Fear Not the Teenagers

Vantage Point

Teenagers make adults anxious.

It’s true. I’ve yet to encounter an adult who’s never experienced anxiety at the sight of a teen in some type of situation. Think of how many times you’ve walked through a mall or down a street and seen a group of teens hanging out. Has it ever made you uncomfortable? Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Those kids are probably up to no good” or something along those lines?

Quite often these days it seems that the reputation of teenagers is not one most people would want. Why? That’s a tough one to figure out—perhaps many of us really don’t want to. Yet it’s an issue we struggle with, not just “us” as a church but “us” as a society. The seemingly default feeling of society when it comes to relating to teens as a group is one of nervousness and sometimes disdain.

How did we get to be so judgmental?

I believe the reason for the separation between teens and adults is a “structural disconnect,” one I think Mark Yaconelli, author of Contemplative Youth Ministry (Zondervan, 2006) sums up best: “The separation between adults and youth begins long before adolescence. Many youth spend most of their childhoods segregated in daycares and schools, afternoons and evenings in front of televisions and computers, weekends hanging out with friends. By early adolescence most young people are attuned to a different reality, a different world than adults. The less contact adults have with young people, the more mysterious they seem. Adults can fall into the traps of projection, speculation, worry, and fearful imaginings. Congregations and church leaders find themselves relying on the media to learn about kids. They absorb stories about teenage gangs and violence; they watch videos and movies that portray teens in a less than ideal light. . . . And all this becomes a filter of how young people are perceived. Sadly, many adults are unable to see what the truth is.”

Today’s teens are actually the least violent and careless of all teens in the past 20 years. Bill Strauss, co-author of Millennials Rising: The Next Generation, says, “Never before has there been a generation that is less violent and less vulgar than the culture being offered them.”

If you compare what society presents to us with real-life encounters with teens, you’ll find today’s young people quite impressive.

So would you like to get to know a teen? Instead of trying to relate to him or her through what society says is the cultural norm, try relating through actual encounters. Talk to teens, interact with them, and determine for yourself what they are like; don’t go by what Hollywood says.

I think you’ll be surprised. 

About the Author

 Brent Lamberts is youth director of Unity Reformed Church, Kentwood, Mich.
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