I found this book while at Borders about a week ago, looking for books in preparation for my upcoming sex & relationships talks with the kids. I thumbed through it and it looked pretty good. Its written from a secular point of view, but by a Christian, and he includes an appendix for youth ministers. In all honesty, at the time I bought it, I had only skimmed through the chapter on sex and not much else. The author, Chap Clark, wanted to go beyond the standard sociological studies that relied on self-reporting and other limited ethnographic forms, to really get inside the heads & lives of young people. So he became a high-school teacher and started interacting with his students, trying to find the truth behind the numbers.
After I started reading it, I have to say the first thing that jumped out at me is this; if true, I despair for our future. Clark argues that defining issue of adolescence (which has stretched from approximately 5 years to more than 10 in our culture) is abandonment.
It is the cumulative effect that children experience as they grow up in today's social structure. Sports, music, dance, drama, Scouts, and even faith-related programs are all guilty of ignoring the developmental needs of each individual young person in favor of the organization's goals. Add to this the increasing amount of homework being assigned to students at younger and younger ages. The systemic pressure on American children is immense. Too many of us actually enjoy the athletic, cultural, or artistic baby-sitting service provided by those paid by the organizations (or who volunteer). Even with the best of intentions, they way we raise, train, and even parent our children today exhibits attitudes and behaviors that are simply subtle forms of parental abandonment. (pg 47)
Another perhaps more subtle yet far more insidious form of abandonment has occurred that has a devastating effect on the adolescent psyche and landscape. Adolescents have suffered the loss of safe relationships and intimate settings that served as the primary nurturing community for those traveling the path from child to adult. The most obvious example of this is in the family. The postmodern family is often so concerned about the needs, struggles, and issues of parents that the emotional and developmental needs of the children largely go unmet. Add to this the rarity of extended family available to the vast majority of adolescents, the deemphasizing of the importance of marriage, and the lack of healthy relationships with adults as friends and mentors, and it is easy to see why today's adolescent faces an internal crisis of unprecedented scope.
As a youth pastor - a person entrusted by God and these parents to do my best to shepherd these kids - I am forced to ask myself hard questions. Am I sacrificing or ignoring the needs of my kids in favor of personal or organizational goals? Am I putting too much or the wrong kind of pressure on them? How can I make my ministry a safe place for them? A place where they can have a healthy relationship with me and other adults, where there sense of loss & loneliness is relieved? Right now, the answer to all of these questions is "I don't know." I suspect I have been putting my goals ahead of their needs in some respects, but the Lord is going to have to show me where. And honestly, I have no idea how to make this place safe, but I want to find out. This all probably seems a little scattered, but these ideas are still roiling in my head and I need time to sort them out, to pray.