REACHING YOUTH TODAY
By Sr. Brenda Walsh, Racine Dominicans
People in the US and around the world
are frequently seeking answers to the question: “How do we reach youth today in a positive and meaningful way” There is a growing generation gap and often young people are searching for hope and meaning, a spiritual grounding and a sense of purpose for their fragmented lives. Most also want to be respected and more involved in addressing the needs of our time in a broken and fragmented world. Some are already getting into leadership roles and making a difference.
What would enable adults to offer life and hope today and help youth to use their gifts in creating a better world for all people? We ask ourselves: “What is the central truth of our lives? How do we nurture it and live the values we profess?” Gandhi once said: “We must be the change we want see happen in our world.” Then young people will be inspired to be part of the solution to today’s challenges and to share their efforts with the global community. Many today have global networks to connect with people across lines of culture, creed and class and this gives them many opportunities to imagine and create the kind of world that will be good for all and at the same time enrich their own lives. It will take the material and spiritual gifts of everyone to create such a world.
What are youth seeking? In my conversations on this topic over the years, there are many common trends in their search.
Many today are living with labels and often feel they have little or no value. We need to help youth get beyond the labels and use their multiple talents in the building of a better world.
They are looking for a safe and healthy community, especially in a time of deep recession and extreme economic problems. They need a safe and secure environment to keep their hope and sense of belonging.
Youth need listening ears today to help them discover their own path in a struggling world and to use their energy toward peace and community building.
Many lack a basic education and need to learn more skills to survive. Some of our local communities have established training for work and life skills, have involved youth that have little or no work experience, and walked with them while they were seeking work and after they started their first job, to make sure they would be successful. Employers are recruited that would give them a chance to work and use the time and energy required to help them be successful.
Parents also need to help youth develop their skills, stay away from dangerous habits such as drugs and gangs, that hinder their chances of success in life.
Spiritual values are very important and are often missing in the lives of families today. Awareness of such values needs to be restored An awareness of the divine presence will bring a sense of security especially in troubling times and will encourage people to relate to each other in ways that are affirming, encouraging, and motivating for positive action for the good of all people. Churches and other organizations can be very helpful in leading youth to meaningful action to alleviate poverty and bring hope. One such example came to my attention recently in MN. where high school students from Apple Valley School were recruited and trained to spend several weeks in one of the poorest place in the world to learn about poverty and what people go through in their survival efforts. They were interested in learning from the people how best to respond to the needs of those in dire poverty. Information was provided on global warming and how it affects the poor. Go to www.TwinCities.com for more information. Other groups with similar hopes and goals are springing up across the US and beyond. That surely is a sign of hope and calls us to be alert to such opportunities wherever we are. Youth are the adults and community builders of the future and need to be affirmed and trained for their mission.
We interviewed a group of high school students in a local Catholic School in Racine, WI and they offered these ideas:
Youth need adults who will listen to them and not just talk about business all the time. Listen to their concerns about school, relationships, the challenges they face and other issues, and when appropriate, offer some advice. Help them face life’s issues and walk through tough times with courage and hope.
Offer words of encouragement and gratitude when they see young people doing good things. Listen to and learn from youth about their concerns and hopes.
Get involved in youth groups and help them find ways to help in responding to community issues and helping others. Demonstrate ways they can be leaders in their communities. Alert them to the need to use the media responsibly.
Encourage youth to be their best selves and assure them that there are endless ways to help create a good community.
The World Future Society has frequently encouraged people to include all in their planning and implementation of plans including older adults, people that are challenged mentally, physically, and especially our youth.
Such a move will provide more security, a sense of worth and purpose in life for youth today and will enhance the life of the entire community.
We can consider ourselves honored to accompany youth in their search for a meaningful, hope-filled and productive life for all people. No effort is too small to make a difference.
Today’s Youth Facing
Solomon advised, “Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth...” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). God is concerned about the spiritual welfare of youth and so should everyone be, young and old. It is in the interest of and genuine concern for their welfare that this lesson is presented. Our lesson is primarily directed toward those who are in the days of their youth and addressed to them.
