The Martin-Zimmerman case has caused quite a stir. There are apparently two sides: one saying it was racial, one says it wasn’t. Here’s the thing, either way a teen is dead at the hands of an adult. Everyone is talking about racism. No one is mentioning “ageism.” maybe that’s not even a word. But I’ve noticed in today’s culture, teens of all colors dress like Trayvon did. And adults of all colors are distrustful of them. Adults have good reason to be. Teens are often impulsive, disrespectful, selfish, and living for the moment. Guess what? Teens have a good reason to be all those things, as well. Adults have left them without healthy supervision and guidance. In the void left by parents and caring family, the media has stepped in and given our children an education to be all of the above. In the absence of families, teens looking for a place to fit in have formed or joined groups. Some of these groups are violent, some aren’t. Some use and sell drugs, some don’t. Some of these groups are known as gangs. Some are just groups of teens hanging out.
I understand how adults feel. I am one. When I see a group of teenagers together, I immediately feel like an ancient outsider that has nothing in common with them, even if they are my own children…and I’ve been working with teens for years! It’s easy to assume they are up to no good. Yet when I spend time with the teens, I find they really aren’t that bad. And when you listen to what they have to say, and maybe even offer suggestions in a caring way, they often respond very positively. Oftentimes they seem to be hungry for someone with more maturity to take some interest in them, to encourage them, to recognize they are capable of doing some good things and making some right choices.
I see this daily where I work. I also see daily what happens when teenagers are left to their own devices after being educated by society, media and their families (or lack thereof) that:
- they have to take care of themselves,
- trust no one, especially authority figures,
- demand respect above all else, and
- you are somebody only if you are better than somebody else for whatever reason (so put others down because of race, gang affiliation, gender, sexuality, possessions, etc).
So here’s my suggestion to all you good grown-ups out there of any race: find a teen and get to know him or her. Step out of your comfort zone and make a connection. Talk to them, listen to them, maybe even mentor them. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to or like their music, dress like them or use their slang (that would be weird). But do invest in your life into someone else’s. I have this theory: its really easy to judge and dislike a group of people you don’t know. But it’s a lot harder to dislike a person you do know and with whom you have spent some time. And instead of judging, you understand more. By getting to know someone in a different age group, you tear down barriers for both sides.
And one more thing, what better community is there for this to happen than the church? Besides the family, the church is the only “institution” I can think of where all ages are together and valued. Perhaps if more adults reached out to more teens at church, instead of always being divided into different age groups, things would be better. I don’t know. Just a thought. What do you think?