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The Surprising Secret to Connecting with Students (Part 2)

Yesterday, I started a two-part series on the secret to connecting with students. I shared six reasons why so many adults (parents, teachers youth workers, coaches) work so hard to stay “cool.” As I interact with thousands of faculty, coaches, youth pastors and parents each year, I hear a lot about what adults think is the “key” to relating to young people. Most of their ideas are noble—but much of the time, they are missing what’s most important to the students themselves. The key is not to stay hip or cool or young. It’s not about getting a tattoo, or your hair colored or wearing skinny jeans.

Contrary to popular belief, I think the key to staying relevant and connected to students is simply this:

Offer what they cannot get anywhere else.

They have many buddies who are hip. They don’t have many safe, wise adults who can speak wisdom into their lives. I spoke to my 19-year old son and his friends recently about this very issue. They got very candid with me. They told me they laugh at adults who try so hard to be “cool.” It’s humorous to them. They said adults don’t realize that they can only imitate youth and imitation is an anathema to kids. While it’s easier and more entertaining, kids don’t long to interact with adults who are shallow, easy or attempting to be hip. If they’ll get honest with you, what teens and college students are looking for is authenticity and depth. In the words of Kevin Miller, they’re not looking for a relevant dude, but a spiritual father.

They long for someone who embraces their own life station, and can translate what’s happening in their world into wisdom. In fact, this is the first generation of kids that doesn’t need adults for information. (They get that everywhere online). They do need adults, however, for interpretation. They need us to make sense of what’s happening around them.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. While I work to remain relevant in my service to students, I gave up trying to be cool years ago. I leave that to the students. I will play the cards I have in my hand—and that is to offer wisdom for life and leadership, as they graduate from school and move into my turf. That’s what I think they need most.



  1. Bill K. on September 22, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Well said Tim!  

  2. Ben Lichtenwalner on September 22, 2011 at 5:43 am

    “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 8:10-11

    Excellent point, Tim. My fondest memories from youth and those with the greatest impact in my own life, came from mentors, not buddies. I suspect many of us, reflecting on our own youth, will find the same.

    Thank you for calling this out Tim. Very helpful!

    • Tim Elmore on September 27, 2011 at 8:21 am

      Thanks, Ben. It is true – the defining moments that stick with us often are from mentors rather than buddies. Great reminder!

  3. Sabrinadaniel0107 on September 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Totally agree! Never have been really “cool”. However, not a “geek” either. I believe that as middle-aged adults we offer “youth” love, wisdom, and experience. All human beings long to be loved. Even if they resist, they will later come to appreciate the efforts adults made to care for them. Adults act your age!

    • Tim Elmore on September 27, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Ha! Great words – adults sometimes need to be reminded to act their age – embrace the season of life you are in and live in a way that positively affects the younger people you influence.

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The Surprising Secret to Connecting with Students (Part 2)