There are seven facts we first must recognize. One, young people are included among those for whom God is concerned. Two, there are many problems youth must face in this world. Three, they will not be young for very long. Time will take care of that. Four, today’s youth is not the first to face problems. Nor are they the only ones today facing problems. Five, youth is neither inferior nor superior to adulthood. Adulthood and youth are obviously not the same. They do not have the same responsibilities, opportunities nor capacities. Youths cannot be adults just yet and adults cannot now be youths. Adults have problems youths cannot solve, and vice versa. Farmers have problems and merchants have problems. Their problems, even though related, are not the same. Neither is superior to the other. Neither is inferior to the other. There is a great difference between adults and youths we must remember. Adults have once been youths, but youths have never been adults. Adults, therefore, have some advantage to see and understand both periods. Youths sometimes seem to forget this. Six, there are some matters which youths cannot yet handle because they are not in the position to handle them. There are matters of leadership, guidance, control and duty that pertain to adults that do not yet pertain to youths. Even though youths may be affected by many things over which they have no control, this is life. Such is true even in adulthood. Seven, there are many problems about which there is much that youths can do. In fact, if these problems are not handled now to the extent they can be, youths will be forever handicapped.
Youth face the issue of preparedness. Many who are now adults neglected this issue and now find adulthood overbearing. Youth is a time for preparing for future life. Actually, all of life is a time for preparing for eternity. But especially are the days of youth a time to set your standards. Too many youths build ceilings over themselves while young that they cannot penetrate once they are adults. Too many leave the years of youth and enter adulthood unprepared. They must become prepared socially, mentally, physically, and most important of all, spiritually. It is tragic that emphasis in placed on lesser preparations to the neglect of the spirit.
Youth is a time for education, though not exclusively for youth. No person is truly educated who is not acquainted with the Bible. As one becomes an adult he is forced into life that demands a state of readiness. If youths have failed to prepare they face immeasurable problems. While not yet encumbered with the duties and responsibilities of adulthood, young people need to avail themselves of opportunities to prepare themselves in all areas. Our advice to the young is, “Don’t blow your chances.”
In a Hurry
Young people often are guilty of pushing life. It may not do much good to even mention it, but it is something young people need to recognize. Youths are always wanting to be older than they are. It is somewhat like adults wanting to be younger. Youths are impatient to “grow up.” They seem to think that everything worthwhile is for later life. Grass is always greener on the other side. This is not necessarily so. Each age of life has its blessings. Youths should give life all they can give it now in the days of youth and reap the harvest. Failing to get from life what is intended in youth will make adulthood less wonderful.
Youths are somewhat like green apples. If they are not allowed to ripen they will only be hard and bitter. You cannot push the maturing process too fast or it will backfire. Growth and development always takes time.
Many parents and other adults are guilty of pushing the young into maturity before they are ready for it. They encourage early dating, clothing that is immodest, adult activities and privileges, structured and controlled activities to the extent the child does not have time nor opportunities to ever be a child. Young people are not small adults. They are young people. We should let them get the fullest from that period of life without trying to make them little adults before they are adults. They cannot successfully be little adults. We see ten and twelve year olds dressed like they were twenty-five. It is a mark of offense against the child and a manifestation of some stupidity of the adults responsible. We see teens keeping hours like they were already mature. Many havefreedoms and lacking guidance that only leads to their corruption. Then we wonder why some of them get frustrated with life and burned out on life before they have hardly entered adulthood. We can understand why some youths get bored with life so early. They have been forced to live it all before their time.
Youths need to face the problem of social pressure called peer pressure. There is tremendous pressure to do what those around you are doing. All people, young and old, are subjected to the pressure to conform in order to be accepted and liked by others. This is a problem that stays with the Christian all the days of his life. But he must remember that even though he is in the world, he is not to be of the sinful world. Because this problem is a lifelong matter, young people need to learn to cope with it early in life.
Youths need to learn to be themselves and not imitations of others. They need to learn to think for themselves rather than blindly following the way of the crowd. If you follow others you will never be your own person. Surely, all should try to be socially acceptable to a degree, friendly, courteous, fair, gentle, pleasant and polite. But all must learn to stand on their own feet and be independent of others to the extent that they do not let others govern their lives. You should never compromise what is true and right before God to get along and go along with anybody. One talent youths must develop is the ability to stand even if they have to stand alone. God’s people have always had to be such people. Who makes up your mind? Who decides what you do? While you are subject to your parents you must allow yourself to be guided by them and their guidance should be according to the Word of God. But you should not let pressure of being accepted, being liked, being popular have the controlling influence over your life. Unless you learn to discipline yourself to stand for truth regardless of others you are subject to being tossed to and fro all your life from one error to another. The guidance given you from the Word of God must be allowed to determine your life. You are most fortunate if you have parents who love you and love the Lord to instruct you in Hisways. Let God be your guide. Permitting the crowd to set your standards is fatal to your soul.
