For decades Sociologists have tried to explain teen behavior. I mean all of culture has tried to explain teen behavior. Not gonna happen. It's like trying to hold oil and water in your hand. About the time you think you have it, they slip from your hands and through the cracks.
Here is what I have learned working with young people:
The best kids do not always come from the best homes. Nor do the worst kids always come from the worst homes. It doesn't make sense, but, I have seen the best kids come from the worst homes, and, I have see the worst kids come from the best homes.
So what are the factors that contribute to shaping adolescents? What are the most important factors in the development of a teen? To be honest, that is an easy answer. Because it is a composite answer. Anyone who tells you it is one thing may not really understand young people.
Of the many things that make up the framework for developing young people (music, social groups, media, sexuality, physiology, ethnicity, neighborhoods, and education), here are my top 6 contributors to teen development (in no order of importance):
Let me paragraph a few thoughts on each.
FAMILY - Although I have started this blog with a vague support of the family, there may not be a more formative framework in a teen's life. Whether that is seen in the structure or the emotional support that a family can model, it is the one place that dominates most of a teen's life. At least by the measurement of time. How do we improve the impact of the family on a young person? It takes greater consistency. And grace.
RELIGION - It doesn't matter if a young person is churched or un-churched, they are going to be raised in America with some measure of faith development. It happens through many of the sectors of society formally and informally, and biblically and un-biblically. So, even if the religious upbringing of an adolescent is not based in Christianity, the faith development will come in another form. How do we improve the impact of religion on a young person? It will take the church to show up in the life of the teen world. And to be a biblically based counter-culture of principle and grace.
CULTURE - The over-arching way of a people. Political, entertainment, corporate, recreational, local/global, or even marketing and advertising thrusts. Culture is the behavior and belief of a specific group or sub-group. This may be the most pervasive influence in all of our lives. We cannot escape the culture in any setting. It creates feeling, thoughts, and action. And the culture in American teen life today encourages adolescents to become hyper-sensitive to status, obsess over who to sit with in the lunchroom, whether to date or not, what to wear or say at school each day, and what phone to get. How do we improve the impact of culture on a young person? I believe it starts with raising critical thinkers. And helping young people to become producers and not consumers of culture.
SOCIAL MEDIA - It all began in the past 15 years. Email, Internet, MySpace, Facebook, the Smart Phone, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and the countless apps for gaming and social networking available now in our hands or on our wrist. Who would have thought that trivia games or crossword puzzles would be a way to stay in touch with people. We cannot stop it. So, how do we ride it? How do we improve the impact of social media on a young person? We must begin by redeeming everything for the purposes of God. Teaching teens how to use their media for good. Learning ourselves that these tools may be the easiest way to communicate to a digital generation in their own language.
SCHOOL - There is something to say about the 6-7 hours daily that a teenager will spend under the influence of the school system. Most teenagers have little say over the school they attend, their courses of study, and their classmates. These conditions give rise to more symbolic forms of thinking and behavior that is defined by a clash of worlds. Principals, staff, teachers, peers, coaches, and content material and course offerings. Status systems are set. Standardization forces all kinds of thinking and behavior. How do we improve the impact of schooling on a young person? Involvement is something I have promoted in my years of parenting and youth leadership. Volunteerism and understanding the processes and the system can bring accountability and input.
PEERS - With few exceptions, most explanations of framework have pointed at Hollywood, or the failing family and parenting strategies, or strict schools, or bad role models, or a distant church and cast blame. But we may not have to look any further than a teens own relationships. Often, thinking and subsequent behavior, have arisen from the group. The tribe that a teen lives in. How do we improve the impact of peers on a young person? It begins with self-acceptance so that a young person can determine, without the pressure of friends, what he or she is comfortable with. And finally, stressing leadership (versus following) can place a teen in control of their life.
Wow. This should be a series. Of the many things that make up the framework around the teen world, at least we have the power to help shape all of these. The success of a parent, a teacher, a coach, or a youth worker will be how they navigate each of these areas. These sectors are not going away. And that makes our role as leaders vital to how we shape every input into a teens world.