12.29.14

Two Qualities Every Youth Worker Needs  by Jody Livingston

http://thelongerhaul.com/two-qualities-youth-worker-needs/

What are the top two qualities every Youth Worker should have?

I love Youth Workers!  To me there are no better people on the planet.  They love teens, are burdened for them, and chase after them when everyone else seems to run away and avoid them.

When I think about the best Youth Workers I know, and the qualities they have, there are two qualities that they all share in common.  These qualities are what separate the great from the good.  The question is, do you have them?  Here they are:

1. Humility

Every great Youth Worker I know is humble.  Humility is a tough thing to have.  It is one of those things you can have until you realize you have it, and then you become proud.

Humility by itself breaks down so many walls that others put up.  Whether it is a student, parent, or a disgruntled deacon, genuine humility seems to immediately break through the issues at hand.

Teaching is also better received.  Reprove and correction are always better heard and taken from a posture of humility.

If you are a Youth Worker, or looking to recruit Youth Workers…look for humility.

2. Grace

Every great Youth Worker I know also shows grace.  In Youth Ministry this is even more important.

Everyone is always talking to students, telling students what they need to do and what they should not be doing.  Very few actually talk with students.

Grace is hard because we are naturally more legalistic.  From the opening pages of Genesis we see this creep in.  Eve when tempted by the serpent tells him that God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die” (Gen 3:3 ESV emphasis mine).  There is no record in Scripture that God commanded them not to touch the fruit, only that they should not eat it.

Things have not changed much.  We drift towards legalism many times without even realizing it.  If you do not consistently show grace to the students you serve, they will not be willing to share with you when they need it most.

For sure, call them out when they are in sin.  Just do so with grace, love, and compassion.  The last thing teens need, is one more person telling them how they are screwing up their life.

If you are a Youth Worker, or looking to recruit Youth Workers…look for grace.

12.29.14

Are we out of the woods yet? Helping teenagers with racial tension. by Brooklyn Lindsay

http://brooklynlindsey.com/out-of-the-woods/

If you’re a youth leader or parent of teenagers, you probably have had a few opportunities to talk (or not talk) about the racial tensions that have surfaced since the Michael Brown case, since the death of Eric Garner. Let me just say, that I don’t have many words. My heart aches and is disoriented with you.

Love begs for it’s place in the world and we want to join in the plea.

But I want to talk about how we do that, with teenagers specifically. Where do we start?

How do we help teenagers out of the woods of confusion, grief, doubt, dizzying disorientation that comes with racial tensions in our country and in our world?

It seems as if many of us are afraid to talk about much of it because we aren’t sure who is safe and who we can trust with our broken hearts, doubts, questions, fears, hopes, dreams, and vision for the future. We’re not sure if we’re in the clear yet, if it’s safe to go toward making things right in our own ways.

Teenagers are feeling the same and asking the same.

They’re wanting to know that we’re with them and for them as they do their best to sort all of this out. Not only is this a crisis for them, it’s a crisis during their unique crisis (a.k.a their adolescent journey).

I’m asking God to help us and give us new eyes and abilities. Because how we work this out (or ignore it) will say a lot to our kids about who we think God is and what we think love looks like.

I’m hoping that we would exercise our faith in ways that require more of it. And in this case I mean that I hope we would begin to have conversations,  listen and support in ways that say “I grieve with you” and “I care about whatever woods you are wandering in and will wait with you until you come out of it.” We can support them by giving them to ability to grieve life’s losses. Continue reading

12.29.14

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports—Or Any Performance by Brad Griffin

http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/the-only-six-words-parents-need-to-say-to-their-kids-about-sportsor-any-per#sthash.lZVmE0o0.dpuf

I’ll be honest: I kind of hate a lot about kids’ sports. It’s one area where Kara and I hold different opinions. I’m the wet blanket in the office about everything from little league to major sporting events.

Mainly I get concerned about the ways our culture obsesses about kids’ performance. All kinds of parental anxiety and dysfunction plays out on the sidelines and in the bleachers, and you only need walk to your local park to catch a glimpse for yourself. Sports have such potential to build character, perseverance, and skill. Sometimes they succeed, and other times coaches, parents, and mobs of hot-or-cold fans burn out or puff up kids in quite damaging ways.

All that aside, my son’s getting ready to play T-ball this spring. I say getting ready, because after sign-ups we were informed that “spring training” would begin immediately this week. I didn’t sign up for that. They want kids there four nights a week, pre-season, to build skills prior to being placed on teams.

Did I mention this was just at my local neighborhood park league, not “competitive” T-ball?

In the midst of considering my own response to this, I stumbled across this great article by student leadership development expert Tim Elmore. In it he discusses research on what parents can say both before and after the game to encourage their kids, without making everything about performance (either positively or negatively). Elmore suggests:

Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements moms and dads can make as [kids] perform are:

Before the Competition:   

Have fun.

Play hard.

I love you.

After the competition:

Did you have fun?

I’m proud of you.

I love you.

It gets even better. Researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and brought them joy when they played sports. Want to know the six words they most want to hear their parents say?

“I love to watch you play.”