Youths are troubled over what they perceive to be the hypocrisy in adults. A hypocrite is one who pretends to be what he really is not and really does not intend to be. He does what he does for show. He says one thing but does another. Some of the strongest language of condemnation found in the Bible is in Matthew, chapter twenty-three, where the Lord Jesus condemned hypocrisy. That adults, as well as youths. are often guilty of this pretense is not to be denied.
Children are born into a world where everybody cares for them, every decision is made for them in their early years, and they learn to love and trust the adults around them. They assume what adults say and do is always right. But as youths grow older they come to realize that adults do not always live according to what they say nor are they always what they ought to be. Even those in whom youths have placed their confidence sometimes prove to be a heart-breaking disappointment to them. The response to this awareness that there is often inconsistency among adults sometimes causes some young people to think nobody is honest, nobody cares and nobody really is trying to do what is right. But this response is wrong and the conclusion is wrong. It is foolish to throw overboard all truth because somebody in whom we place confidence does not live according to truth. That is not the fault of the truth. We do not do this in others matters of life. Why should we do it in matters of the Bible, the church and religion? Are you going to quit going to doctors because some of them get sick? Are you going to violate the law because some law enforcement officer violates it? Shall you cease to ride in a car because some driver drives recklessly? Are you going to discard God’s teaching on marriage because some divorce? Are you going to get rid of all your tires because one goes flat?
Nobody is perfect, even adults. Not all adults are hypocrites, however. All who make mistakes are not hypocrites. Adults are human beings and are facing many problems, temptations and threats of which youths are not yet aware. This is not to excuse adults for evil conduct, but it is to simply encourage youths to face realities regarding adults. Only Christ was perfect and only He is the standard by which to measure all things. Even parents are not perfect. Preachers and elders are not perfect. Young people are not perfect either.
It is a good sign that you are reaching a higher level of maturity when you can understand the difference between what a person ought to be and what he actually is and see the difference between what you have been taught and what sometimes people do. Adults may aggravate the problem for youth by their inconsistent lives, but even the youths must remember to set their sights on Christ, not on any human being. While it may be ratherdisturbing to go from the realm where all is sublime and be shocked into reality that all is not perfect, this is a part of leaving the innocent world of childhood and entering into the world of reality and adulthood. Do not let human frailties shake your confidence in God.
The Problem of Sin
Youths, like adults, face the problem of sin. When one sins he sells his soul to Satan. Sin separates one from God. One cannot live his life as God would have him live it if he remains in sin. Everyone must ask, “Will I live in sin, or in Christ?” Each one must make a personal decision in this matter. These are the only two realms available in which we can live. We have to obey the gospel to enter Christ.
Today’s youth must face today’s problem of sin. It comes through drugs, alcoholic beverages (America’s number one drug problem), temptations to immorality, dishonesty, lack of respect for authority and forsaking God. But youth can face these matters and overcome them when they align themselves with their Creator and Judge. Face today, and tomorrow you will be able to face tomorrow. Unless you learn to handle today, what will be the end of you tomorrow? We cannot carry the burdens of yesterday, today and tomorrow at once. Life is to be lived one day at a time, and we are capable, inChrist, to successfully carry our load. We can have joy and gladness as we live and help others carry their load.
Following the crowd, rebelling against God, swallowing whatever you are told by the worldly sort may sound exciting, emotional, new and “cool.” But a good life is accomplished only by being good as God defines good.
Meeting today's problems, like all other problems of life, can be met only when there is a strong and Biblical spiritual foundation and guidance. “How shall the young secure their hearts, and guard their lives from sin?” It is by following the Word of God. Youths need not despair nor be discouraged. Life in Christ is a wonderful life, full of purpose and meaning, blessings and benefits, with each day being worthwhileand productive. Problems are challenges and tests of our worth. Problems can become stepping stones rather than stumblingblocks.
When youths and adults work together before God the young can secure their place and be what God intended them to be. Nothing is more challenging than a young life. The future is open and the limits are extended. May God help us and youths everywhere to defeat the devil and bring glory to God in life.
1. List the problems our youth face. Add to the ones mentioned in the lesson.
2. Suggest solutions to each of these problems.
3. How can the older generation help them face these problems?
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