I just finished reading a great book called “Sticky Faith Youth Workers edition: practical ideas to nurture long-term faith in teenagers” by Dr Kara E Powell and Brad M Griffin.
There is a stack of great stuff in this book that you should all read, but I want to focus on one quote that really stood out to me:
“The breadth of peer relationships that young people experience means they get a wider variety of feedback about how they are perceived. Because friends opinions matter so much during adolescence, the result is a delay in identity formation. Quite simply, kids receive inconsistent and too much feedback in response to what they say and how they act, so they often postpone committing to who they want to become.” – Sticky Faith Youth Worker edition, Powell and Griffin, page 54 (kindle location 733)
The first thing that occurs to me regarding this is Facebook and, sure this is part of the problem mentioned above, but I think even Facebook is part of a bigger social shift.
Everyone wants to be somebody.
I feel like we live in a time where there is a growing emphasis on the importance of being well known; that fame seems to be more reachable than ever before; and that it is realistic for young people to thing that one day they will be famous. This has driven a desire to be known and connected to more people. Is this the result of social media or is social media feeding off something that was already there?
What I do know is that many young people are not satisfied to have a small circle of friends anymore. There is greater and greater focus on curating a self-image that is sent out to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. There is an expectation that if I am not getting feedback and interaction beyond my small circle of friends, then I am not popular enough and there is something wrong with me.
We live in the tension between a lie and reality. The lie is that the more people I am connected to, the healthier I am as a person and the better off I will be. The content of this quote indicates that the reality is quite different: the more people I am connected with, the less healthy I am and the longer it takes me to form my identity and sense of self and place in the world.
HOW DO WE HELP TEENS DEAL WITH THIS?
When the whole world is shouting at a young person that they need to be more popular and connected, how can we speak into that with a loud enough alternative?
I think the key is substance. Or maybe we can call it depth.
Yes, young people are receiving way too much feedback on who they are and how they act, but most of it is shallow and trite. It is wrapped up in niceties and generalities that make it bland, impersonal and fake. But if it’s all they get, they will take it.
It is our job to speak words into a young person that are deeper, more genuine, more impacting, more life-imparting than the words of the world around us.
· When was the last time you told a young person about the strengths you see in their character?
· When was the last time you shared what you see deep down in them behind the mask and facade they put on?
· When was the last time you dreamed with a young person about who you believe they can grow up to be?
· When was the last time you encouraged a young person in the unique gifts you see in them?
· When was the last time you spoke the word of God over a young person to strengthen their identity?
If we can take the time to get to know a young person and speak into their life with deep, raw, true words of what we see in them and the potential they have, I think these words will be much louder than the shouting of the world. These words will stick more and have a greater impact. These words will help develop their identity in the right way.