That’s it. Nothing aggrandizing like “you’re an all-star,” and nothing discouraging like “here are a couple of things I noticed that you can work on.” Just “I love to watch you play.”

As I gear up for T-ball, band concerts, gymnastics practice, and everything else I’ll be watching my three kids do this year, I’m internalizing these six words. I’m sure I’ll say other things, some that are helpful and some that aren’t.

But I want my kids to hear that doing what they do, and learning about who God created them to be, is a joy to watch as it unfolds.

12.29.14

How I Blew It With My Kids’ Bible Verse by Kara Powell

http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/how-i-blew-it-with-my-kids-bible-verse

“Here, please learn this by basketball tomorrow.”

I handed both our daughters their own sheets of paper (better than them trying to share one) with the weekly scripture verse from our local church’s basketball league.

It was one sentence, a pretty easy one, and I was confident they could learn it in a day. I wanted them to get the green star that came each week when they memorized the weekly Bible verse. Or more accurately, I didn’t want them to be the only girls on their teams who didn’t get that green star.

I was rushed and thinking short-term. I had a Parental Checklist, and getting our girls to memorize one sentence from the Bible was on it. Check.

It didn’t feel right, but like I said, I was rushed.

The day after, I read Chuck Bomar’s new book, Losing Your ReligionAs I described in my previous post, Chuck well describes how we have truncated the gospel to a list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. We’ve made it more about what we do for God whether than what God has done, and continues to do, for us.

Is it a good thing to memorize the Bible and to help kids do likewise? Yes. 

My problem was my motivation.

Chuck contrasts unhealthy v. healthy motivations:

UNHEALTHY MOTIVATIONS

  • My motivation is to change someone’s perceptions of me;
  • My motivation for doing “the right thing” is really to please people rather than God;
  • What I do things out of fear of rejection, guilt, or shame;
  • When I identify myself in ways other than the ways God views me.

V. HEALTHY MOTIVATIONS

  • When I am not solely focused on how I am perceived by people but on wanting them to know who God is;
  • When my motivation to obey God’s commands genuinely stem from my belief in the gospel;
  • When my motivation for being devoted to good deeds is because of my salvation (see Titus 3:8);
  • When I define myself as God defines me—that I am in Christ.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking about a strong reaction I had to something he said. As we were processing it, I told him, “Dave, so much of what I do stems from how I feel about myself.” I can’t stop thinking about my self-description.

As a parent, I want my kids to memorize Scripture so they don’t feel bad about themselves if the other kids all get a green star.

As a youth leader, deep down I often wanted kids to experience spiritual growth so that I could look good to other leaders and the parents in our church.

My motivation was about me, not my identity in Jesus.

So next week, I will work with our girls to memorize their basketball verse. But here’s what I plan on doing differently:

  • I want to ask them what they know about the Bible.
  • I want to ask them what might happen to them if they learn more verses from Scripture.
  • I want us to learn the verse together.
  • I want each of us to talk about how that verse relates to our lives, and pray that God will help that verse become more of a reality in our life and family.
  • I want to help them realize that whether or not they memorize the verse, God likes and loves them.  And so do I.

It’s going to take more time. But good theology often does.

12.22.14

Five Hidden Emotions of Many Leaders  by Ron Edmonson
http://catalystconference.com/read/5-hidden-emotions-of-many-leaders/

As leaders, we aren’t always honest about how we are feeling.

It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten rule that we have to hide our true emotions because…if people knew what we were really feeling…they may not respect us, they may not follow us…and…just being candid…they may not even like us. (Which to some leaders is the biggest fear.) I’ve learned through working with dozens of pastors and leaders the last few years that, if we are not careful, leadership can become a game we play. One leader tries to impress another leader and all leaders, at one time or another, try to impress the people we are attempting to lead. Part of the key to “winning the game” is supposedly the leader bluffing everyone into thinking he or she has everything within his or her sphere of responsibility under control.

Leader, be honest…How often has that been true?

No denying, there is high expectation for leaders to be excellent in their roles. I’m not trying to lump more pressure on leaders, but I believe that many times, if we were honest about the pressures we face, about our own shortcomings, weaknesses and fears, we would be better grounded to face them. We would also attract loyal followers who would be more willing to help fill in the gaps of our leadership.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we dropped the game playing and revealed the true emotions we have in leadership?

Call me a Snitch if you want, but I’m breaking the silence. Be honest if you can often identify with this any of these hidden emotions.

Here are 5 hidden emotions of many leaders:

I don’t know what to do – Okay, what’s new? Leadership takes people places they’ve never been…that often includes the leader. If things are staying the same you won’t need a leader. Unchartered waters mean learning on the job at times. Many leaders drown in their own ignorance, refusing to ask for help. Great leaders know they don’t have all the answers and are willing to seek input from others. Seek a mentor. Hire a coach or consultant. Recruit a board of advisers. Get another degree. Keep learning. It’s part of maturing as a leader.

I can’t keep up – Duh! You’re leading. That means you’re going somewhere. The pace of good leadership in a rapidly changing world is often mind-boggling. The sense of being overwhelmed should not be a secret. In fact, if one is walking by faith, it should be a necessity. Learning to navigate through untested waters, and growing from the experience, is a part of successful leadership. Find the help you need now. It starts by admitting you need help.

