in that moment. Here I was staring in the faces of some of the greatest Christian teenagers in the country and yet they apparently felt like failures. I mean, these kids dress right, live right, give, win souls, serve, and love the Lord! They are the creme of the crop, and yet when asked directly, they felt like blots on society!
Let’s put ourselves in their shoes for a moment. Let’s say you’re fifteen years old. By now, there is solid, scientific proof that your brain is 50-65% into a process of tearing itself apart and rebuilding itself—so your gray matter is at an all time high. In addition to this your body has radically changed in the past two years. Your feet are twice the size they were, your braces have added a new dimension to your identity crisis, your complexion is in full bloom, your life is far busier and more demanding that it’s ever been (in other words, we’re not watching Blue’s Clues and peeling crayolas any more!), you are highly insecure about who you are in the eyes of others, and you are learning more about life than your half-adult brain can possibly assimilate,. To top it all off, the whole world seems to notice every single thing you do wrong—immediately, and proceeds to jump on your head and verbally beat you to a pulp for it!
Now, I’m not excusing sin or saying we should lighten up on dealing with problems—that’s all a part of being the right authority. But go with me for a moment—I wouldn’t want that life again for anything in the world! Would you? Do you remember those days? Let’s face it, growing up during these teen years, while wonderful and fun and memorable—to some degree these years were just flat painful! I don’t know too many people who would love to be that insecure, that awkward, and that “in trouble” again!
Do you remember the power of positive words to your heart when you were that age? Can you say, “Cool water to a dehydrated hostage?” “All you can eat buffet to a starving refugee?” When someone came along and told you what you were doing right or recognized something good—it was like wind beneath the wings of an eagle—fresh strength, renewed desire, courage to press on! I remember those positive words! Fortunately God gifted me with parents, pastors, and loving mentors who shared them often. How about your teenager?
The simple truth is, most teens feel inundated with rebukes and are starving for encouragement. They feel that everything they do even minutely wrong is in the spotlight, yet the things they do right are overlooked and even unnoticed. We adults are all too good at picking out the wrong and quickly correcting it, but we expect the right, and therefore we barely notice it. In fact we often completely disregard the learning, the spirit, and the effort that it required. How sad. We so easily allow those gigantic spiritual victories to slip by unrecognized!
God’s Word says in Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” I want to challenge you to take that verse and make it a central part of your relationship with young people—especially your own. Of course they will mess up. Of course they will fail. Of course they need our correction. But far more than that, they need to hear when they got it right! They need our applause, our smiles, our pat on the back! They need to hear, “Son, I’m really proud of you and here’s why!” They need a note detailing all the things we noticed that they did right! They need our prayers rehearsing all the good things we see in them. They need a personal lunch, eye to eye, when you look deep into their hearts (past all the gray matter) and say, “You are such an exceptional person and here’s why…” Oh how they need that! Are you giving it?
More often than not, most of our Christian kids are getting life right. But more often than not, they feel like they are failing. Sometimes we can blame the Devil for discouraging them. But sometimes we must point the finger squarely at ourselves for not acclaiming the good! If you want to motivate your teenager from the heart to do the right thing, praise him, applaud her. Tell them how proud you are of the good that you see. Fan the flames of spiritual living!
How often? Ten to one. Try saying ten positive things for every one rebuke. Don’t stop your loving, firm rebukes, but offset them with ten affirming, encouraging statements! That’s tougher than it sounds, but it will make a huge difference in the heart of your teen.
So, join me in my quest to change the perception of the younger generation. How motivated would you be to live right if you felt that it didn’t matter? The next time I ask that question to a group of teens, I hope fewer hands go up, not because we’re slacking off in discipline, but because we’re overdosing on encouragement!
Written by Cary Schmidt
Originally Printed in the September 2006 Baptist Voice
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