Citizenship & Community

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship.  For some, the word invokes images of Boy Scouts saying the pledge of allegiance or students volunteering at the library.   Most of us would define the word by a reference to service of some kind.  Many of us older adults mourn the loss of citizenship among our students.   Many think of citizenship as a product of a bygone era, no longer possible or practical among our digital generation of teens.

My son has been learning about citizenship in his martial arts class.  In each class, there is a simple lesson geared toward the 3 to 5 year-old students about picking up trash, saying hi to a new student in class, helping an elderly person who lives in your neighborhood, opening doors for others, etc.

As I listened to his instructor, I realized that while the stated character trait was citizenship, it was ultimately about community:  Who do you know? Who can you serve? Who do you need to add to your community?

Our youth need community as much as ever.  Too often, we get caught up in thinking that adolescence is about moving away from the family and friends a child has always known. In reality, adolescence is about forming identity within your own developing community – a new community that both includes and extends beyond the community you grew up knowing.  As adults working with teens, do we point our youth in the direction of where they could find community and a place to serve with their newly developing identities and gifts?

I have found that service, or citizenship, becomes a natural and organic outgrowth of people who have a place to belong.

A few ideas to help guide your teens as they seek to develop their own community:

  1. Create a community of adults that your child can talk to or spend time around. They can be all different ages and life stages, but they need to be a safe place where they are welcome, and loved, and can receive help and advice.
  2. Help youth identify their passion. Tell them what they are good at. Tell them what you see in them.  Encourage them to try out art, or music, or sports, or writing until they find their niche.
  3. Help teens find a place to serve. What are his/her interests? What do they want to explore? Who do they want to be around more? This could be in the context of a local non-profit or serving at a church. It could be a club/community group geared toward their interest. Community is built through service.
  4. Develop relationships with people from various cultures, religious backgrounds, and political belief systems. This allows the teens in your life to see that different people with different life experiences can all be at the same table.

 

Like with adults, community in adolescence doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and showing up – something we as adults still need help our students with each day. But the benefits are worth it.  Youth who are plugged into a community, and who are serving there, have more opportunities to become successful, do better in school, and are more likely to believe that someone will be there for them if they need it.

Citizenship and Community are intertwined. How can you help the teen in your life find their place to live and serve?

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.

Get on the Ground

Get on the Ground

I’ve never considered myself the “playful” type. It’s not that I’m particularly boring, but my “default” gear isn’t to step into a room wondering what kind of mischief I can stir up. I leave that to my wife.

For me, it is more of a mental shift I make – a decision that I’m not going to focus on getting things done, but just “play”. Sometimes this can be a hard shift because I feel like I am at my best when I am accomplishing things. Being task-oriented has helped me become more focused and productive, but sometimes it comes at a cost. My job has become more task oriented, and often that will follow me home.

So, when I walk in my home after a long work day my challenge is turning off my task list and re-orienting my priorities. You see, my kids don’t care about what I accomplished that day. All they want is to play. And I find the quickest way for me to switch from work to play mode is quite simple – lay down.

Oh, and I forgot the second part – prepare for the pain.

For a seven, four, and two year old there is nothing more thrilling than to see their daddy lay down on the ground for them to wrestle and jump on. Seriously – I compare the looks I see on their faces to Christmas morning sometimes. Maybe it is because I don’t do it enough – or maybe it’s because there is something else going on.

Adults fail to realize the simple idea of distance. Our world is “up here” and their’s is “down there”. They are always looking up to what we are doing. When we discipline or get upset at them, often it is from “up here”. Important conversations and decisions are made from “up there”. But, “down here” is where play, imagination, games, wrestling, and all the cool kid stuff happens.

The problem is – us adults spend way too much time “up there” and forget about “down here”. We get so consumed with adult things that we forget there is a whole other world just below our knees that looks nothing like ours. All we have to do to experience it is to lay down.

I have two big boys, and they like to hurt me when I’m down on the ground. I have a little girl who loves nothing more than to bounce on my back. It does hurt. But, for a brief moment I enter their world, and they get to share all of the cool things they are doing. They are in control. They call the shots. I don’t really have any authority on the ground.

This is “sacred space” that all adults who work with students should notice. It looks different the older people get – but that sacred space still exists. There is a world that teenagers live in where adults seldom venture. It’s a place where the shiny new tools of emotional development, society, culture, education, and the future collide. For those on the inside, it can be pretty overwhelming. If more adults would go into the world of a teenager with compassion and grace instead of advice and rules, we would know what it means to “get on the ground” with teenagers. They will open up. They will listen to you. They will trust you.

So, let’s change the way we approach teenagers. Instead of bringing adult thinking and culture to them, let’s leave all of that behind and “get on the ground” with them. It might hurt a little, but imagine what you will find……

How does this strike you? How do you “get on the ground” with the teenagers in your life? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.