I’m afraid – Seriously, who wouldn’t be? If things are growing, (or declining) demands are building and there are days with more questions than answers, human emotions are only natural. And, fear seems like the most logical one. Follow King David’s advice. When you’re afraid, trust in God. You may be scared. He’s not. Cast your cares upon Him. He’s got the whole world in His hands. Your situation won’t cause Him to be dismayed. Be bold and admit your fears to a few trusted advisers. Allow others to speak reality and strength into your life. You can do this!

I don’t know if I’m in the right place – It’s common for leaders to question their position at times. It could be they have done all they were called to do. It could be they are bored. It could be God is stirring their hearts for something new. It could simply be a temporary emotion. Don’t suppress the emotion. Press into it and figuring out the source of the emotion. It may lead to something good. Allow others to help you discern and listen for the heart of God on the matter.

I don’t feel appreciated or respected – Every leader needs respect. It’s what fuels us many days. Knowing we have a team of people willing to follow us into the unknown fuels our desire to lead even better. Consider why you feel this way. Is it an insecurity on your part or is it warranted by your actions? Regardless of the reason, this emotion has tremendous power to derail good leadership. Great leaders admit they don’t have all the answers, but, at the same time, they are confident in who they are and what God has called them to do. Most people will follow a humble, but confident leader. My best advice is to lead well, keep improving, show people you genuinely care and give them something worth following. In spite of how you feel, if you’re leading like that, they’ll respect you. If not, they wouldn’t respect anyone.

Who is willing to be honest today?

Which of these is your current, most hidden emotion?

12.22.14

Investing Without Rescuing – Why saving students from their pain doesn’t help  by Mary Glenn

http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/investing-without-rescuing?utm_source=E-Journal+%2F+Parent+Update&utm_campaign=03da3d1b52-FYI+E-Journal+Nov+10+2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e88a54a953-03da3d1b52-312895925#sthash.mU66sbe9.dpuf

He sat in my office, tears rolling down his cheeks, feeling overwhelmed by the pain in his life. Paul asked, “Why me? Why does everyone else have what I don’t—like a family and people who care for them? Why have I been abandoned? Doesn’t God care? If he cared, he would rescue me.”

His pain was real. I sat with him and listened. I, too, found myself asking those questions we all do at times. Why does suffering have to exist, and why does this person have to go through pain? Without answers that would help, I did the only thing I knew to do. I sat with him. I listened. I was present with him.

As the conversation continued, it was obvious that what he thought he needed and what he wanted was to be rescued… by God, by his community, by me, by anyone. This student longed for someone to make it better, to take care of him and take away the pain he was experiencing. It seemed reasonable enough.

He is not the first—nor will he be the last—student who has asked me to be a rescuer. I get it. The pain can be crippling, and may cause us to feel stuck.

Like us, when students are facing crisis and the pain in their lives, they are looking for answers and more importantly for relief. Before we examine ways we can respond, we need to start by asking why young people want to be rescued.

Why do young people want to be rescued?

Students today are facing pressures that students twenty years ago didn’t experience. In addition to academic pressures, they face family dynamics as well as societal challenges. They are facing and maybe even experiencing trauma, all in a social media-saturated era. News is immediate, instantaneous, and at times panic and fear-driven. Young people need adults to keep them grounded in this swirl of activity. According to the Search Institute, all young people need between 4-5 mentors in addition to their parents in order to become productive and healthy citizens.

Students can feel more vulnerable when this community is not in place. Paul was without family support due to the years of abuse and suffering he endured at their hands. He never seemed to recover from the loss of those biological ties. Many students in my youth groups over the years have suffered without this web of relationships and have operated from a place of crisis and fear. They may feel isolated, alone, unattached, and vulnerable. It is understandable why they want to be rescued. They may feel ill equipped to face the challenges and pain, and so escape becomes the option for providing immediate relief.

But not all students are lacking resources and support. Some students may be avoiding responsibility or facing reality. They may not want to do what is needed for them to find healing, wholeness, and purpose. Instead, avoidance, worry, and anxiety ensue, which can lead to bad decision-making.

Why rescuing is bad

Many developmental and education experts are concerned that when it comes to young people in our society, we tend to rescue too quickly. According to leadership specialist Tim Elmore, we hijack the growth process and development of the student when we don’t allow them to work through the pain at hand. “When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with ‘assistance,’ we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own.” [1] When a student is rescued from a problem, it removes the need for them to problem-solve themselves. Wendy Mogel, a leading researcher in this area, urges, “Remember that kids are hardy perennials, not hothouse flowers. Let them be cold, wet, or hungry for more than a second and they’ll appreciate the chance to be warm, dry, and fed. Abstain from taking the role of Sherpa, butler, crabby concierge, secret police, short order cook, or lady’s maid. Your children are hard-wired for competence. Let them do things for themselves.”[2]

In addition, when we rescue students, we replace the role that Jesus can and needs to play in their lives. As students turn to us and depend on us more, they may find their need for God diminished.

Why do we want to rescue?

