Navigating teenagers: Catch them doing good

The 'cool recipe' is so fickle because it’s all about externals over which our teens have no control.

Why is it just so easy to catch teenagers doing wrong? If it’s not their tone of voice, it’s what they’re saying, wearing, not wearing or doing or not doing. We need to catch ourselves and actively be on the lookout for when they express their nobler selves, and they do, they really do. No teenager pays much attention to the stuck-record nagging, it triggers irritation, not positive reflection.

Defining cool

My classes recently defined cool for me. The recipe is timeless: popularity, looks, sporting, money, dress sense (read money) and a "little bit naughty,” (read attitude). I then asked them to tell me what else they admired among their fellow teens. They really battled, but all the classes came up with exactly the same recipe: sense of humour, integrity, the ability to say no, friend to all, individuality, enthusiasm and effort. It’s at this level that we must come in.

The 'cool recipe' is so fickle because it’s all about externals over which our teens have no control.

Their second definition, which we dubbed the “new cool,” is closer to our true humanity; that over which we do have control.

It is here that we are created, “In the image of God.” Yes, some teens seem to be doing a great job of hiding it, but it is there and must be brought out. In particular we need to notice and acknowledge when they show the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

Our first impression may be a powerful one because of our personality, looks, charm, extroversion.

The lasting impression however, is created by your strength of character and the extent to which you live out the Fruit of the Spirit.

The earlier adolescent who does not “attract,” with their first impression, tends to view themselves as “lesser.” Work gently to change their perception.

Complement sincerely and specifically, drop those treacly generalisations, “you did so well!” Much to their horror, I make public recognition of teens who have acted nobly. It doesn’t make them a nerd and in their heart-of-hearts they know it and applaud generously.

We must take the lead in catching them doing good.

Remember that what succeeds will be repeated. This year for our weekly “family meal” we are going to start off by saying something that we admire about each other before eating.

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Author: Gavin Fish
Blessed with a long-suffering wife, two adult children, a daughter-in-law, a bicycle (wannabee road cyclist) and uncountable bonsai, Gavin was in education for 34 years, the last 12 of which as Principal of Fish Hoek High School. He is steeped in the traditions of Scripture Union and a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ and now works in his community as a Life Coach with a heart for teens, young adults and their parents.
Published: 4 September 2023
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