in late april, a group of 23 veteran junior high pastors gathered again for a 4-day summit. between all of us, we have 270 years of experience working with middle schoolers. it’s a great group of people, who are passionate about their calling to young teens, and very interested in re-thinking their assumptions and approaches.
this year, noted sociologist christian smith (see post here about christian) join us for a half day, and talked with us primarily about the role of parents in the faith formation of teenagers. out of christian’s data and thoughts, and his responses to our many questions, we formulated a long list of discussion topics, voted on them, and formulated the agenda for the remainder of our days.
we all agreed this was the best of the 8 annual times we’ve met, primarily because we didn’t have easy answers to the issues raised.
i’ll post the notes from the gathering here.
• Started studying teens in 2000, Have kept up with the teens and send cards because they want to be able to conduct more surveys as the same teens age. Last week finished up a third wave survey. Have a retention rate of 78%. In the Fall he is writing a book on the third wave. Not much has changed in the two years between wave one and two, they all were still on the same trajectory. Only two had lives who were significantly different, and they had both had children. They went from way out there to focusing on pulling their life together. Those who have fallen out seem to be those who live transient at risk lives.
• The Role of Parents in Youth Ministry – He went into his work believing that parents must survive their children’s teenage years. He came out of the project realizing how profoundly formed teenagers are by their parents, and other adult figures in their lives. Culture is set up to de-authorize parents from having to deal with their teenage kids. for instance, there are therapists, youth workers, coaches and other specialists who there to fix kids. Parents get the feeling that they are not capable of parenting their own kids, that they aren’t good enough or qualified enough. Many Parents are ok with this. Many Youth Ministers seem to have troubled relationships with the parents of their students. So many institutions are set up to separate teenagers from adult interaction, which is why parents are so crucial, they are the only consistent adult contact that teens have. Teenagers really benefit from just normal relationships with adults. Socialization, students are formed by the things that are around them, and because teens don’t have much control over their surroundings and are therefore shaped by them. Even though teens act as if they don’t hear what their parents are trying to say to them, they are soaking every word up. Teenagers are replicating their parents.
• How do we reach kids without parents who have faith? – The Church has a full time youth ministry, and the kid has friends (majority of friends) who draw them into that youth group. Other adults did not play into these teens faith. This simply stresses the importance of parents and their faith. These are not independent – you need both!
• The most important pastor a teenager will ever have is their parents.
• What really matters with teens are socially relevant relationships ( a sense of belonging)
• Parents need to be part of responsible communities with other adults who challenge them in parenting. Other adults also have a responsibility to try to affect teens and play a role in there lives.
• The difference between a teen feeling like they belong in a church, and that they don’t belong is a continental divide as to how their lives will unfold. It is not about how fun the games are, or how good the sermon is, rather just a sense of feeling at home at church.
• Communities of faith need to look at their Youth and realize “we will get what we are”, not their ideal, not what they hope and wish, but instead simply a reflection of themselves.
• If there was simply a teen problem, then we could focus simply on our Youth. however we need to realize that we need to reshape ourselves to get to the root of the problem. As Youth Pastors we are brought in to solve a problem without the cooperation of the rest of the Church community.
• There is a dimension of untrustworthy adults, those who are investing in teens out of their own selfish needs. There are adults who should not be trusted with teens.
• The answer is engaging the central importance of parents and other members of the congregation, without this we will continue to be constrained by limitations.
• Styles of Parenting
• Good Parenting has 2 or 3 dimensions. 1st: strong and clear expectations with boundaries, demands and accountablility. (Parents are proactive in educating their children of the paremeters) 2nd: Emotional Warmth and closeness (letting children know they are loved) Both of these must be used together in order to have a well rounded relationship with the kids. The 3rd dimension is Cognitive autonomy, the idea of having space to work things out and room for children to come to a position that is not exactly the same as the parent.
• What would it look like if we applied all these to the Church Community? In theory it should be extendable and powerful to an entire community.
• Teens have a problem articulating their faith, because they don’t have any place to think out loud about what they think without being afraid of judgement.
• Very little age affects in these studies, the most important thing was whether or not the teenagers had been taught/socialized. There are certain developmental changes, however in order for these changes to be evident they must interact with people and be cultivated by them.
• There is a great fear of interacting with their teenagers.
• We need to let parents have the allowance to be able to be flawed. we need to seek real authentic relationships.
• Can you use the parenting factors for a whole community (eric)?
Yes there must be a shared authority of what is appropriate, however it is hard with non faith based communities, because moral foundations are significantly varied. Any factor will increase the probability that students will be steered in the right direction.
• How do we combat our students structural disconnect (Scott)?
We have created institutions that segregate teenagers, and we are happy to have a separate culture that we can cash in on, there is potential to have intergenerational relationships in Church, elsewhere this potential has become extinct.
• Christian did experiments where he would give eye contact to students, and realized that they were not prepared to interact with adults, they have been trained to be separated.
• Adults are too worried that they will impose things on teens and therefore are afraid to teach them anything… there are so many other institutions that are shoving crap down your kids throats. Another take is to simply set up what you believe, without telling them that they must follow this path.
• Baby boomers say “Being Young is about breaking down boundaries”, but it is a new world, and needs new perspectives.
• Is belonging a point in time thing, or a constant in youth culture? (Marko)
The more individual that our culture has become the more we need relationships. We are social creatures, we need to have a place where we feel at home and feel we fit in.