In thinking about students’ issues, it is important that we examine our motives as well as the ways we respond to students in need. We need to honestly ask ourselves why we want to rescue students and fix the situation. Does it make us feel better? Are we trying to alleviate our own sense of responsibility or the pain of watching someone we care for suffer? In reflecting about Paul’s situation, I wanted to make it better. It pained me to see him in pain. I wanted to take the pain away and rescue him. The motivation may be innocent enough, seeking the well-being of the student. However, the action of rescuing can complicate what the student is going through and compromise how they recover.

What then is our role?

It takes time and patience to build trust with young people. The Search Institute researches the development of kids and teenagers, and the role of adult mentors in that development. They have identified several key conditions to developing this trust in your mentoring relationships, including:

  • reliability
  • consistency
  • patience
  • identifying and telling the student what positive qualities and behavior you see in them
  • listening to cultivate understanding (rather than just giving advice)
  • honoring confidentiality
  • allowing your students to make decisions for themselves

Developmental psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell notes that young people themselves say we are more likely to influence their life paths if we possess the following six qualities:

  1. being supportive
  2. being an active listener
  3. pushing just enough
  4. taking authentic interest in youth as individuals
  5. fostering self decision-making
  6. lending perspective[3]

All of these qualities are crucial. In particular, decision-making helps students grow into adulthood. How can we facilitate their ability to walk through life challenges and make choices that are good and healthy? More importantly, as spiritual leaders, how can we point them to Jesus as the one who saves?

Jesus saves, restores and transforms

Jesus doesn’t simply rescue us from pain, but rather he saves, restores, and transforms. Jesus is making all things new. It is his transforming work in us and through us that brings healing and wholeness. Revelation 21:5 declares, He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Jesus’ work on the cross provided salvation to all. He saved us. In that sense he did rescue us. But rescue doesn’t always mean that our circumstances change or the pain is removed. We are promised that Jesus walks with us, but our immediate context may not be changed. We must help students understand the difference, and help them to engage Jesus who saves, restores, and transforms. We start by sharing how Jesus has done this in our own lives. We can share how we have crossed the difficult waters in our lives and how Jesus has met us in those places.

Best practices for caring without rescuing

  1. Practice the ministry of presence. Offering a ministry of a presence is a tangible reminder that the student is not alone. We are with them and God is with them. The love and presence of God is embodied as we are with the other person in their moment of crisis. A ministry of presence can bring comfort and express care without words. Presence encompasses physical, emotional, and spiritual care. This is sacramental presence. It is a revelation of Jesus’ care and compassion through listening, being with, and affirming.[4]
  2. Offer stability. As we walk with students through their life struggles, we can demonstrate our commitment to them and provide stability through consistent investment in their lives over time.
  3. Be a safe place. Students need to have safe places to feel loved, secured, and cared for. They need to have safe places to develop their skill sets and decision-making abilities as well as to express their feelings and emotions. There are several ways we can create safe places for students.[5] When students feel safe, there are several positive outcomes. Teenagers who experience increased well-being grow in self confidence, connectedness to community, and a more authentic life.
  4. Speak honestly. Rather then giving platitudes or pat answers, we need to speak with authenticity. We can’t be afraid of the hard conversation, but rather speak the truth in love.
  5. Validate their pain without giving easy solutions. The emotions students are feeling are neither wrong nor right, they are real. We need to bring value to that experience without trying either to explain or to resolve it.
  6. Increase our training. As mentors and leaders, it is part of our commitment to students to grow in our own training and skill sets. Books, articles, and workshops can help us to grow in our knowledge and experience so we can better see the signs of trauma and pain in a student’s life.
  7. Connect them with resources. Students will turn to us in times of need. One of the most practical ways to help is to provide resources including reading, skill-building, other adult mentoring relationships, and referrals to counseling or health professionals.

Action Points

  • Evaluate your own response pattern in situations of crisis with young people. Do you tend to react by rescuing, by listening, by getting out of the situation as quickly as possible, or some other response?
  • Think of a particular young person in your care who has a critical need right now. With another adult on your team, brainstorm a response that offers support without rescuing. Name other adults who can be part of the web of support for this young person, and if possible connect with this teenager’s parents about your ideas.
  • Share this article with your whole ministry team and host a follow up discussion about how this plays out in your ministry. Identify skill-building areas for leaders, and role-play interactions with students that model support without rescuing.

[3] See Marilyn Price-Mitchell, “Six Qualities That Make You a Good Mentor For Teens”  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moment-youth/201301/mentoring-youth-matters

[4] See “The Ministry of Presence: Being a Safe Place for Teens” on the FYI site at http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/ministry-of-presence.

[5] For further student on how parents can create emotionally and spiritually safe places for their teenagers, see American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)

12.22.14

Adolescents Today: Pressure in the Wrong Places 

Part 2: Putting Pressure in the Right Place  by Tim Elmore

http://growingleaders.com/blog/adolescents-today-pressure-wrong-places/#sthash.k8DvVykw.dpuf

Everyone I know has an opinion on “kids today.” Most observe that they’re addicted to their cell phone or tablet, which has fostered a “slacktivist” (and an even more entitled) mindset in teens. Research tells us that high school students are more narcissistic than ever and that college students spend about half their waking hours on a cell phone. Most adults just smirk and say, “Ah, kids today. What can we do?”

