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You Had Me at Hello
Capitalizing on Teenagers' Preferences for Communication
An article from David R. Smith at TheSource4YM.com
1/4/2008


Are you managing multiple IM accounts, a couple of online social networks, and several email addresses just so you can communicate with your teens? If your thumbs are one text message away from falling off, take hope, because teenagers still value old fashioned face-to-face conversations.

That’s right! According to research performed by the ever trustworthy Pew Internet and American Life Project, teenagers highly value communication that is had over the phone, or better yet, in person. Their findings reveal:

  • 40% of teens talk to friends on a traditional land line phone every day. (For all the youth pastors under the age of 25, that’s the phone with a cord attached to it.)

  • 35% of teens talk to friends on a cell phone.

  • 31% of teens talk to friends in person every day.

This is really good news for youth leaders who have to guess what’s behind their students’ generic Emoticon smiles.

But don’t think teenagers have written off the web. The same report offered this dose of digital reality:

  • 73% of all teenagers (17 million strong!!!) use the Internet on a very regular basis.

  • 55% of online teens say social networks (like Facebook and MySpace) are very important hangouts for keeping in touch, meeting new people, and making plans with friends.

  • 14% of plugged-in teens use email for communication.

Despite the high numbers of teenagers using digital mediums for communication, a draw to older “analog” methods of conversation still exists. Teens’ attraction to voice-based communication might be partly due to the accuracy it offers. Emotions and tones are clearer in conversations that are actually spoken. Jokes are funnier if they are told, rather than read. “It's simply richer than what you get on the Internet," said Amanda Lenhart, senior researcher with Pew.

This intangible-yet obvious-difference that Lenhart notes as “richer” is what youth pastors specialize in: the ministry of presence. When we are talking with students, especially face-to-face, they “have” our undivided attention for a moment in time. That sensation you impart is incredibly valuable.

I always tried to have face-to-face conversations with students who are leaders in the ministry at least once every two weeks. In addition to that, I tried to call one student who is new, and/or a kid who hasn’t attended in a while. So many times, parents let me know what a HUGE blessing this was to their child.

It doesn’t take much to capitalize on these findings. Here are a few ways you can take advantage of teenagers’ communication preferences. Think about what you want to say, and then…

  • Call a student during a drive. Most of my phone calls are literally 4 minutes long. Short is NOT bad; it just doesn’t take long to leave a significant mark on a teenager’s heart. A simple, “I was thinking of you today so I thought I’d give you a call,” can mean so much to them.


  • Call a student at home during the evening. It has been said that everyone likes to get a letter in the mail. As long as it’s not a telemarketer, teens feel the same way about phone calls. They love to get phone calls, especially from someone who is seeking them out.


  • Visit students during their school lunch. This is my bread and butter! I check in at the front office, get my bright yellow “visitor” name tag, and I’m off to have face-to-face conversations with my students AND their friends! What’s really great is when the short lunch breaks run back to back. This allows me to converse with twice the number of students, in person!

There you have it. I’m not saying toss your laptop and cell phone off the side of the bridge; just don’t be guilty of grossly underestimating the power a simple conversation can have on the hearts of our teenagers. So, get out of the chat room, pop in a Tic Tac, and strike up a conversation with a teenager. That’s what they want!


David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.


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