Communicating with youth must be genuine or risk the cringe.
Have you ever left a conversation with a 15-year-old with utter confusion?
Has your niece looked at you with complete disgust after you said “yasssss”?
Do you use the Urban Dictionary on a weekly basis?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, this blog is for you. It’s okay — you are not alone. Talking to youth and driving meaningful conversations can be incredibly hard and even sometimes awkward. On the other hand, avoiding these difficult conversations can lead to omission and leaving youth voices out.
So how do we stimulate engaging conversations with teens without being a complete embarrassment? Here are some things you should probably stop doing (like now) and some tips on what you should start doing.
Don’t Be Condescending
Information is now available at the tips of our fingers. World issues, national politics, and local debates are all accessible with a click. The youth of today are extremely accustomed to this readily available data; there is nearly no need for other outlets, especially from you. Don’t let the age fool you to think you know more than a teenager. So stop treating them like they are your students. Talk to them like how you would talk to your friend. You would be surprised by how much they can teach you.
Don’t Overdo It
Say it with me: “Talking slang will not make you look cool”. Even if you think you know all the lingo no teenager is going to be impressed if you are not being yourself. Adults have this tendency to overdo it and kill the vibe. Remain calm. There are different ways to awe youth than using a word you looked up online. Try talking about recent events, movies, music or even food! It will amaze you, how easy it is to talk with youth — without scaring them away.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Most slang words are subjective to place, context, user and tone. What one word means here may mean something completely different if used elsewhere. There is no way one person can stay on top of all the terminology and its applications. Not even youth themselves. The slang a teen may use is derived from their surroundings, friends, and media. So unless it is a well-known term (like LOL) don’t assume you know their slang. Don’t be afraid to ask “What do you mean?”.
Get to Know Them
Just like any friend you have today, the better you know about them the better you can communicate with them. There is no need to interrogate youth or ask specific questions about their upbringing. Teenagers will naturally share information when it feels comfortable to them. Be aware of commonalities or differences when talking to youth. Leave each conversation knowing something new about them and remember it. Later down the road, bring up that random fact and it will show that you care.
Use Other Communication Outlets
Though emails are the reality of the professional world, it is time to start thinking of other ways we talk to youth. Social media and instant messaging are the top communication outlets for teens today. Consider using these platforms as ways to have quick conversations. But always ask for permission, keep it respectful and only message during the day. Besides, how often do you email your friends? If you do this often, that’s another conversation for another day.
This is the easiest tip, but the most impactful. Listening to youth is a rare scarcity. As adults, we believe we have so much to share, that we end up doing most of the talking. Even during those instances where a teen is talking, we sometimes lack genuine listening skills and tend to react without much reflection of the matter at hand. Adjust your body language, keep your eyes focussed, be patient and sympathize when needed. Don’t just listen to respond. Listen to understand.
Youth deserve a seat at the table. Their voices can no longer be unheard or undervalued. But this begins with us, the adults of today. We must provide comfortable settings and open platforms so youth engage just as equally as any other member of society. This means being yourself and being attentive to their concerns. We hope this guide will help you communicate better with youth, or at the very least, prevent you from making a fool of yourself in your next conversation with them!