Many of us, however, have failed to gain a historical perspective.

The term “adolescence” is only about a hundred years old, created by G. Stanley Hall to describe the sexual maturation of young people. Prior the 20th century, adults viewed youth with different expectations than they do today. For example, the play Romeo and Juliet was radical back in Shakespeare’s day. It was a show about teens rebelling against family traditions, lost in young love. Back in the 16th century, there was no such thing as adolescence. Young people the ages of Romeo and Juliet (around 13-14 years old) were adults in the eyes of society—even though they were probably pre-pubescent. Paradoxically, puberty came later in past eras, while the departure from parental supervision came earlier than it does today.

In short, a sexually mature person was never treated as a “growing child” in centuries past. Today, however, sexually mature folks spend perhaps six years—ages 12 to 18—living under parental authority. What’s more, since the mid-1800s, puberty—the advent of sexual maturation and the starting point of adolescence—has inched back one year for every 25 years elapsed. It now occurs on average six years earlier than it did in 1850—age 11 or 12 for girls; age 12 or 13 for boys. The bottom line: kids are entering into puberty earlier, but adolescence is extending longer. Their lengthy time in “adultescence” becomes a source of anxiety and depression.

How Can Today’s Kids Be So Full of Angst?                     

So how can our kids today, who are more educated and resourced than any in history,be so full of angst and so unready for mature adulthood? University deans continue to affirm that “26 is the new 18.” But why?

It seems we apply less pressure on them today than adults did over a hundred years ago. Certainly, adolescence has always been a time of risky behavior and emotional decisions. But today’s teen pressure has drifted from pressures that really matter in life, such as preparing for a job and family, experiencing various work scenarios, interacting with dissimilar generations, and developing a work ethic. As I observe thousands of high school and collegians today, this is pressure I see:

Grades – The pressure to make excellent grades to get into the right college. The reality is, no one except mom cares about them twenty years later. More and more workplaces, including Google, believe they’re not a reflection of success on the job.

Sports – The pressure to excel on the field and make the traveling team. Dads push sons in soccer or baseball and scold them when they don’t perform well. The truth is, that kid will be a software developer one day—not a catcher for the Yankees.

Prestige – The pressure to gain notoriety on social media. Kids feel the need to build a platform full of Followers, Likes, and Views. Popularity has a whole new scorecard. It’s intense. And the truth is, it’s all fleeting and evaporates faster than a Snapchat video.

The truth is, these pressures are unsuitable for most adolescents. They’re the wrong scorecard. No wonder they feel angst—they are playing a game that’s virtual and temporal and emotionally unhealthy. The reason teens could handle the pressure of a job and a spouse and other weighty responsibilities a century ago is because they were adequately prepared for these real responsibilities. Unfortunately, teens today aren’t being prepared the same way.

Pressures That Matter

So what can adults do to change this trend? A great start is to help today’s youth focus on principles that really matter, such as:

Strengths/Identity – Who am I? What problem am I gifted to solve?

Character – How can I experience integrity—alignment of who I am and what I do?

Work Ethic – What can I do to build a reputation from service to my community?

These all feed realistically into adulthood. They are weighty but appropriate as a teen approaches adulthood. Their significance compels a young adult to be fulfilled in the pursuit. She doesn’t have time or the desire to get preoccupied with social media because she’s doing something incredible.

Further, the kid who’s pushed to be an athletic star will likely never play beyond high school (certainly not beyond college). As leaders push him to be consumed with a sport, he often fails at developing the skills sets he’ll need as an adult—like emotional intelligence, communication skills, creativity and problem solving. While I believe sports can teach timeless virtues like discipline, resilience and attitude, they do only when coaches tie virtues learned on the field to practical applications beyond the field. Otherwise, they are mere facsimiles.

Yesterday, I alluded to the fact that adults today put pressure on kids… but often in the wrong places. Students feel pushed to keep score on academics, sports and social media—none of which are evil, but all of which are impractical areas for youth to be pressured. As a child enters their teen years, they actually have it in them to accomplish significant, real-world outcomes. Just look at teens a hundred years ago, or more: Thomas Edison was managing a telegraph office at 15; Mother Teresa began serving the poor at 19; Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Italy at 26; and Thomas Jefferson was still a young man when crafting the Declaration of Independence. The challenges were real-life, meaningful and important.

Consider this. As adolescents mature, their desire expands to demonstrate:

  • Autonomy – “I want to do this independently. I am my own person.”
  • Abstract Thinking – “I want to think outside of the concrete box.”
  • Ability – “I want to try my hand at new things to test my strengths.”

Sadly, it seems that all we give to millions of students today are virtual ways to experience these things…

  • Middle- and upper-middle class homes give teens autonomy without proportionate responsibility, creating brats as they enter adulthood. (Many get cars, clothes and gadgets without learning to pay for them.)
  • Their abstract thinking, which begins expanding during adolescence, has no good place to go to express itself. We dumb down the tasks to insure a happy kid with good self-esteem.
  • We fear for their safety, so we often don’t give them a chance to explore their abilities in projects that really matter. We give them contrived projects in a classroom.

