Photo by Hunter Newton
A few weeks ago I was speaking for a group of new high school grads a couple of times, and just before the first session I met some of the students. One guy (we’ll call him Tim) introduced himself, then asked what I thought was a good name for a boy, “because my girlfriend’s pregnant and we’re having a boy.”
Gulp. It was a funny question, but afterward he looked serious. I’ve known enough pregnant youth group kids to not be too shocked by that reality, but it’s not often that a student makes that part of their introduction. I think in response I said something like, “Wow, you have more than a few transitions coming up then, huh?” Tim soberly nodded his head, then his friend butted in and introduced himself. During my talk—based on making the transition to college—I tried to be more sensitive to those making other kinds of transitions, like to work or family responsibilities. I kept thinking about this guy who was going to exit high school and launch into fatherhood and wondering how it felt to be in the room with his college-bound friends launching into totally different freedoms.
Afterward Tim came up to me again, so I took the opportunity to ask more questions. I asked him when the baby was due. He smiled and said, “Oh, I was lying about that. I just wanted to see if you were a jerk. You’re not. Thanks for taking me seriously.”
Wow. At first I was a little ticked off at being so naïve. But then I realized that essentially, Tim was asking, “Can I trust you?” A test, or maybe a defense mechanism set up to block out adults who aren’t worth listening to. The joke was on me, but I passed that first test and he let me see a small part of his “real” world. A jerk of a dad is part of that picture. Of course he’d be suspicious of someone like me.
In nearly every interaction we have with teenagers we get some version of the “Can I trust you?” test. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others. Sometimes we never know it’s a test. What’s important is that we take it—and them—seriously. For kids who are dying to be heard, the test is one small way we can speak trust and gain an opportunity to listen. What an honor.
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