08 junio 2012

on being a teenager (in general terms)

thought one: (much generalizing ahead, forewarned)

Kids, universally and specifically, I love. Teenagers on up are more prickly. I can't stand the arrogance, the confused priorities, the shortsightedness, the cruelty, the vanity (in the empty sense of the word) of these humans who remind me so much of...


not so many years ago. Sure, i'm hardly old enough to write any memoirs, but man, i've so tried to distance myself from myself since then that relating to similar creatures is just... ugh.

But my kids are growing up. And really, however young or old i may be, i'm too old for this foolishness. So, time to get over that, starting with some thoughts.

Kids v. teenagers:
Younger children generally encounter injustice, evil, badness, brokeness-of-existence, the Fall, etc, and are upset, but get over it. They prefer to focus on what's good. Not because they're overly conscientious, but because it's more interesting. Common characteristics help them procure the best "now": apparently short attention spans, quick to forgive, very concrete and much prefering to be happy, even at the expense of their pride.

Teenagers, on the other hand, encounter evidence of a sick world and cannot get over it, in the sense of, they have to come to conclusions about it. They have to think "But why?" and come to some sort of explanation. These explanations frequently come in the form of some pop culture cliche: "Stuff happens." "Life sucks. And then you die." "Haters gonna hate..." "Life's a ------" Life is what you make it." "Bros before ----", "Life's a stage....") They try to fit some sort of overarching metanarrative [to sound pretentious] to explain what they see from day to day, who they are, and why people act the way they do.

Children, on the other hand, are busy compiling particulars. My parents fight. Fact. They take me to the park. Fact. My dad took me to work with him yesterday. Fact. My aunt and uncle are getting a divorce. Fact. My aunt makes good tortillas. "Fact." My mom yelled at me. Fact. She gave me a hug before I went to sleep. Fact. She makes me breakfast. Fact. ...and so on. The universals they would cite would be the ones told them or implied to them by tone and emotion from their families. These, they also take as "Fact." They do make conclusions, but very particular, uncontroversial local ones.

Teens spread out the facts and take a good, hard look at them. They group a couple and sit back to come up with a good universal. (1. My parents fight. 2. My tios are divorcing. Conclusion: Marriage sucks.) Often, the easiest conclusion and the selection of facts under consideration, are the ones they hear reiterated day after day after day (just like a kid, but maybe from a different source than the family). They probably are not critical enough to think, "Hmm. I am also adding the marriage I saw last night on [fill-in-the-blank-sitcom/movie], which is fiction, to my compiled data re: the state of holy matrimony." Or, "The celebrity relationships I read about in Teen People [do they still have that? -Ed.] are not necessarily part of a representative sample of the population." Or even, "My parents fight but they also kiss and laugh and stay together: why?" Or, "I'm making my generalization on marriages based on the unpleasantness of my family's experience thereof- is this a large enough compilation of data? Are there other factors that affect marriage in my family that I'm not considering? If marriage is so bad, why has it existed for so long? What are alternatives to marriages, how would they differ or be the same? What are pros and cons thereof?"

Teens are thinking. They are analyzing. They are drawing conclusion, making inferences, forming hypothesis... upper level thinking, all. They are looking for logic. They just are not always doing so with the all the data or necessarily with accurate data. The explanations they sort through are not always comprehensive.

And woe is us, the Church, if accurate data and legitimate conclusions are not available to them.

How they need the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth! A Counselor to explain, the knowledge and wisdom of Christ, the nuance that the right narrative allows...

Would that the young people would learn to run to Christ- to the Almighty- for explanations. Not "just" the Church or the Christian subculture, which fail, but Christ! ...and the best articulation the Church can give. The truth of Christ- wherever or through whomever best expresses it.

Teenagers are of such a critical nature (although not always having the all the information or wisdom necessary to exercise it well) that if you or your organization are their sole provider of truth, you will probably get audited and found wanting real quick... as soon as the young person can perceive himself as an entity that can stand, think, decide, and survive without your assistance. Might be 13 if he's public schooled, 18 if he's not, 29 if he's really sheltered, but generally, you will get weighed. You must not be his sole source of wisdom, or you risk having him unduly prejudiced against your conclusions because of your personal life, his hormones, his friends, or popular opinion.