It’s no wonder so many teens experience such confusion and angst as they age. We have created a virtual world for them that doesn’t sufficiently enable them to mature in a healthy way.

And the worst part is that this trend has been growing for nearly three decades.

What Negative Pressure Does

A 1988 study reported that although the under-18 population declined from 1980 to 1984, adolescent admissions to private psychiatric hospitals in that time period increased by 450 percent! What’s more, the study suggests three realities: First, a growing sense of negative emotions in teens; second, a staggering cultural tendency for applying mental health care to any problem life presents; and third, a rise in negative feelings toward adolescence—we began to consider students’ struggle a disease.

It is my belief that young adults want to solve problems, but if our culture only offers them virtual outlets to do this—like video games, social media, sports or classroom projects—they often become adrenaline junkies. (Please understand—I don’t believe these outlets are bad, just facsimiles of the real world).

The bottom line? If we don’t call out the best in students, they frequently wander into trouble, negative emotions, or narcissism.

Pressure in the Right Place

The answer, of course, is not to remove all pressure from our adolescents. With no pressure, people become weak, lazy and often lack ambition. Instead, I believe the answer is to right-size the pressure and place it appropriately. When a young adult is given a meaningful and genuine (real world) problem to solve, they come alive. When that problem aligns with the gifts they possess, they become passionate, and suddenly, their incentive to listen to lectures or read books that enable them to solve the problem goes up. Their application of autonomy, abstract thinking and abilities forms a positive pressure instead of a negative one. So what do we do?

  1. Talk this issue over with your students.
    Discuss positive and negative pressure and what it does to them emotionally.
  1. Help them remove negative, self-imposed pressures.
    List items that create destructive emotion or angst and help them cut what they can.
  1. Ask them to take a week and study the problems our world faces today.
    Have them watch the news or go on-line and get familiar with current events.
  1. Challenge them to identify one real-world problem that intrigues them.
    Help them spot a problem that matches their passions and gifts. Talk about it.
  1. Ask them: If you were in charge of solving this problem, what would you do?
    Encourage them to take this on as a project and see what becomes of it.

Over the years, I have met teachers, leaders, coaches and youth workers who’ve helped students transfer their attention from negative to positive pressure. As a result, not only are those students rescued from the wasting time on irrelevant pursuits, but they come alive as they apply autonomy, abstract thinking and abilities to something that matters.

12.22.14

The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram  by Rachel Simmons

http://time.com/3559340/instagram-tween-girls/

Girls have quietly repurposed the photo-sharing app into a barometer for popularity, friendship status and self-worth. Here’s how they’re using it.

Secrecy is hardly new on Planet Girl: as many an eye-rolling boy will tell you, girls excel at eluding the prying questions of grown ups. And who can blame them? From an early age, young women learn that to be a “good girl” they must be nice, avoid conflict and make friends with everyone. It’s an impossible ask (and one I’ve studied for over a decade) – so girls respond by taking their true feelings underground.

Enter the Internet, and Instagram: a platform where emotions can run wild – and where insecurities run wilder. The photo-sharing app is social media’s current queen bee: In a survey released earlier this month, three quarters of teens said they were using Instagram as their go-to app.

Instagram lets users share their photos, and “like” and comment on their friends’. The competition for “likes” encourages creativity in young users, who can use filters and other devices to spruce up their images. And its simplicity – it’s just pictures, right? — comforts parents haunted by the cyberbullying they hear about on Facebook and Twitter.

But Instagram’s simplicity is also deceiving: look more closely, and you find the Rosetta Stone of girl angst: a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame,” as one young woman calls it). They can obsess over their friendships, monitoring social ups and downs in extreme detail. They can strategically post at high traffic hours when they know peers are killing time between homework assignments. “Likes,” after all, feel like a public, tangible, reassuring statement of a girl’s social status.

That’s not what the app creators intended, of course, but it does make psychological sense: as they become preteens, research shows that girls’ confidence takes a nosedive. Instagram, then, is a new way for girls to chase the feeling of being liked that eludes so many of them. Instagram becomes an popularity meter and teens learn to manipulate the levers of success.

Here are a few of the ways that girls are leveraging Instagram to do much more than just share photos:

To Know What Friends Really Think Of Them

In the spot where adults tag a photo’s location, girls will barter “likes” in exchange for other things peers desperately want: a “TBH” (or “to be honest”). Translation? If you like a girl’s photo, she’ll leave you a TBH comment. For example: “TBH, ILYSM,” meaning, “To be honest I love you so much.” Or, the more ambivalent: “TBH, We don’t hang out that much.

To Measure How Much a Friend Likes You

In this case, a girl may trade a “like” — meaning, a friend will like her photo — in exchange for another tidbit of honesty: a 1-10 rating, of how much she likes you, your best physical feature, and a numerical scale that answers the question of “are we friends?” and many others. Girls hope for a “BMS,” or break my scale, the ultimate show of affection.

