As you read this brief list, don’t think “I do this.” or “I don’t do this” but rather “How well do I meet this need in the young people in my life?” “What is one thing I can do, one shift I can make to do better in this area?”
To be Seen
Such a basic human emotional need that we often take it for granted when life gets busy and other things become more urgent. Young people especially, need our attention. Contrary to what some suggest, our greatest fear is not rejection (per se) but being ignored. When we attend to young people, in a very real way they experience us “seeing them” and thus validate their presence as worthwhile.
To Feel Heard
We all need to feel heard, but this is especially important for children and adolescents. Hearing a young person involves more than simply listening to them. It involves a commitment on our part to listen to them until they feel heard. And very often until they (while talking) become clear on what they’re trying to say.
We are created to live in union with God. We get a small taste of that union in our relationships in this life. Despite behavior and words to the contrary, more than anything else young people desire a meaningful relationship with their parents (or other significant adults) but when they cannot get that, they will settle for other people, things and experiences.
Access to the Sacred
Youth don’t need religious data as much as they need us to provide and create for them spaces where they can “connect” with the Sacred. In addition to Mass, these include retreats, mission trips, prayer experiences, times of silence and focused meditation. As young people learn to access the sacred in a focused way, the foundation is laid to access the sacred in the events of everyday life.
A Safe Place
This isn’t always a geographical place. For many youth, home and school are not “safe” places—where they can be and become who they are without fear of chastisement and being made fun of. Teens say “When I’m with _______ I feel like everything’s going to be OK.” Many adolescents find this in their friends and in a special way in their boyfriends and girlfriends. Even when these relationships are short and/or transient, teens still experience them as vital because they meet such an important need in their lives.