Summer has gone and done it again–slipped through our fingers like grains of sand. It feels like we just loaded up the buses to head to Carolina Creek for camp and now here we are, less than two weeks away from the 2016-2017 school year kicking off. Although we are very sad to see the long and fun days of summer come to an end, we are beginning to get excited for the coming school year!
Like we’ve mentioned before, our student ministry has many incredible lay leaders that are investing the gospel in students’ lives on a weekly basis. Quite a few of these leaders are teachers too. We love talking to them because they glean many deep insights about this generation of students. Stephanie Dingle is one of these leaders and is a high school English teacher. As the new school year approaches, we wanted to share an impactful realization that the Lord recently gave her about teenagers. Check it out below–
As a high school teacher, I feel like I’ve seen all the things, heard all the excuses, felt every hardship, celebrated all kinds of victories and mourned as many defeats as all the kids I’ve taught over the years. My kids and I, we’ve run the gamut, and upon reflection, I can safely say I’m so very thankful to be an adult and not a teenager right now because y’all, life is hard for the kiddos these days. Smart phones and social media have seen to that.
It is the policy of my school district to end each class period with what’s called an “exit ticket.” That’s basically a short, quick way to assess our students’ progress for the class period.
On a whim, I decided to scrap the assessment part and just ask them to respond, anonymously on an index card, to a simple question:
What is the hardest part about being a teenager?
Results included acne, hard classes and lots of homework, trying to figure out what to do with life after high school, etc., but mostly they were pretty much the same. One girl said it best: “The hardest part about being a teenager is trying to live up to other people’s expectations of you because it seems impossible.”
Baby, it doesn’t seem impossible, it is impossible. Pure and simple.
So why do we try so hard to live up to an impossible standard, especially when we know going in that we’ll never be able to? Clearly, someone has tapped us with the crazy stick and we have yet to wake from the daze.
I don’t pretend to think for a moment that even half of my students are Christ followers. Many of them don’t know who Jesus is or what He’s about or His amazing gift of grace. But some of them do know Jesus, and they struggle with the same difficulties of life and self-image and responsibilities as their peers. Sadly, acne, homework, and peer pressure are non-discriminative.
And adults deal with some of the same struggles as teens, just on a larger scale. Society has all sorts of ideas about how best to raise children, what size we need to be and what we need to wear, the list goes on. We seem to be in a vicious cycle of constant judgment and measuring up to a standard that doesn’t even make sense. It’s scary to realize that the struggles of our youth sometimes move with us into adulthood.
This is something I discuss frequently with students in my classroom. As a teacher, I feel they need to understand that many of the habits and behavioral patterns they develop in adolescence will remain fixed in adulthood unless something significant happens that alters their point of view. Some have a great understanding of action-consequence relationships, while others carry on as though they’re oblivious and immune to responsibility. My dad used to say this: “You are who, what, and where you are because of the choices YOU make.” That’s difficult for a teenager to fully grasp, that idea that they have a choice in the matter, especially matters directly concerning them – including how they respond to social standards and worldly desires – the standard of perfection.
As a teacher, I’m not allowed to openly share my faith with my students. I know this rule and understand why it is in place, but just because I can’t discuss that I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I can’t show that I’m one. The same is true for our kids – they may not always have the words, especially in situations where they feel public scorn and humiliation would surely follow doing or saying the “right” thing, but they have actions, even if the action is something simple like sitting with a stranger during lunch or choosing to say something kind on social media rather than tearing others down. Too many teens find their value in what their friends say or don’t say about them online rather than relying on something true and real, so it is imperative for Christian leaders, regardless of place and position, to display humility and grace in the face of constant opposition. And by opposition I mean goofy, snarky teenagers.
As parents, we are charged with raising up our children in the way of the Lord. (I believe this is my charge as a teacher, as well, especially because I would take a bullet for any one of my student babies) We can openly discuss Jesus with them, help them understand scripture so they will identify with who they are in Christ rather than worry about who they are to the world. We can tell them the beautiful story about how the Lord formed them in our wombs and knows the number of hairs on their heads and how he has a wonderful plan for their lives. We can pray with them and over them and discuss biblical truths with them and encourage them to share all that great stuff with every single person they know.
And as their faith develops, they’ll come to understand a new standard, a new kind of love and hope that transcends beyond what this world presents them with. The kind of love that is more beautiful and radiant and forgiving than Instagram and Facebook and SnapChat will ever be. They’ll see a new person to measure themselves against, and instead of finding ridicule and public scorn when they fall short, they’ll be greeted with grace and everlasting love.
I’d like to offer my answer to the question posed before: The hardest part about being a teenager is living without knowing Jesus.
But then I guess that’s true at any age.