I read an interesting article the other day about ‘entitled teenagers’ - young people who “feel like the world owes them everything and parents exist to please and meet their teenagers’ every desire and whim. These entitled teenagers are resistant to parental authority, demanding, and often unable to manage failure or disappointment”.
One of the main points in the article is that entitled teenagers don’t emerge from a vacuum. They’re the children of their culture, which includes the cultural expectations around the role of parents. For parents to address teenage entitlement they must resist the cultural pressure to “succeed” as parents by “doing all they can to prevent their kids from being hurt, sad, bored, or denied any opportunity”. Our culture has made parenting into an avenue for personal fulfilment. We live in a culture where ’keeping the kids happy’ equals ‘successful parents’ equals ‘happy parents’.
The whole article (along with other resources on the Understanding Teenagers site) is worth taking a look at: http://understandingteenagers.com.au/blog/entitled-teenagers-what-is-going-on/
Overall the article is a strong reminder that youth ministry will always struggle to serve young people in the best possible way if it isn’t pursued in close partnership with ministry to adults. Back in 1989 an article in Youthworker magazine described the relationship between youth ministry and the church as a ‘one-eared Mickey Mouse’. If you picture the familiar outline of Mickey Mouse, with a big circle for his head, but only one small circle for an ear, you’ve got a representation of the adult congregation (the big circle), with youth ministry is a loosely connected appendage on the side (the small circle). Since then there have been various proposals and plans for how to promote inter-generational ministry, with varying degrees of insight and success.
The complex relationship between entitled teenagers and success-driven parents reminds me that the ministry challenge is not just about structuring closer proximity, it also involves pursuing integrated discipleship. Finding times and spaces for adults and young people to spend time together is a valuable aim for inter-generational ministry. The more the different generations are in the same room at the same time the more likely they are to actually talk to each other. Yet once the generations get to know each other, they also need to know what it means to belong together. What are the challenges of Christian discipleship that arise from being members of one family together with these teenagers/adults?
This is what I mean by ‘integrated discipleship’. Not just adults and young people learning together, but adults and young people learning how to be together. Adults and young people need to learn how each can best serve the other. What is the particular gift that young people can bring to adults? What is the particular gift that adults can bring to young people?
The follow article on how to deal with entitled teenagers has some good advice for parents that apply equally to all adults in the church (the spiritual mothers and fathers of the young people in the church): Adults would do well to learn how to give young people boundaries, how to give them responsibility, accountability, encouragement, understanding of limits, an awareness of the challenges of life (http:// understandingteenagers.com.au/blog/8-ways-to-deal-with-entitled-teenagers/).
All this is what is involved in raising children in the fear and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:1). This is what is needed for young people to grow in wisdom, to learn how to successfully navigate the world that has been given to us by God - a world that includes all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of adolescence. Young people will struggle to learn wisdom without adults who are themselves growing in wisdom.
Proximity is an important part of the structures needed for inter-generational ministry; a deep sense of interdependence and fellowship must be the air that we breathe. We belong together. We will not reach maturity in faith without each other.
Ministry to adults in the church can serve young people by leading adults in building an environment that will enable young people to grow in faith and faithfulness. A friend of mine has often said that young people in churches are like frogs in the environment. One of the first signs that a physical environment has turned toxic is that the frogs leave. There’s no point luring the frogs back if the environment hasn’t changed. If young people have left the church because they didn’t find an environment that would grow them in Christ, we cannot expect them to return unless we change the environment. A significant part of that environmental change is in the hearts of adult believers. Adults with a heart to see gospel growth among young people are adults who also want to see the gospel grow in their own hearts.