At the intersection between my work in psychotherapy and my work in Youth Ministry I have found these five needs of teenagers to be very helpful. The adolescent years can be a time of self-discovery and growing autonomy as teens encounter the larger world around them. These five needs can help us better understand our teens and how to help them grow and mature in body, mind, and soul.
1. Need to be understood
Most teens don’t believe that adults listen or understand them. As a teen I remember thinking that most of my teachers had no idea what I was experiencing. I felt that adults were extremely disconnected. When adults actually take the time to try to understand teenagers, the adult can earn the right to be heard. Teens often want to know they are being listened to before they are taught or mentored. Teenagers, the same with the rest of us, usually don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
2. Need to belong
We have all heard or maybe even given the peer pressure talk. I remember the many conversations at school and even commercials on TV about not giving into peer pressure. Teens want to fit in and will even deny their morals and values to do so at times. Teens with healthy boundaries and relationships with their parents and family are less likely to to abandon their morals when around other peers. If the need to belong is fulfilled within the family, teens are less likely to seek out approval from others outside of the home.
3. Need to be transparent
Teens these days have many masks and put up fronts to only show their “best selves” and, more literally, their best selfies. Vulnerability is a scary thing for everyone but especially for teens in an online world where everything is subject to scrutiny and comparison. Teens that have the space to be transparent about worries, hopes, dreams, insecurities, doubts, and fears have more confidence that they are supported and loved by their families and by those around them. Teens that have the ability to be real and open about their concerns and values feel validated and recognized. They are able to grow in self-awareness and self-esteem.
4. Need to engage in critical thinking about faith and life
During adolescence, teenagers are beginning to think critically about the world around them. Teens begin to conceptualize ideas like love, justice, truth and fairness. Teens begin to ask the big questions in life about God, love, life, purpose, and morality. In doing so, they begin to become autonomous and desire a validation of their growing independence. Teens are also analyzing what they have been raised to believe. They are exploring the world ideologically and do well in thought-provoking discussions about life. Desiring to be understood, teens enjoy dialogue and self-expression in considering life’s biggest questions.
5. Need for guidance
While critical thinking alone is a great start, teens still need help navigating a confusing world. They need mentors in many different aspects of life in order to grow in body, mind, and soul. Healthy relationships with adults help teens know that they are valued and wanted. These relationships allow teens to ask questions and seek out answers to doubts and challenging situations. They largely need encouragment from caring adults that they know they can trust. These relationships build a foundation of support and mentorship. Within these relationships, teens have the needed direction and begin to understand expectations that others have of them as they mature into adulthood.
While I wish I could take credit for outlining these five needs, the Augustine Institute’s YDisciple program presents these needs of teens to show that teens strongly benefit from small faith-sharing groups of friends to truly grow in their faith as intentional disciples. I have seen these needs play out in our Disciple Groups in our parish Youth Ministry along with working with teens in therapy.
These needs address that teens are budding young adults who simply want to be recognized, heard, accepted and engaged. Teenagers experience many changes and these five needs help us know how to better help our teens navigate their development.
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