Spoiler alert: you can't!
Tell me if these statements sound at all familiar:
Unfortunately, in my line of work I hear these sentiments regularly. From priests and deacons during homilies, from parents venting about something, from coaches giving pep talks, and from well-meaning youth ministers and small group leaders. Sometimes laced with sarcasm and other times surrounded by good intentions, these often cutting remarks of perceived superiority are rampant and help no one.
It is hard being a teenager. Yes, they have phones at an earlier age, but that means they are exposed to more things in a swipe and a quick keyword search than earlier generations had access to...ever. Our 7th and 8th graders are struggling with sexual activity, pornography, graphic language in the lockers rooms and back seats of buses. Social media gives them another area to bully others and to experience bullying. Social media also leaves kids feeling more lonely than ever. There's a 48% chance now that our youth come from a divorced household, and a 40% chance they're raised without a present father. 1 in 12 teenagers self-harm. and half of those who do stem from past sexual abuse. Add to that a mounting pressure to be perfect. Only perfect grades get you into college, perfect practices get you onto sports teams, and perfect hair gets you attention. There are still 24 hours in a day, but modern teenagers use less and less of that for sleep because, let's face it, sleep's for the week. Sleep won't get you into college, it won't pay for your college, it won't get your band noticed, and it won't study for you.
We get frustrated and annoyed at our youth. They aren't showing up for youth group, are absent at Mass, fall asleep in our classrooms. We huff and we puff and we get red in the face because we have the answers! Sure, we may be a bit sarcastic or jaded, but it's not malice. It's just....tough love. It's care and concern.
It's not coming off that way and it's not helping. Youth will never care how much you know until you show them how much you care. We can talk about Jesus at them until we're red in the face - but what good will that do if they're tuned out. If they're rolling their eyes at yet another adult telling them yet another story about how their lives are SO much easier and they're SO much luckier than anyone else that has ever been born.
Jesus had it right. He didn't begin his ministry by telling people he was the Messiah. Why? Because who would have believed him, even after a while the apostles had a hard time coming around to that idea. He started teaching of love, of mercy, of freedom. He reached thousands with his works of mercy and healing, his attention to the crowds' physical and spiritual needs. He met them where they were at, which is what we're called to do. Jesus never stayed on top of that mountain and preached at anybody. He didn't call the children to come to them and then bemoan the fact they had nicer sandals on or they couldn't really sit still. He met their needs and we must follow his example if our New Evangelization is going to grow many seeds.