Meeting Teenagers Halfway: Is That Good Enough?

Last week I finished reading Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark.  Throughout the course of the book, Clark reports on lengthy and in-depth analysis he has conducted on what life is like for teenagers today.  Overall, he concludes that teenagers have been “Systemically Abandoned” by the very structures and organizations in our society that ought to support and encourage teenagers.  Families are no longer a “safe” place (“Family” can mean single mom with kids, a mom and her kids joined with a step-dad and his kids, or even a two dads and their kids), Schools are more interested in test-scores, Coaches (even at the elementary level) are too concerned about winning.  Where are teenagers supposed to encounter adults who truly care about them enough to be trustworthy?  If you’re a youth worker and you haven’t read Hurt 2.0 yet, order it right now… seriously.

Hurt struck me on a very personal level – many times.  How could a youth pastor read this book without asking, “Am I contributing to this systemic abandonment?”  One important clarification came when Clark pointed out that teenagers don’t really need to be abandoned by adults, they only need to think they have been abandoned in order for their mistrust of adults to grow and turn them to their peers for the support they don’t feel from the adults in their lives.  Unfortunately, I have to confess that the following is too frequently true of me:

“An adult who wants to connect but who demands that midadolescents come halfway only serves to confirm the mistrust they feel and deepen the divide between adolescents and adults.  To the midadolescent, this attitude is yet another confirmation of abandonment.” (p.39)

It could be very easy and reasonable to justify requiring this give-and-take within the context of ministry (“There are so many students, how could I possibly meet with all of them… so I invest in the ones who will meet me half way.”), but this clearly means the students who are the neediest and most abandoned are simply condemned to never have an adult actively invest in them.

As I read Hurt 2.0  the names and faces of students whom I attempted to minister to but either simply gave up on or got too busy to continue my pursuit immediately flooded my mind.  I’ve been asking myself some difficult questions since finishing the book:

  • Are my administrative and peripheral duties from keeping me away from actually spending time with students?
  • Do I really give my full attention to be with to students who require me to demonstrate my trustworthiness by consistently time spend listening to them?
  • Am I giving students freedom to explore who God is calling them to be and what He’s calling them to do, or do I have too much of an agenda for students?
  • Who do I need to apologize to for letting them down?

It’s so easy to say the right thing because you known it’s the right thing to say… even if you know you can’t (or won’t) follow through.  How do you keep yourself from promising what you know you can’t give (even if you really want to give it)?

3 thoughts on “Meeting Teenagers Halfway: Is That Good Enough?

  1. Cait King November 29, 2011 / 4:55 pm

    I read When Kids Hurt (another sequel to the original Hurt) which speaks in a less analytical way about a lot of the same topics. I felt the same way too! I’m more convinced than ever that Jesus’ example of reaching people on their ground, their turf helps bridge the abandonment factor. Enjoyed your post and praying for the kids you are loving.

  2. grillydad December 19, 2011 / 9:07 pm

    Insightful analysis. It is important to take kids where they are. We find that if you met them there, they’ll frequently come your way voluntarily. Work to build a relationship, be constant and positive, trust usually follows.

    • Pastor Mike December 19, 2011 / 10:05 pm

      I completely agree… you need to meet them where they’re at and work on regularly communicating (verbally and non-verbally) that they matter to you and you aren’t going to give up on them. Personally, the most challenging part to this is time: I’ve only got so much time, how much do I give to students who are trying to push me away and how much to I invest in kids who want me to disciple them. One of the other challenges is when parents forget there are two sides to every story and that sometimes their teen might just be telling you what they need to tell you in order to get what they want (ie, not being forced/nagged into attending youth group).

      Thanks for your reminder, I really like your final advice… solid wisdom right there, the only thing I’d add is that we shouldn’t underestimate prayer.

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