OC12: The State of Play in Adolescence

in General on April 25, 2012by Ben_Read

What do people say is wrong with teenagers?

  • Lazy
  • Self-Centered
  • Entitlement
  • they think they know everything
  • no self control
  • apathetic
  • rebellious
  • instant gratification
  • disrespectful

Dr. Epstein in Teen 2.0 talks about teens

  • 49.5% are diagnosable with 1 behavioral/emotional/substance abuse disorder
  • There’s something wrong with their brain right?  That would explain everything.
  • In cultures around the world, there’s no teen turmoil that we see in US.  No conflict with parents. No teen suicide.  None of what are common in ours.
  • Can’t be a defect in their brain.
  • Differences are coming behaviorally from our culture.  Differences in physiology are irrelevant

What’s different about our culture?  In cultures without these problems, teens are integrated into adult society early on, mainly as soon as they show readiness to be integrated.  Secondly, they are, as a result, treated like adults.  Two clear causes of the issues we see in teens are that we isolate our young people from responsible adults, trapping them with each other, and leaving the group of 20+million young people entirely in the hands of the media.  Secondly, we infantilize young people, treating them as children well past puberty.
What we know about changes.  Children versus Teens.
Look about how Jesus developed?  The only verse that gives hint at it is Luke 2:52.  There’s a cognitive/wisdom standpoint.
Piaget View // Theory on development in stages. 

  • SENSORY-MOTOR.  All you know is what your senses are perceiving.
  • PRE-OPERATIONAL. You’re able to transform thoughts or ideas in the head.  Learning language, basic symbols, etc. that will help them do more complex things later.
  • CONCRETE OPERATIONAL.  Ideas that are very fixed and representative.  Not necessarily physical, but easy to grasp with defined edges and boundaries as opposed to theoretical.  A lot of children’s ministry experiences this stage.
  • FORMAL OPERATIONAL STAGE.  Think theoretically.  Creating ideas of the world and seeing from other perspectives.  Allows us to imagine alternate realities.  “What would happen if…”  Also able to get in other people’s heads.  Students are starting to understand where their faith is coming from, not just mom and dad handing them something.

Dr. Jacober’s Comments.
Much of adolescence is “wait, who said this, why do they say this, how does it affect me?”  It isn’t a rejection, its a striving for reflection.  They can believe wholeheartedly with little reflection.
1. Believe without reflection. If they reflect too much, questions come up, and questioning is sometimes shut down.  So they don’t reflect, and they don’t challenge outside of that.
2. Examine beliefs in relationship to family. Another option is, “i’m going to ask some questions, because I believe this but others believe different stuff and they’re nice and share and stuff, so maybe there’s something else? But my parents believe this, so I do too.
3. Too much work, at least right now.  Third option is “that’s too much work.  I’m not going to even try.  maybe later.”
4. Construct a faith of their own based on reflection and practice.  Fourth option is near the end of middle adolescence.  Late teens, early 20’s, “I understood what my parents were trying to do.  I recognized they offered me something as best they could.  And now, as i’m wrestling with and forming my own faith, I’ve done some exploring and reflecting, and i’m going to choose to land somewhere reflectively.
Often, the way a parent approaches faith from the list above is how their children will approach it. When their child does differently, especially when parents lean to #2, but student doesn’t.  Parents mostly want #2 for their kid, but probably isn’t best!
Vygotsky’s View
Virtually unknown in US until 70’s.  Work was in Russia and we couldn’t access it.
Rather than thinking of development in stages, it’s continuous, “Cognitive Mediation.”  The idea that we are constantly learning from other people around us.  That’s how we progress and grow in life.   This is extremely important in light of the idea that we have isolated students.

Inner – What I can do.
Middle – What I can do with help
Out – What I can’t do

Middle zone is called the zone of proximal development.  This is different for us based on where we’re at, where our knowledge base is, etc.  For someone, the area of sports may be WAY OUTER for some, but inner for others.
For student ministry, think about what your students could do with help?  It’s a place of learning.  Service projects and mission trips are labs of sorts, something temporary to come alongside them and show them what they can do with help.  
1. Their view of faith itself.  Students view faith like a jacket.  Behaviors they do or have for a while, and when they graduate or leave church they throw the Jesus jacket in the corner.
2. Importance of students involved in church life.  Involvement in multi-generational groups is important.  Students graduate from youth knowing youth group, not the church.
3. Parents and youth leaders have to partner together.  Parents are dry cleaner parents, bringing them to youth all dirty, wanting to pick them up 75 minutes later all clean.  instead, let’s partner together for the long term faith benefit for their kids.
We look for ways of confirming beliefs we assume on or about people.  If you have a belief, you look for things that confirm and ignore things that don’t confirm it.  We have faulty belief about teens, so when we see “brain differences” we jump to assumptions.  People who make claims about the teen brain today are making the mistake of “correlation does not imply causation.”  Example.  The taller someone is, the more someone weighs.  There’s a correlation between height and weight, but being taller doesn’t make you fat.  
The more you hear something, the more it programs your thoughts.  How are our comments of “you have to wait to be the church” etc, changing the programming of our students.  Experiences change the brain, it’s chemistry, and how we view reality.  Brain scientists are finding out now that confession changes the brain biologically. 
Patterns are stored in the brain differently than concrete information.  That’s why amnesia sometimes will take away your street address, but not driving ability.
Intergenerational Comments…
We’re not trying to socialize our kids to faith.  We want them to be able to think on their own and chase Christ.  When does that hand off happen?
When do we shift from here’s the faith you’ve been handed to the faith you can contribute to?
We want our youth to think and reflect theologically.  We want them to have the resources of understanding and interpreting scripture, to understand the christian doctrine, so that they can reflect theologically as they encounter the world to find a way to respond.  In order to do that, we have to be a contributor not a spectator.  Church is set up to pass the faith down, not to invite people into a grand journey of trying to become Christian together.  What do you imagine your children to be equipped with the ability to live out Christian faith where they are?  Yes.  Then start now.  

 AUSTIN’S ACTION POINT:  The concept of 4 reflection types struck a chord with me.  It’s so easy for me to be discouraged about students who aren’t automatically #2.  I need to recognize it’s one of my roles to help move students along in faith, not force feed acceptance.

Categories: General

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