Are we communicating our love for youth and young adults in ways they understand?
There was a teen in my youth group, let’s call him David, who told me that his parent’s didn’t love him. ‘They stick me in all sorts of activities so they’ll never have to see me, when I am home they both work, and when I get frustrated with them they give me a gift - as if they can buy me off!’ But his parents had a different perspective: ‘We drive him all over the place so he can have fun at school, we work two jobs to make sure he has all he needs, and we even buy expensive gifts to let him know that we love him!’
I felt like the jailer from the classic movie Cool Hand Luke when I told them, ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate.’
St. John Bosco, the patron saint for youth ministry, said that it is important ‘not only that the boys be loved, but that they know that they are loved.’[i] I am convinced that we who work with youth truly love them (we’re not in this for the money). But do they know that? Are we communicating our love for them in a way they understand?
Love must not only be communicated between a parent and child, but also between the catechist and the one receiving the faith. ‘If the child’s emotional need for love has not been met, then the theological idea of a loving God will have little meaning for the teenager.’[ii]
That last quote was from an excellent book by Gary Chapman titled The Five Love Languages of Teenagers. As the title suggests, Chapman suggests five ways we can express our love for teens. It’s important that we master all these ways, he says, because different teens experience and express love in different ways. David’s parent’s expressed their love for him by giving gifts. But David didn’t care about gifts; he wanted quality time with them.