Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hand Holding Can Save a Teenager's Life!

This is one of my favorite pictures of my wife.  She and my daughter Shelbee are walking hand in hand to the babysitting cabin during a weekend retreat at the Hills.  As Children, love, confidence and security are gained by the holding of a parent's hand.  The holding of a hand can silence a child's cry, strengthen a child's resolve, calm a child's fears or simply make a long walk more enjoyable--hand holding is powerful! 

As children pass into adolescence,  they begin to crave the holding of the opposite sex's hand more than that of their parent's hand.  Even so, parents should not take this as a signal that student's no longer desire or need the calming, strengthening, and enjoyable presence of adult figures in their lives (some teenagers still love holding their parent's hand when talking with them).  The opposite is actually true.  Students may not say it, but they really do want to hold hands with parents and adults as they travel the road towards adulthood. 

Before you start asking students if they would like to hold hands with you as you walk (please don't do this--creepy), here are a few ideas of how adults can hold hands with teenagers.  The short list is a starting place for any adult wishing to impact the life of a teenager:
  • Call them by name.  This one is difficult for all of us who work with large groups of teens.  Still, we need to encourage all the adults in our churches to call students by their name.  
  • Ask questions about their world and listen.  Even though they can put up barriers and you DO NOT want to push too hard (I know this from personal experience--go figure), ask students questions about their life, experiences, day, activities, etc.  Get to know them personally and they will let you into their world quickly and trust you with information few adults get to hear.
  • Share your stories with them.  This is not, "when I was a kid..." type stories that negates or minimizes the challenges today's teenage population faces.  It is, "when I was kid..." type stories that are invited by the student and demonstrate how you survived the ups and downs, victories and failures of growing up in your day.  NOTE:  You will know when it is time to share your story in relation to the story you are hearing the student tell--listen carefully.  In other words, don't force it!
  • Be present in the life of students.  The notion of quality over quantity in relation to time spent with a student is irrelevant--both are significant.  Spending time with students (quantity) provides the opportunities, rather spontaneous, for meaningful conversation (quality).  
 Don't wait for a student to reach out and hold hands with you.  As when they were children, they are waiting for loving adults to reach out and make the first move.  Please remember, this is important, many of the student's you come in contact with have never had a loving, "physical" hand holding experience with their parents or adults in their childhood and/or life--be patient with these students.  Extra grace will be needed!

Okay, I have to say this. If you are an adult who will not allow your adolescent to fail and constantly intercedes on their behalf when they are not given adequate playing time, high enough grades, proper recognition, or they are experiencing a difficult relationship challenge (you know who you are), this type of hand holding will actually retard your student's development into Adulthood.  It is hard for all adults, especially us parents, who feel the student they love is being mistreated in some way.  Even so, hand holding during the teen years is intended to prepare the student for the road NOT prepare the road for the student (a wise saying I have heard many times--author unknown). 

Even if difficult, be encouraged.  The type of hand holding described above can save a teenager's life

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