Give kids- early!- data that speaks totally apart from your interpretation thereof. Give them sources that stand without your help. While your kids still believe you, give them truth rooted in Christ and evidenced and articulated all over.

Let them read books. Discuss them sometimes if you can. Let them know people. (Be very careful how you discuss those people, because, as i said, kids do generally unquestioningly accept conclusions given to them. That especially includes stereotypes, gossip, and disgust. Your vices may be more contagious than your virtues.) Let them know Democrats (real, live ones, not Andrew Jackson, not parodies on youtube or on Rush, and teevee never counts as "knowing".) Let them know single mothers, poor people, the middle class, illegal immigrants, dying people, the weak, the elderly, the immoral, anybody you know you're prone to toss comments out about or they're likely to need to know about in their future life. Children think too, just not generally as critically. It's a good chance to teach them how. Let them see if their experience validifies what you say, while you can still work through it with them. Expose them to different sides of an issue. Find the best reasons your opponents hold and articulate them the best you can. [Ed. note: I am probably now more pro-life than any other political position. I was around 9 when my friend's mom blew my mind by challenging me about it with a very good argument. I was speechless then, but I'm glad now she did.]

More than anything, above all, if you do one thing well, have them meet Jesus. Walk with Him everywhere, and let them see He's never a stranger, never awkward, never snarky, never cliche, hypocritical, or dumbfounded . Me, totally, completely, a thousand times awkward and worse. Sorry. But Christ- for this He came!- to seek and save that which was lost, confused, muddled bewildered, immoral, unexplicable. That we should know the truth that would set us free. Not confined to a cynical darkness, not driving blind in a totally clueless optimism, no fenced in by ideology intolerant of uncontrolled information, not bound by prejudices that fear disagreement, but free. Because there's an awful lot of truth, and He can handle it all.

thought two:
When do kids follow in their parents' "footsteps"? ...when what they encounter in life fits what has been explained to them and there's no major point of cognitive dissonance. They judge the explanation by incoming information and find it adequate. New data supports the presuppositions. As the children get bigger, their parent's world "expands with them." [Narnia is overquoted, but for a good reason: the scene where the kids tell Aslan, "You're bigger!" comes to mind.]

Thinking recently about the amazing phenomenon of kids chosing the same profession as their parents: a doctor's son doesn't grow up to become a doctor because he heard his dad complain about it every day at dinner. A pastor's son doesn't become a pastor because his dad's discontentment was so attractive. Contentment is a powerful argument. Joy has it's own way of convincing.

thought three:
Kids walk down the hallway with blank faces or concentrated looks- pretty calm in all. If one looks unhappy and you ask, they're prone to either start smiling or to pour out what happened.

Teens- I remember driving home one day after student teaching at a middle school. I realized my head hurt. I looked in the rearview mirror - my brows were raised, forehead creased, eyelids slightly lowered, almost squinting- the exact same face that had been reflected to me all day long. The one adults wear when we're bearing pain, worried, or hearing sad news. This was those kids' "normal face." You ask them "What's wrong?" and they'd probably reply, "Nothin'," just kind of looking at you like, "What's right?"

We talk a lot about teens being "moody." Good night! They're realizing the human race is damned, fallen, sick, and sad. I'd be moody, too. They're pondering, "I am not a precious and unique snowflake after all," "There is no 'happily-ever-after'," "Love does not always conquer all," "The good guys do not always win," and other distopian mantras. How can they not be moody? Their problems seem huge not becuse they're really out of touch with reality, but because they see them as fitting in the wider context of reality. "My friend's not talking to me, kids die of hunger in Africa, people lie, and someday I'll be old and sick and lonely. A family was killed in that house fire yesterday, my friends are losing their virginity, boys are pervs, i can't stand my Spanish teacher, and i am so sick of doing the same thing everyday." Their scraped knee hurts precisely because others are dying of gangrened amputations. Thusly does rock music exist. Likewise disposable relationships, crazy living, and so much youth-oriented entertainment... Painkillers, my friends. It's a hard world we live in.