I feel uneasy about teens going after more ‘likes’ when they post photos on social media. It is well documented that they spend hours in front of their phones. (Let’s stop judging them for this, as we do it too!) Even after taking dozens of selfies, in just the right light, many just won’t post anything. Their Instagram accounts are blank. Apparently, it’s not the done thing to do to post happy family pictures or posed ones or ones of their trips or meals out. They post, delete, ruminate over it all for hours, take more pictures, feel rubbish, and repeat. I am told it’s just not cool to have pictures on your account but I think it’s because they are too scared of rejection. They’re avoiding the heartbreaking analysis of why this friend, or that friend didn’t ‘like’ or comment, but they’re missing out on compliments in the process.
We tell them they don’t need to get ‘likes’, we restrict their time on these apps, worried that social media is contributing to low self-esteem. We worry that all that time in their room is getting them down. Of course, I don’t have a catch-all solution to this, but over the last two weekends, I discovered a free, enriching, device-free, kind, community-building alternative. Do you want to know what could change their day, week, year or life? Do you want to know how she can start to feel confident in her own skin? It’s simply this:
- TAKE HER TO CHURCH, OR A WOMEN’S CONFERENCE (e.g. the Activate Your Life weekend away)
- GET HER TO DO ONE JOB (serve coffee, give out leaflets, carry bags)
- STAND BACK AND PRAY THAT ALL THE WOMEN, OF ALL AGES, WILL SEE HER, APPRECIATE HER, AND COMPLIMENT HER. (And secretly prompt a few to do this if encouragement is still a work in progress at your church.)
I didn’t actually engineer this situation for my daughter, I saw it unfolding. So I’m only hoping it works for you as described! I’ll give you a bit of background so you can decide for yourself:
- At our Activate weekend, scores of women thanked the young girls who helped them make their name badges as they arrived.
- The speakers acknowledged the girls (there were only 10 out of 220 women) and made their talks relevant. Over and over the message was the same: “It’s incredible that you’re here!”
- Women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s made a point of speaking to them individually. The girls obviously didn’t say this (as it would have sounded pretentious and cringy) but I could tell from their faces that they felt so treasured, and sort of confused by how delighted everyone was to see them! The older supporters were so happy to see a new generation of girls willing to come along, whether they came reluctantly, or whether they were eager to find out more about sharing Jesus with their friends.
There is something invaluable about multi-generational gatherings. Here, the girls weren’t inconspicuous – lost in a sea of other youth, jostling for attention for their clothes, their hair, or the people they managed to get in a group with. They stood out, but in a really good way. And at the end of the weekend, they walked away happier, more confident. They were standing tall instead of loitering at the edges, hunched and awkward.
10 girls came to the Activate Weekend Away and then the following weekend, there were 30 girls at our church women’s conference. I can’t speak for all of the 11-18-year-olds, but I know from talking to some of my friends (their parents) that they lapped up the wisdom shared in the talks. They felt accepted. They drew closer to God. They benefitted from hours of life-giving content: wisdom passed down from women who have lived, messed up, found freedom and are desperate to pass it on.
After two weekends of women’s conferences, I asked my daughter a few questions. Did she enjoy the pizza, the movie night, the sleepover, the spa, the disco, the pool, the other girls, reuniting with friends, the hotel, the Subway lunch, the talks, the worship… what did she enjoy best? What really stood out to her as special?
Her answer: “I loved helping the ladies make their name badges and showing them how to use the stickers.”
Wow. Yes, she loved all of the other stuff, but the thing she chose as her favourite bit was standing with two friends, for three hours, helping the travel-weary write their names nicely on their name badges, helping them peel the fiddly washi tape stickers and untangle the lanyards! It was free, it was a helpful act, and it didn’t take any extra planning.
Although she loves crafts, there must have been more to it than the fancy pens and cool stickers. What an unexpected gift! Hundreds of ‘likes’ without any agro. Thank you to each one of you who smiled, encouraged, appreciated and complimented those girls. It set them up for a weekend of little chats as they had broken the ice with almost all 200 women as they arrived!
Please, if in doubt whether to approach the teenagers in your church, just do it. Their eyeliner and nose rings may scream “go away” but inside they are screaming, “What am I doing here? I feel so out-of-place, please validate me. Please accept me.” A well-timed compliment could change their whole week and a short chat could be the start of a life-long friendship.
This is your opportunity to rescue someone else’s teen – a girl who is in desperate need of something more meaningful than ‘likes’.