As a Public Barometer of Popularity

Instagram lets you tag your friends to announce that you’ve posted a new photo of them. Girls do the app one better: they take photos of scenes where no person is present – say, a sunset — but still tag people they love and add gushing comments. It’s a kind of social media mating call for BFFs. But girls also do it because the number of tags you get is a public sign of your popularity. “How many photos you’re tagged in is important,” says Charlotte, 12. “No one can see the actual number but you can sort of just tell because you keep seeing their name pop up.”

To Show BFF PDA

That broken heart necklace you gave your bestie? It’s gone the way of dial up. Now, girls use Instagram biographies – a few lines at the top of their page — to trumpet their inner circle. It’s a thrill to be featured on the banner that any visitor to the page will see — but not unusual to get deleted after a fight or bad day, in plain, humiliating sight of all your friends.

A Way to Retaliate

Angry at someone? Don’t tag the girl who is obviously in a picture, crop her out of it entirely, refuse to follow back the one who just tried to follow you, or simply post a photo a girl is not in. These are cryptic messages adults miss but which girls hear loud and clear. A girl may post an image of a party a friend wasn’t invited to, an intimate sleepover or night out at a concert. She never even has to mention the absent girl’s name. She knows the other girl saw it. That’s the beauty of Instagram: it’s the homework you know girls always do.

A Personal Branding Machine

Girls face increasing pressure not only to be smart and accomplished, but girly, sexy and social. In a 2011 survey, 74% of teen girls told the Girl Scout Research Institute that girls were living quasi-double lives online, where they intentionally downplayed their intelligence, kindness and good influence – and played up qualities like fun, funny and social. On Instagram, girls can project a persona they may not have time, or permission, to show off in the classroom: popular, social, sexy. Cultivating a certain look is so important that it’s common for girls to stage ‘photo shoots’ with each other as photographers to produce shots that stand out visually. (Plus a joint photo shoot is more evidence of friendship.)

A Place For Elaborate Birthday Collages

Remember coming to school on your big day, excited to see what you’d find plastered to your locker? Now girls can see who’s celebrating them hours before they get off the bus. Birthday collages on Instagram are elaborate public tributes, filled with inside jokes, short videos, and pictures of memories you may not have been a part of. “There is definitely a ‘I love you the most. I’ve loved you the longest edge to these birthday posts,” one parent told me. Collages that document the intensity or length of a relationship are a chance to celebrate a friend – or prove just how close you are to the birthday girl. Although most girls know to expect something from their closest friends, not getting one is seen as a direct diss, a parent told me. And it can be competitive: another parent told me her daughter’s friend stayed up until midnight just so she could be the first to post.

While girls may seem addicted to their online social lives, it’s not all bad — and they still prefer the company of an offline friend to any love they have to click for. (In a survey that would surely surprise some parents, 92% of teen girls said they would give up all of their social media friends if it meant keeping their best friend.) And, of course, likes aren’t everything. As 13 year-old Leah told me, “Just because people don’t write me a paragraph on Instagram doesn’t mean they don’t like me.”

12.15.14

12 Keys to a More Powerful Prayer Life  by Rick Warren

http://pastors.com/12-keys-powerful-prayer-life/

Years ago, an old saint shared with me twelve prayer principles from the life of Jesus Christ. It made such a difference in my personal prayer life. There are only 17 references to Jesus praying and most of them are in the book of Luke.

1.  The principle of ILLUMINATION.

Luke 3:21-22 says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.  And as He was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My Son whom I love.  With You I am well pleased.”  The setting here was Jesus’ baptism and this is the first recorded example of Jesus’ praying and we see in the book of Luke three results of His praying.

  • Heaven opened up.
  • The Holy Spirit came down.
  • The Father spoke.

These are three results when we make contact with God in our prayers. Symbolically, heaven opens up and we receive God’s blessing. The Holy Spirit fills our lives afresh. And the Father speaks to us. If you’d like to know the Spirit’s power in your life, if you’d like God to speak to you, you must practice the prayer life of Jesus.

2.  The principle of ISOLATION.

Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” “Often” means it was His habit. He did it in places where He was all by Himself. I believe this is absolutely essential. We need to spend time alone with God everyday. Jesus returned again and again to a lonely place. Find that place where you can get alone with God, where you can be isolated and pray aloud and let God speak to you.

3.  The principle of CONCENTRATION. Continue reading

12.15.14

10 Facts About America’s Churchless  by Barna Group

https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/698-10-facts-about-america-s-churchless#.VIx0jsbeu2o

December 10, 2014—Fewer Americans are attending church. So, who are these new churchless Americans? Are there significant demographic or psychographic differences among those who attend church and those who don’t?

Since 1984, Barna Group has collected data and provided insight about the intersection of faith and culture, including exploring the behaviors and attitudes of those unconnected to churches. During the past three decades, Barna has conducted tens of thousands of interviews with unchurched people. Based on those interviews and the resulting “tracking data,” here are 10 facts about the “churchless” in America.

