|We Can Hold Our Youth If We
. . .
Provide the right model. "Children do as we do,
not as we say," says Dr. Roger Dudley.1 A teenage boy
remarked, "My father talks a lot about the evils of TV, but after
we are in bed he goes to his den and watches a late-night movie."
Obviously, this teenager had little respect for his father's religion.
Children are very intuitive. They see through adult hypocrisy. A
poll by the National Sunday School Association in 2000 conservative
protestant parishes found that "When asked why they (youth) had
severed connections with the church, (they) gave as their second
most frequent reason 'hypocrisy by adults.'" T. R. Torkelson.2
Dudley observed that "teenagers do not expect perfection from their
elders. The youth do want sincerity, fairness, and openness."3
Teens are very forgiving--they just want us to admit our failures.
Give them unconditional love. "Be proactive" is
advice we often hear. Giving your children unconditional love does
just that. The alienation of youth is a problem that can be prevented.
"In our work for the youth, we must meet them where they are, if
we would help them."4 "The heart that is filled with
love and sympathy will reach hearts of the youth who are apparantly
careless and hopeless."5 What is unconditional love?
Dr. Ross Campbell says, "Unconditional love is loving a child no
matter what."6 He says that children "are children
(and) they will tend to act like children," and that "much of childish
behavior is unpleasant." But "if I only love them when they please
me (conditional love), and convey my love to them only during those
times, they will not feel genuinely loved."7 And that's
the big challenge. We communicate love when children are functioning
fairly well, but when they become unruly, and disobedient, we suddenly
become stern. One of your biggest challenges in parenting is to
convey love at the same time you are reprimanding a child. Blend
firmness with kindness. Most children do not feel loved unconditionally.
Provide rules that are positive, reasonable, consistent,
and fair. Children must see that our rules and regulations
are based upon just, moral principles. William A. Kay says, "Behind
the law lie moral principles...(that the adolescent) must discover...in
order to validate the rules and laws which society bind upon him,
and then use these as the criteria for his moral judgments."8
In other words, rules must be reasonable, and appeal to common
sense. Dudley says, "The whole family can study together the principles
behind any specific regulations needed. Then, under the wise guidance
of mother and dad, each young person can make specific suggestions."9
Ellen White says, "The object of discipline is the training of the
child for self-government....Let all dealing with him be such as
to show obedience to be just and reasonable."10
Help them feel that "this is my church." Most
adolescents feel that their opinions are of little value to the
church. Many years ago, I was pastor of a downtown church in a large
city. Our youth Sabbath school class met in the balcony. They entertained
themselves by sailing paper airplanes over the heads of their elders.
They needed a room of their own, but there was none to be had. There
was, however, an old Dorcas building in the back of the lot. I received
permission to use the building and the next Sabbath I asked the
youth, "Would you like to have your own Sabbath school room?" "Yes,"
was their unanimous response. "Meet me tomorrow morning at 9:00
o'clock and we will redecorate a room in the old building and provide
a place for you." Almost the entire class showed up. I had paint,
brooms, mops, etc. The kids went to work with a will and it wasn't
long before the room was transformed. We made a platform, secured
chairs and a piano. I asked my Bible instructor to teach the class
but to let the youth select their own superintendent. I said, "Stay
on the back row and guide the energies of these kids." Soon they
were bringing their friends and the attendance almost doubled. The
next summer, the youth decided to hold their own evangelistic tent
meeting in a "dark county." We found a lot in the center of a small
town and pitched a camp meeting tent. They distributed the handbills,
the boys did the preaching, the girls did the ushering, and, of
course, the entire church supported the program. I do not remember
any baptisms from this evangelistic outreach, but it certainly transformed
the youth in our church. I believe these young people felt that
they had a voice and that they could do something significant for
the cause of Christ.
1 Roger Dudley, Why Teenagers Reject Religion,
2 Ibid, p. 78.
3 Ibid, p. 78.
4 Gospel Workers, p. 209.
5 Counsels on S. School Work, p. 77.
6 Campbell, How to Really Love Your Child,
7 Ibid, p. 34.
8 William A. Kay, Quoted by Dudley, Ibid,
9 Ibid, p. 99.
10 Ellen White, Education, p. 287.