Friday, April 22

The Gift of Presence

Teenagers make adults anxious.

When we look at them, we see that they are fidgety. They are sweaty. They don't sit still and they fiddle with things. They sometimes seem to have little sense of what is going on outside of their immediate vicinity.

Adults make teenagers anxious.

When they look at us, they see that we have no friends, no passions, and we are always stressed out. We sometimes are so concerned with monitoring everything else that we seem to have little sense of what is going on in our immediate vicinity.

Teens are about energy and movement. They have emotions to express that are very important to them. They want to live, and sometimes adults seem to be doing anything but living. Adults are often about maintaining the status quo. We want children to "Liten!" "Behave!" "Be still!" and "Stop talking!" We want them to soothe our fears that they will turn out rotten. We want to know that they will not get themselves in trouble. We want assurance that they will not embarrass us.

The sum of all of these anxieties is that we are prevented from being present with teens. Most teens experience adults as either absent or lecturing. What if we were able to completely set aside our agenda and simply be with young people? How would we treat teens if we weren't trying to convince them of something or impart some lesson or ingrain in them some morsel of our wisdom? The truth is, teens learn from adults' example far more than their words anyway! What would it be like if we just made ourselves available to sit and listen?

Consider this quote from a youth volunteer:

"When I first started working with youth, I felt I had to ask them a lot of questions, make jokes and make them feel good. Now I plop down next to them and sigh and ask, "How are you?" Whether theri response is just a word or a five minute dialogue, I can sit with them knowing my full attention to them in that five seconds or five minutes is enough."

Our teens are not fully mature. They need adults to help them through the maturation process. However, we need to deprogram ourselves from thinking of them as projects that need managing rather than people who need our company and sometimes, our undivided attention.

Next week, I'll share some thoughts on being present with God. Before we can truly be present with anyone else, it is important to open ourselves up to him.

Saturday, April 16

Creating A Better Culture, Part 2

This will be my last post (at least for now) on the topic of extended adolescence. Thanks to all who have read and commented. I hope you found this research helpful. If you have any questions or want some sites to check out, let me know. Here are tips two and three for creating a culture in our homes and youth groups that will encourage our teens to grow into fruitful adults in the kingdom of God.

2. Our teens are isolated from the adult world. They spend the vast majority of their time with people their age- non-adults living in adolescence. They go to school, where adults are outnumbered (and whose influence is often subdued). They hang out with friends, who are all their age. They may go to church, but even there they interact primarily with teens their age, or maybe a youth minister or teacher. Often our goal for teens' interaction is that they hang out with "good kids" as opposed to teens who might be a bad influence on them. This is great, but it is not enough for teens to only hang around other teens, no matter how good an influence those other teens may be. Teens need to spend time with adults.

Teens should spend time with adults because they need to see what adulthood looks like. They need to see what it is like to have responsibility. They need to see what life should look like for them in the future. If they never see adults operating as adults, how can they come to know what is involved in growing out of adolescence?

I have noticed that our church's small groups have missed an opportunity to get our teens around adults. Most of our teens have gravitated to one or two small groups that have a high concentration of teenagers, which is understandable, because teens enjoy being together. However, I think small groups would be a great place for our teens to interact with adults. When I have brought up the possibility of making our teens go with their parents to small groups instead of congregating at a single "teen" small group, I have met resistance. The common argument is "but teens think adults are boring." Although I can't argue with that (I think adults are boring sometimes, too), I don't think it is a valid reason to further quarantine teens, since they are already estranged enough from adult culture. What if our teens not only attended a small group, but also participated? I think it would be highly formative and it would mature them a lot, even if they were bored sometimes.

3. Instead of raising a "child," raise and adult. The experts say that our vocabulary matters. By using certain words in lieu of others, our mindset begins to change. For example, instead of referring to young people as "kids," try calling them "teens" or "young adults." It may start to change your paradigm. Consider this one: often parents see their job as "raising good children." But is that really what parents want? No. Parents want to raise good adults! Ten years from now, what will it matter that your 24 year old was a "good child?" What you want ten years from now is a child who grew into a good adult. So you might change your vocabulary from "raising children" to "raising adults." Or, you might start thinking of your teenager as an "apprentice adult," since that is really what you would like her to be.

Thanks for reading. Next week, I'm planning to start a series on being present with our teens. I'll offer a quote as a preview: "Teens are in more need of your presence than your knowledge."

Friday, April 8

Creating A Better Culture

This post picks up where I left off last week, concluding that extended adolescence is not a biological phenomenon, but a cultural behavior we have taught our young people. The bad news is that the culture to which we have all contributed is to blame for our youth's perpetual immaturity. The good news is that since it is cultural learned behavior, we can make intentional choices that will alter the culture of our homes and churches so that our young people can grow into fruitful adults in the kingdom of God. In this post, I will discuss the first of a few deliberate ways ways we can alter our home and church culture for the better.

1. Our culture has taught us that the best parent is the one whose child gets in the least amount of trouble and is the best behaved. If we think about this, we can see that it is not true at all, but when the rubber meets the road, we typically try to control children because that is the best way to "parent" them. In the context of extended adolescence and its causes, this is clearly problematic. The more we control, the less meaningful responsibility young people have, which teaches them to be adolescent, not adult.

One writer gives the illustration of a puppy in a yard and a puppy in a park. If a dog owner lets her puppy run free in a park, the dog wil run and run and possibly never come back again. It's just more freedom than is healthy for a puppy. However, a leash is too resrictive. A puppy on a leash will never damage anything and he will never be run down by a truck. However, he will never be ready for life in the park. A better solution, the writer suggests, is to put the puppy in the fenced-in yard. Sure, he will dig up some roses and he might chew up the hose, but he probably won't do any major damage to himself or anything else. In the meantime, the puppy grows in a realtively safe environment and is growing capable of handling the freedom of the park.

Research has proven that teenagers need and want boundaries. It is counter-intuitive to imagine teenagers wanting boundaries, but studies show that they are happier and more successful socially and academically when they have clear boundaries set before them. These boundaries, however, need to be loose enough that there is freedom for them to make bad choices that result in natural consequences. Another lie we have been made to believe is that only a bad parent allows their children to suffer consequences. When our teens make mistakes with serious consequences, we often see parents taking the brunt of the blow. Is this preparing them to be adults? Often as an adult we make decisions that result in negative consequences. Sometimes the consequences are disprportionate to the crime, but alas, the price must always be paid in full. To deprive teens of such an experience is to take away ameaningful learning opportunity that can be significantly formative.

The main idea is that our culture, at home and in our youth groups, should be one in which teens are protected from themselves, but where they are free to make their own decisions for better or worse. When they are for the worse, we have to fight our inclination to save them, since, in doing so, we will deprive them in the long run.

Next we will unpack two more tips for establishing a healthy culture for teens.