1. The number of unchurched people in America would make the 8th most populous country in the world.
As of 2014, the estimated number of people in the U.S. who Barna Group would define as “churchless”—meaning they have not attended a Christian church service, other than a special event such as a wedding or a funeral, at any time during the past six months—stands at 114 million. Add to that the roughly 42 million children and teenagers who are unchurched and you have 156 million U.S. residents who are not engaged with a Christian church. To put that in context, if all those unchurched people were a separate nation, it would be the eighth most populous country in the world, trailing only China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the remaining churched public of the United States (159 million).

2. In the past decade, more people in the U.S. have become churchless than live in Australia or Canada.
Barna tracking research has seen significant shifts in church involvement over the past decade. During that time, the number of adults who are unchurched has increased by more than 30%. This is an increase of 38 million individuals—that’s more people than live in Canada or Australia.

3. The vast majority of America’s churchless have attended a church.
Very few of America’s unchurched adults are purely unchurched—most of them, rather, are de-churched. Only about one-quarter of unchurched adults (23%) has never attended a Christian church at any time in his or her life, other than for a special service such as a wedding or funeral ceremony (though this number is on the rise; in 1993, only 15% of unchurched adults had never been connected to a church). The majority of unchurched individuals (76%) have firsthand experience with one or more Christian churches and, based on that sampling, have decided they can better use their time in other ways.

4. While the churchless are primarily men, the percentage of women in their ranks is on the rise.
It remains true that churchless people are somewhat more likely to be men than women (54% of the churched are men, compared to 46% of the churched), but the gap is not huge and has been steadily closing. For instance, in 1994, 58% of the unchurched were men. That percentage reached 60% in 2003 before it began consistently declining, until stabilizing the last few years around the current level. In other words, the gap between men and women has plummeted from 20 points in 2003 to just 8 points currently.

5. The unchurched in America tend to be less educated than the churched.
While it may seem counterintuitive to some, the unchurched tend to have completed fewer years of formal education. But again, the gap is not huge: 50% of the unchurched have gone no further than high school graduation, compared to 45% of the churched. Overall, 22% of the churchless have completed a four-year college degree, only slightly less than the 26% among the churched.

6. The Pacific Coast is home to the largest percentage of churchless per capita.
Geographically, there is a separation of just a few percentage points among the churched and unchurched. The biggest gap is found in the Pacific Coast states, where residents comprise 20 percent of the nation’s unchurched and 14 percent of the churched. The average gap between the churched and unchurched in all nine U.S. Census regions is only 2.5 percentage points.

7. The unchurched are more likely to be unmarried.
Among the unchurched, less than half (44%) are married, while the number is closer to six out of 10 among the churched. A greater proportion of the unchurched (29%) than the churched (22%) has never been married. Unchurched adults are also about four times more likely to be cohabiting than the churched (11% and 3%, respectively). Both groups are equally likely to be divorced, separated or widowed.

8. The younger a person is, the less likely he or she is to attend church.
While it’s true there is a generation gap among the churched and unchurched, the difference is not as dramatic as you might expect. Among the churched population, Millennials (born 1984-2002) make up 11%, Gen X-ers (1965-1983) are 33%, Boomers (1946-1964) make up 35%, and Elders (born in 1945 or earlier) make up 22%. Among the unchurched, the percentages skew slightly younger: Millennials make up 15%, Gen X-ers are 36%, Boomers are 33% and Elders are only 16%. However, the actual gap is only a few years (a median of 47 years among the unchurched, compared to 51 among the churched).

9. Unchurched adults are more likely to be white.
The ethnic and racial distinctions that once separated the churched and the unchurched are less substantial than they once were. However, it is still true that the unchurched are more likely to be white than are the churched. Overall, 70% of the unchurched in America are white, 12% are Hispanic, 10% are black and 6% are Asian. Among the churched population, 65% are white, 14% are Hispanic, 16% are black, and 4% are Asian.

10. The majority of the churchless in America claim Christianity as their faith.
When asked to identify their faith beliefs, 62% of unchurched adults consider themselves Christians. Most of the churchless in America—contrary to what one might believe—do not disdain Christianity nor desire to belittle it or tear it down. Many of them remain culturally tied to Christianity and are significantly interested in it. More than one-third (34%), for example, would describe themselves as “deeply spiritual.” Four in ten (41%) “strongly agree” that their religious faith is very important in their life today. More than half (51%) are actively seeking something better spiritually than they have experienced to date. One-third (33%) say they have an active relationship with God that influences their life and are most likely to describe that relationship as “important to me” (95%), “satisfying” (90%) and “growing deeper” (73%)—only one in six (16%) would describe it as “shallow.”

Behind the Trends
“Unchurched adults are very much like churched adults … except they don’t attend church,” says David Kinnaman, who served as a general editor alongside George Barna in the recent book Churchless, from which this data is taken. “While a few of the demographic differences between churched and unchurched are statistically significant, there is no such thing as a can’t-miss strategy for appealing to them. In fact, the data uncover so many similarities between churched and unchurched people that we have to conclude that a number of the stereotypes about both groups are not valid.

“The fact remains, though, that more Americans than ever are not attending church,” Kinnaman continues. “Most of them did at some point and, for one reason or another, decided not to continue. This fact should motivate church leaders and attenders to examine how to make appropriate changes—not for the sake of enhancing attendance numbers but to address the lack of life transformation that would attract more people to remain an active part.”