Would you believe that the teen checking their phone during small group or strolling in late to your service has some questions stirring inside?

We’re not talking about, “How many people will respond to my latest snap?” kind of questions. We mean big, deep, questions.

Questions whose answers can literally change the course of a teen’s life. Problems that demand to be solved, and ultimately will be—either by a teen’s own inner voice, their peers, or maybe even you.

Resource: Playing for Keeps by Reggie Joiner, Elizabeth Hanson and Kristen Ivy

First things first. To answer a question, you have to know what the question is.

These big, internal wonderings will vary from age group to age group, but not so much between individuals. Here’s what you’re looking at grade by grade:

Freshmen ask: Where do I belong?

Sophomores ask: Why should I believe? and Why can’t I do this or that?

Juniors ask: How can I matter?

Seniors ask: What will I be?

Man, if those thoughts don’t bring up a few feelings from your younger days . . .

High school is all about refining abilities, discovering uniqueness, and developing a sense of purpose.

Figuring out where you fit in the world is a universal struggle for most any teenager. And what they do in the midst of this struggle affects the way they pursue community, live out their virtues and contribute to a greater mission. In other words, these are make-and-break-years in terms of building a strong character.

Thankfully, research gives us some specific ways we can help. It just takes three little words in action: Mobilize Their Potential.

Mobilize a freshman’s potential through connection.

This guy is looking for a tribe. Help him find one by connecting him with other teens who have similar interests, hobbies, and passions. Encourage big goals and silly fun. Then, listen carefully. Pay attention to what’s said and what’s left unsaid. Stalk him without hiding behind the bushes. Let him pick up on the fact that you’re working hard to know who he is and where he is finding acceptance.

Mobilize a sophomore’s potential with questions of your own.

She’s testing every boundary and pushing every limit. Believe it or not, she’s taking an important step toward becoming a mature, independent adult—one with her own set of standards and values. Embrace her skepticism and you may just find that she leaves her attitude at the door. Open your ears. Ask thoughtful questions as you work, with patience and grace, to lead her toward the truth.

Mobilize a junior’s potential by providing opportunities.

He doesn’t want to wait until he’s “old enough.” He’s ready to make a difference right now. And this year is a sweet spot for focusing on others. His hormones are regulated, peer pressure is way down, and the future isn’t really a concern just yet. Look for ways that he can lead and serve—in the home, church, and community. Show him how to hone his skills and prove to others that he can be trusted.

Mobilize a senior’s potential by helping them dream.

She’s just about all grown up. As the year comes to a close it will feel like an exciting and scary time. Prep her for the decisions ahead by encouraging experiences and simplifying her options. Practice phrases like, “Why don’t you talk to so-and-so? He does that for a living,” and, “Why don’t you give her a call? She went to school there, too!” or even, “Hey, we don’t have to decide today. Let’s talk about something else over ice cream.”

After all, high schoolers crave relationships with adults. Your positive influence and purposeful interactions go a long way toward provide a place to belong, a reason to believe, a way to matter and a future to look forward to.

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