Let teens know they are appreciated

January 20, 2011|Lisa Prejean

Recently in class I was reviewing a grammar assignment with a teenage boy. His stance was indifferent, and I could tell that the material did not interest him. As I looked at his expression, I remembered how excited he was on the basketball court the previous evening.

"Man, you had a great game last night," I said with a smile.

In an instant his countenance changed.

"Thanks," he said, with a sheepish grin.

He seemed more willing to listen after that. Perhaps he sensed that I care. And I do.

I just can't help getting excited at my students' basketball games or soccer matches. I clap. I cheer. I shout their names.

My own daughter refuses to sit with me because she says I am too loud.

Perhaps those eight years I spent as a cheerleader are coming back to haunt me. Sometimes I even cheer for the opposing team. It's so much fun to see teenagers giving their all for a goal.

My students rib me because I usually have my laptop or a stack of papers to grade at their games, but I'm in tune with them most of the time.

I like to be able to encourage them, to make them feel like they are accomplishing something, that what they are doing is worthwhile.

I've seen how important it is for teenagers to receive frequent affirmation.

Now a new study supports that supposition.

Researchers from Ohio State University and the United States Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., found that college students rated receiving compliments at the top of a list of pleasurable activities.

The average age of the study's participants was 19.

What causes a teenager the most pleasure? Hearing that he or she did a job well done.

This is hardly a new concept. The book of Proverbs refers to the value of "a word fitly spoken."

But when it comes to relating to teenagers, most people focus on the negative.

Teens are too fast, too loud, too lazy, too plugged-in.

With all that negativity flying at them from other generations, is it any wonder that they crave our praise above all else?

According to the Ohio State study, teenagers crave praise more than time with their friends, more than a paycheck and even more than their favorite food. (And anyone with a teen in the house knows how much they like to eat.)

Most of us have some contact with teenagers. Why not start out the new year right by looking for the good in the teens we know?

A sincere compliment might be just what teens need to become what we think they should be.

Let's cheer them on together.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail. E-mail her at

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