Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. — Titus 2:3-5 (NLT)
“I absolutely refuse to debate gun control with people who eat soap and are confused by bathrooms.”
“Stay out of politics and go back to eating tide pods.”
Have you heard these comments? Seen the memes?
Same. And from what I’ve seen, they’re usually shared by adults.
We are so classy sometimes.
I was fortunate to be born into a Christian home with a dad and a mom who were both very present and active in my life. Both sets of my grandparents lived within a few minutes of our house, so I was always taken care of by family members. Even the adults in my life who were family members were fairly religious or at least good people. I’m the oldest sibling, and my cousins were out of high school from the time I can remember, so I didn’t have much exposure to things that weren’t age appropriate.
We weren’t free from struggle, of course. My family faced a lot of loss during my high school years, and I have some baggage from those experiences. We faced financial hardships, but I was never worried about what I would eat. My grandparents put money aside for us for our education, and were super encouraging about going to college, but not in an overly pressured way.
Obviously, God’s hand was at work in this, but I was dealt a pretty solid hand. The primary reason I’m as stable as I am is because of the adults who invested in my life.
I was extremely blessed, but I’ll call it what it is: white privilege. And here’s the hard truth: the likelihood of people growing up in situations like mine is shrinking, especially in regards to people of color.
In the majority of situations, privilege is seen as negative. If someone is well off financially, we assume they’re corrupt or greedy. If someone accuses us of having white privilege, we are triggered. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what we have or how we got it; what matters is how we use our resources, whether that’s our privilege, our money, or our voices.
Not every child is going to grow up in the same home situation I did. Not every child has supportive adults in their lives. This is where we can come in. We might be the only person who takes the time to invest in a child; we might be the only adult they feel safe around.
We need to stop belittling the younger generation and criticizing them for not being where we think they should be. Our job is to reach out to them exactly where they are at and walk with them as they grow. Here are three suggestions I think we need to keep in mind as we invest in the lives of younger people.
#1 — Shut up and listen.
Sometimes it’s easier to put it balanantly.
In general, listening is a lost art. It takes time and patience to listen to what someone is saying. We are used to sharing what’s on our mind instantaneously. But people aren’t Twitter feeds, they aren’t status updates.
There have been so many times where adults (myself included) have started spewing advice instead of actually listening to what a younger person is saying. Our brains organize our thoughts into tangible parts. It’s easier to do this by talking through things or writing things down. Processing our thoughts is hard. How many times have you started talking through an issue only to realize that the actual problem was deeper? We have a hard enough time processing what we’re actually trying to say or how we really feel about an issue, and we’ve had years of practice!
Sometimes the best thing we can do is let others get all their word vomit out before we say anything. Even then, don’t jump into giving advice. Try asking clarifying questions to make sure you understand the issue. We joke around about the typical therapist question (“How does that make you feel?”) but there’s a reason they use that all the time. Another tool is to repeat what they’ve said to make sure you understand: “I hear you telling me that you think your parents are unfair because they treat you differently than your sister. Is that right?”
#2 — Don’t give solutions; collaborate.
One thing adults habitually do is tell younger people what we think they should do. From what I’ve noticed, many high school students don’t want to be told what to do. They just want people to listen and know that their concerns are heard. Honestly, that’s true in all of our lives. We like knowing we’re important enough to be actually heard.
Here’s my problem with automatically telling people what to do: eventually, there will be times when someone is left to her own devices. Problems follow us through our entire lives, and there will be moments when there won’t be a parent, a teacher, a youth pastor, a mentor to tell us what to do. It’s important that we use these conversations as teachable moments to help younger people learn how to problem solve and figure out possible solutions on their own. My ultimate goal in working with people is to give them the adequate tools they need to solve problems on their own.
I’m not saying we never offer advice. There will be plenty of opportunities to do so. I just want to make sure that in giving advice, I’m actually listening to what someone is saying and teaching them, not simply telling them what to do.
#3 — Be patient and reassuring.
One of the guys from my church said most students are struggling with identity issues.
Aren’t we all?
For real though, the emotional, hormonal, mental, and physical changes that happen in a preteen’s life are wild. The only time our bodies go through that much development that quickly is during infancy. There’s a reason why middle schoolers are annoying and dramatic and crazy. They don’t know who they are yet. Their bodies are out of control, and they have no idea why they are cranky. They just are.
Or they’re hangry.
In all honesty, I’m fairly convinced we don’t truly understand who we really are until we’re in our forties. Up until then, we’re jumping from schooling to more schooling to a job that will give us a paycheck just so we can survive. Then we might start a career and maybe a family in our thirties. We don’t ever have a solid grasp on this life thing, but I think things kinda even out around our late thirties, early forties.
I hope it does, anyway.
But that’s why it’s so important for people to invest in the lives of those who are younger. We need someone to come alongside us and tell us it will all be okay. We need people who remind us of how God has worked in the past and the truths we need to hold on to in those moments when it seems like life is over.
It’s not our job to criticize the younger generation or belittle them. We could have no idea of what they face at home or at school. When they tell us there’s a problem, it’s not our job to brush it off or say they’re being dramatic. We don’t get to tell someone how much they are hurt. Our job is to sit and listen.
I work with kids in multiple atmospheres every day. Sometimes I’m a teacher, sometimes I’m a co-worker, sometimes I’m a friend. But the one thing that is consistent on every level is the courage and unbridled passion the younger generation has. They haven’t been taught to give up on their dreams yet; they’re still hopeful that they can make the world change.
These are the people I’ll eventually pass the baton to. They show a lot of promise, so I’m pretty stoked. My job is to cultivate that in the meantime.