Four Words That Can Transform Your Conversations With Teenagers

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Ever been in a conversation with a teenager where you weren’t sure what to say next?

Maybe it was because of a surprising statement or shocking word choice. Maybe it was because you suddenly heard a secret, something incredible or something tragic. Or maybe it was because you got hit with a hard question.

Over on the YS Blog we shared three things you can say when you aren't quite sure how to respond. When faced with tough—and real—questions, most of the time we need to “put pastoral care before apologetics.”

Our friend Andrew Zirschky at the Center for Youth Ministry Training urges based on his own research, “If we are going to respond adequately to the doubting experiences of youth, we need to ensure that young people … have patient, understanding companions who can guide and care for them through the twists and turns of the journey of doubt.”

So with that theme of companionship in mind, here are the four words we think every parent, leader, and mentor should keep handy in their back pocket for moments like these:

“I don’t know, but …”

There are a handful of great ways to complete that sentence.

I don’t know, but … 

… that's an important question.

… let’s find out.

… I wonder that, too.

… I bet you’re not the first person to ask that.

… who do you think we could ask about that?

… I wonder what stirred up that question just now?

… God can handle that question.

… thanks for sharing it with me.

You might, of course, have an answer to the question. But even if you do, it might be wise to step back and probe a bit before unleashing your “right” answer. It might turn out that being heard is more important than the answer itself, at least at the moment.

I don’t know, but …

What else have you found helpful in responding to teenagers’ hard questions?

What other endings to that sentence would you add to this list?

Want a doubt resource for your students this year?

Can I Ask That