On the dislike of teenagers

I was sitting with a group of (lovely) ladies a few weeks back and the topic of teenagers came up. Perhaps forgetting that I actually choose to work with this vicious species on a daily basis, they described them in less than complimentary terms. One lady piped up “Well, you must remember, we’re living in the age of the narcissist.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with her premise, but her accusatory tone made me feel surprisingly defensive of this generation that is both loathed and feared by much of society. Teenagers, beneath their narcissism and behind the luminous screens of their smart phones, are precious individuals who are finding their way in the world and forging a new path for our future.

Teenagers hold our future whether we like it or not, and before we despair or shake our fists, we do well to look at where they came from. If a teenager is narcissistic, who did they learn it from? If they can’t function without technology, who gave it to them? If they are undisciplined or entitled or lacking respect, who is the generation who raised them?

The last thing that teenagers need is our condescension. They are not the enemy, and if we treat them as such we draw battle lines for a war that will have no victor. Teenagers need the love and support of society. They need freedom and boundaries, encouragement and discipline. Our condemnation foolishly despises that which we, as a village, have raised ourselves.

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Sometimes you need to know how insignificant you are

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Ever been told you’re awesome? If you’re Gen X probably; if you’re Gen Y, definitely; if you’re Gen Z, daily.

It’s the catch cry of our culture. When you preach that God is dead, you need a heck of a lot of self-esteem boosting to make you feel like there is any purpose in life, so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve made it our job to ensure that young people know just how good they are; that they can do anything; that there’s no one better than them.

When I grew up I was shocked at how deeply I fell into melancholy when I found that mindset challenged.

I was flying by Mount Everest.

Those Himalayan Mountains are the biggest things I’ve ever seen, and as I flew over them I was conquered. For my whole life I had been the conqueror. I was human. I was the top of the food chain. The world was my oyster!

Those mountains weren’t.

As I looked at them, I knew with absolute certainty that I could never climb them. I knew that many who had tried still lay there entombed in the ice, and, more than ever before, I knew I was very, very small.

And I was gutted.

But what a good thing it was for me to be reminded that my glory is very small. I had to remember that there is One who is infinitely bigger than the mountains, and my identity must be found in Him.

How ‘gay’ is killing creativity

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A while back I was horrified when one of my female students yelled across the classroom to one of the boys, ‘You should be gay!’ The boy, somewhat taken aback, asked her why.

‘Because you’re into music stuff and choir and all that,’ was her response, and a part of me cried inside for the ignorance and judgmental nature of teenagers.

A big part of my grief was this: that our incessant need to label people and define them by their sexuality is killing creativity in boys. Things that were praised in bygone eras, acting, music, composing and self expression through writing and poetry, have become defining symbol’s of a man’s sexuality. So many talented boys, growing into men, are afraid to express themselves lest their sexuality be called into question.

It is a tragedy for the arts, and a tragedy for humanity.

We’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird in year 11 at the moment, and Scout’s comment is really resonating with me: ‘I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.’

We need to stop defining people by their sexuality, and even more, we need to stop using these labels as a derogatory way to cut people down.

As Australians, we’re not great at celebrating talent, but we need to change that. Let’s start with letting boys be creative, lest we kill the passion of our future Mozarts, Shakespeares and Da Vincis.

Instagram my Life (how we’ve all become airbrushed models)

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The magazine industry has long been slammed for its propagation of perfect air-brushed images.

And so it should be.

The criticism does not stem from society’s inability to appreciate art, but rather from the fact that we understand that what we (and teenage girls in particular) see in magazines, helps to define our sense of ‘normal.’

I’d like to propose that we can no longer point the finger exclusively at Hollywood and the magazine industry for giving us a distorted sense of normal. While we may not be reshaping our appearance to the same extent that these industries do, social media, and, in particular Instagram, has enabled each of us to put forward our own perfectly ‘altered’ version of our lives.

Instead of seeing each other for who we really are, we are assailed daily by images that have been composed, cropped, filtered, adjusted and selected from dozens more that didn’t make the cut.

We’ve Instagrammed our lives and in the process we’re re-defining normal. We’re building a discrepancy between ‘real me’ and ‘media me’ and we’re finding it hard to live up not only to the images of others, but even the images of ourselves.

I’m concerned that this ‘masked’ version of ourselves not only conceals an insecure and broken reality, but provokes envy and feelings of inadequacy in others.

So, before we post that perfect picture, maybe it’s worth asking: what message am I trying to send the world about myself and my reality?

‘Never Been Kissed’ and making wise choices about sexuality.

Free-Vector-Graphic-Art-Kiss1Drew Barrymore’s film, ‘Never Been Kissed,’ came out in 1999, my first year of high school. That movie was one of the big hits amongst teenage girls that year.

I remember my girlfriends and I being enthralled by the love story, and even re-winding and re-playing the scene when the heroine finally gets kissed.

Years later, however, I was horrified when I watched it for the first time as an adult, and as a teacher.

The main plot line involves a reporter going undercover as a student in a high school and ending up with a crush on her English teacher. He clearly reciprocates and makes a poor effort at concealing his feelings for her, until the end when he finally finds out that she is, in fact, an adult.

Now, I am sickened by the way in which the young teacher was mesmerized by his student. It makes me wonder how I could watch it, so unfazed, as a teenager.

It reminds me of a statement I heard recently: ‘There are legal ages for sex for a reason.’ Adolescent brains aren’t developed enough to deal with many aspects of their sexuality.

As a teenager, I somehow missed the inappropriateness of the film’s central love affair. Something that probably should have bothered me seemed romantic. As an adult, it all looks quite different.

It is important that we, as adults, protect our teenagers from making poor choices, until they are old enough to choose wisely.

Halloween and the Australian Christian’s Dilemma

pumpkinThe commercialization of Halloween is gradually sucking Australians into a celebration we once considered to be purely ‘American.’

While many Australians may be willing to embrace this trend, the question must arise concerning the stance of the Christian. Just last week someone came to me asking my advice on what should be done regarding a teenage girl’s invitation to a Halloween party.

Of course each person must follow the convicting of the Spirit in their own hearts, but as the body of Christ, I truly believe that there are some things we should stand against as a community.

Having spoken to several teenagers in the past who have had terrifying experiences delving into the occult, it seems clear to me that as Christians we must be careful not to align ourselves with a festival which, despite its supposed ‘Christian’ roots, has become known for its associations with witchcraft, death, spirits and horror.

So what is a teenager to do, when it will not be well received by their friends if they do not participate? My heart aches for them; I remember how painful it was to make choices that were unpopular. But as Christians we were never called to do what was popular; we are called to be different, even when it means sacrifice. The greatest thing we can do for our children is to teach them how to make a stand while they are young, so that when they are older, the narrow road is not foreign to them.