How to earn a teenager’s respect and trust [video]

I recently overheard a conversation among some parents and youth workers who seemed to feel like they should demand a teenager’s respect because the Bible commands it and they deserve it based on their position of authority, but I’m not sure that’s really the best way to gain their respect.

In this video I share a bit more about that conversation and my response to it.

QUESTION: How do you think we, as youth leaders and parents, can best earn a teenager’s respect and trust?

[ And by the way, my book is currently 30% off! Get it for $8.95 and autographed if you’d like! ]

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Posted on June 28, 2011

  • pjski

    Thanks Tim for your comments on this subject. I was just talking with my Jr high director about this yesterday. He and i also feel the same way about the "respect" issue. Although we may deserve it, it still needs to be earned. Many of the teens we work with do not have any positive authority in their lives to learn from, so if you throw Ephesians 6:1-3 in their face they will most likely walk away and put you on their list of jerk adults with everyone else. That usually happens when we forget to also place Eph. 6:4 as our responsibility to them. We need to gain trust through relationship in order for them to respect us.

    Jesus showed us this time and time again. He did not walk into a town with the banner held high for everyone's respect since He was the Son of God. Instead he met people where they were and started a relationship with them. Once the relationship was established, He could speak into their lives with the truth and the people would respond.

    If you got into youth ministry because you need to be "respected" than you might want to move on. Actually, you might want to check out the infant room for a while. Try to explain to a crying baby what it says in Eph. 6, and that they should stop crying. When that does not work, pick them up, change their diaper, feed them a bottle, hold them and rock them until they feel safe with you. Once they know you are a safe person, they will respond to you. This only comes with patience and time, and a lot of commitment to the relationship before the rules.

    Jesus did it for you: Romans 5:8.

  • I completely agree Tim. This is one of the things I struggle with most in my job because other people like to demand respect from teenagers and even staff members, but really haven't earned it. With the teenagers it makes it really hard because in my case, before coming to our church, they never attended church and generally aren't impressed or care about titles. And since I've built relationships based on trust and mutual respect (I definitely had to earn it), they can't really understand the concept that people demand it.

    When they do get out of sorts (and they do at times) we have a discussion about their behavior (a two-way discussion) where I explain my situation and let them respond. Usually it ends up well with the policing themselves.

    I treat them as grown-ups and most of the time, they act like it. I also include them in most all decisions because we function as a psuedo family and we've always made decisions together. It makes things so much easier when they feel like they are equal (or mostly equal) partners in their own spiritual growth and training. I at least know that what they do is genuinely because they want to do it and not because of "fear".

    Unfortunately like the above commenter said, I do think some people do go into ministry to be respected, at least within my denomination.

    • Yeah, including them in the ministry instead of just trying to serve it to them definitely makes a big difference.

      For those who are trying to demand respect, I wonder how much of it is because they don't respect themselves and they feel like they need others to respect them in order for them to feel affirmed. Maybe that's why some people overreact when they're disrespected because that insecurity runs deeper than just the present situation.

  • david

    I think these are important issues that face our culture. Its not just a youth ministry issue but a societal issue. Our society lacks respect in general and this is a major problem with us. I think its related to our brokenness.

    As far as respect and trust I think you are dealing with two very separate issues as if they are the same. Respect should not be earned. It is a common saying that I just don't buy. Respect is what we are to give all people. We are all God's creation and that entitles us to basic respect. Further the responsibilities you take on require a certain amount of respect to complete. Police don't have to earn my respect in order for me to pull over when the blue lights come on. They get my respect based solely on the position they hold.

    This translates to the church in some ways. Every Wednesday I have to preach and teach truth. If I have to earn the respect of every visitor before they will stop talking, we won't get very far. There is a basic unearned respect that is demanded just because I need it to do my job. If they lack that respect, they can quickly ruin the worship experience of those around them and turn the time into a toxic mess. That is respect due to position.

    Trust is a different issue altogether. No matter how quite and respectful they are or how many notes they take, if they don't trust me (and maybe its respect on a different level) it won't matter. They have to trust me if they are going to apply what I am telling them to their lives. If I hope to lead them into a relationship with God, I have to earn their trust. That is mostly a function of time and steadiness. For some of my kids this also took a detailed explanation of what the role of a pastor is supposed to do. For most kids it just takes an incredible amount of time.

    Its my experience that adults get frustrated when they don't get the type of respect that comes with their position. That is the type you should not have to earn. But that is the broken world we live in. Just because its supposed to work that way does not mean that it will.

  • mikeyouthallie

    I have worked with both children and teenagers. I base much of my views from my own experience working with young people and from my college educational background, constant learning and personal beliefs. I believe it is the adults role to earn the respect and the trust of young people. There are many ways this can be accomplished. Building and sustaining a positive, supportive and safe relationship is key. They need to feel safe and comfortable around the adult, this includes emotionally safe. They need to feel they can be themselves and express themselves and take risks. You earn respect and trust by giving it first. This means treating them with respect. This means speaking to them with respect as well. You earn their trust and respect be being someone who is perceived as trustworthy, dependable, reliable, respectful,friendly,kind,caring and approachable. You earn their respect and their trust by spending more time listening to them. To earn their respect and trust will be determined by how consistent you are between what you say and do. Are you a person who keeps your promises and honors your commitments and do what you say? Do your words and actions match? Do you act and behave in concert with your beliefs? If the answers are yes. Then you will begin to earn their trust and their respect. If you are honest with them and tell them the truth you will earn their trust. If you show by your own behavior that you care about them then you will earn their respect and trust. If you are sincere and genunine you will have earned their trust. If your expectations and own attitude and beliefs are positive towards them they will know and you would have earned their trust and respect. If your attitude is negative towards them, they will know the same and you would have done damage to the level of trust and respect you were interested in forging and sustaining. How one truly feels and what one believes will eventually come out through ones own everyday behavior. That is why it is best to have a positive attitude and beliefs towards young people so that you can earn their respect and eventually their trust. You will need that kind of positive attitude and beliefs for the long haul in order to sustain that respect a nd trust.

  • mikeyouthallie

    I believe you earn the right to be respected and trusted by anyone including young peole not by ones title, position or authority over others, but by the kind of person you are and how you behave and treat others. It is goodness of character and intergrity that counts. It is primary greatness of character and purpose that matters a lot in earning the trust and respect of others. It is our own personal example that either inspires and sustains respect and trust or not. For example, our Lord is interested in shaping and molding each of his children’s character to become more like Christ. It is goodness and greateness of character which is one of the issues that matters most to our God. To earn young people’s respect and trust is often determined by ones own personal example, the type of words we speak, how we speak to them, how we listen, our own conduct and behavior towards them and others as well as our own attitude and beliefs towards them including our own motives and intentions. What we say and do is a deep reflection in who we really are and what we truly believe and value. To earn young people’s respect and trust we must learn the lessons from our Savior Jesus Christ. One of those lessons is Love. To earn their respect and trust you must learn to love them not just by words but also by ones own attitudes and actions.
    They must also know that you care about them. They will not care about how much you know until they know how much you care about them. By caring about them and loving and respecting them in a sincere way you will open the door to your ability to earn their respect and trust as well influencing their lives in the most positive way. It is through relationships in which influence is forged.

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