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The Seven Cries of Today's Teens

  • Timothy Smith
  • Published Apr 30, 2003
The Seven Cries of Today's Teens

Your teenager is crying out and desperately wants you to hear, so you can respond and make a new connection. What are these cries? According to author Timothy Smith, today's teens are crying out with seven specific needs: to be trusted, to be loved, to be safe, to have purpose, to be heard, to be valued and to be supported. Read on as he explains further.

A Cry For Trust
Millennials have a fairly clear idea of why they want in the future, but the don't know how to get there or who will help them. Most are open to a closer relationship with their parents, or a mentor, or both. They aren't as cynical as their Gen X brothers and sisters. They are willing to trust someone, but they aren't sure what that looks like. After all, trust is a critical element of marriage, and these are children of divorce. They are open to giving trust a chance, but they are looking for models of trust. They are ambitious enough to succeed, but they are confused about the meaning, purpose, and direction of life. They need trusted guides who know the way, but for many, no adults are around to protect them or show them the way.

A Cry For Love

We discovered that many teens do not feel loved even though their parents say I love you or give them hugs on a regular basis. In order to feel loved, they need to experience love in their love key (see pages 52-69 for a comprehensive explanation of love keys). Some of this does not seem logical to parents - and that is the point. Successfully relating to teenagers is not logic-based. You can't always think your way out of a problem with your teenager or reason your way into a close relationship. Sometimes with millennials, you are better to feel your way.

A Cry For Security

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I counseled many teens who were rattled by the trauma of what they saw on TV. In some cases, teens were more stressed than younger children. This could be because teens often believe the myth that they are immortal. When they saw reality TV of planes crashing into towers and people jumping from burning buildings, their I-will-always-be-safe world crumbled.
 In spite of the recent terrorism and school shootings, most teens feel safe. Teens are looking for borders. Borders protect our teens and allow them to be relatively carefree as they pass through their last stage of childhood. Teenagers are frightened to live in a culture that doesn't protect them, hurries them into adulthood and adult-sized problems, and doesn't equip them to handle adult problems.

A Cry For Purpose

Our teens need to believe that life is meaningful and has a purpose. When teens feel that their lives are purposeful, they feel more capable and equipped to take on the demands of adolescence. Purposed is developed as teens discover the Three D's of Purpose:

 Design - God made each of us according to His master plan.
 Destiny - We discover our purpose in relationship to God.
 Duty - Our purpose is further developed as we discover what we can offer in 
                         service to God and others.

 One cause of the lack of purpose is that many teens do not take time to reflect. Their active schedules and the clamor of the media crowd out time for serious reflection. As a result, teens make decisions with a mosaic morality - a little of this combined with a little of that. Millennials desire meaning and morals, but they don't often have the time, energy, and examples to build an integrated moral base. Since they make decisions based on ever-changing criteria, they are often disappointed with the results.

A Cry To Be Heard

Millennials are very comfortable living in today's Information Age. Technology is as familiar to them as their pacifiers were. Yet, in the midst of this torrent of input, their voice is drowned out. Many millenials feel they "don't have a voice" and want to be heard above the noise. They have high hopes for the future but feel "so-so" about the present. Most teens would welcome a serious discussion with a caring adult. They are eager to share their opinions and are looking for compassionate adults to interact with. Millennials are crying to be listened to.

A Cry To Be Valued

We live in a culture that is increasingly antichildren. Boomer parents, on the road to success, have sometimes embraced the values of the culture over the value of addressing their teens' needs. Many of our teens feel alone. They haven't pulled away from their parents as much as their parents have pulled away from them, leaving them a tribe apart (as Patricia Hersch describes them in her book of the same title). How will our teens discover, test, and embrace the values that are important to us if we aren't around to pass them along?
 Our teens are generally doing well. They are in the right place at the right time, but they aren't coming to the right conclusions. They need mentors and guides to protect them and to help them process ideas and shape values. Our teens are looking for rites of passage that affirm their progress as they develop.

A Cry For Support

The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," could be adapted to say, "It takes a community network to raise a teenager." Our teens are eager for support. They are quick to admit that they need it. They want to be connected and are open to learn from those who have gone before. They want to be included and to make a difference. They feel supported when they are included in our processes and allowed some autonomy to make decisions. Because of our culture, teens are more at risk. We need to compensate by developing networks that build community and help our youth. We need partnerships between parents and schools, between businesses and after-school programs, between the private and the public sectors, and between the church and the home. We need to strategically plan support for our teens, because many of them feel that we spend all our efforts at work and that we have little to offer them in their aspirations.

 My prayer is that this book will inform you about the need to connect with your teenager and inspire you to work at it. Our culture races along with shocking images bombarding our teens. They have learned to cope by operating in extremes. To them, what they experience is normal. The blurring of the boundaries makes them want clarity and decisiveness. Their spiritual longing prepares them to be devoted in their quest for God. It is time for parents and youth workers to seize the day - to capture our teens while they are seeking God, to build trust, express love, and provide a safe place to help our teens discover purpose and meaning. Our teens are crying out.
Will you respond?

Tim Smith, the author of The Seven Cries of Today's Teens, works with children, youth, and family members at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California. As an author, he has written a dozen books for teens, parents, men and families, and is also an in-demand speaker for these audiences. He is currently presenting a national seminar based on the Seven Cries and is a Research Fellow with the George H. Gallup International Institute. He and his wife have two daughters.

Excerpted with permission of Integrity Publishers, Copyright 2003 by Tim Smith. Visit Integrity at