Thursday, April 29, 2010

Teen Drinking Issues Are Known By Teens And...Ignored

I was recently alerted to a Macleans Magazine article that new research suggests that teenage drinking is linked to breast disease.  As shocking as that may seem to the adult readers of this periodical as a youth worker I have had many conversations with young people about the effects of alcohol.  The surprising thing is that they are well educated on the subject.  I remember talking with one group of young people as they shared their weekend stories.  The stories they laugh the hardest at are the one where drunk friends do something dumb.  I brought something about the drinking age and they told me why the drinking age is set at 19 in British Columbia and that according to research into adolescent brain development the drinking age probably should be set to 21.  They also cited information about how teen drinking can have addictive effects moving into adulthood. 

To be honest, I was shocked.  Along with most adults I thought that simply educating people about the risks of a behavior could indeed consistent a change in behavior.  We as a culture have done a great job in increasing education without affecting behavior.  Now the kids know more about alcohol than ever before and they simply ignore it.  The same will be true of this latest round of scientific findings.  The question we need to ask is why are they drinking?

I have some ideas but before I get into those on my next post, I want to hear a bit form you.  Tell me what you think can or should be done about underage drinking.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mentoring Youth "Because" not "So That"

Continuing on the theme of mentoring youth.  I came across an interesting phrase last week that really helped capture the purpose I feel in mentoring youth, or the fact that I am a youth worker at all.  I never actually expected that this is what I would be doing with my life.  As an introvert I find that spending time with people generally drains me not fills me.  I am a researcher and a teacher.  This means that I like to sit and think about things a lot, but being out there is a stretch for me.  However it is BECAUSE of what God has done in my life that I am here.  I know that he is there because he spoke to me in the midst of my despair and told me that he would never leave me and never forsake me.  He spoke with me when I tried to kill myself as a 19 year old who had given up on life and he said, I am taking out of your life all the things are are not healthy.  Of course at the time it felt like he was taking everything from me.  He spoke with me this week and told me not to worry (but that is a story for another post). 

There are a lot of people that will think that I am crazy or ignorant for choosing to follow or believe in God.  Maybe I am.  However I do know that I reach out to youth BECAUSE God has asked me to. I have reached out to youth BECAUSE I see them as being people that God cares about.  I reach out to youth BECAUSE "I see the hope and potential of every young person" (YFC Canada Motto). 

However sometime people may mistake my actions to be that I may reach out to youth "So That" they may be converted to my way of thinking.  SO THAT they accept Jesus.  SO THAT they stop making bad choices.  I have been doing this long enough to know that "SO THAT's" don't work anyway.  I have no power to change people.  I have no power to make people think something different or believe what I believe. 

I just simply love people because Jesus first loved me...  Believe me some days I'm better at it than others.  I'm not perfect but I am trying.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mentoring Youth

I had a great conversation with a young person that reads my blog.  She indicated that she felt as though their was a discrepancy between my posts "Colonizing of Youth Culture and Why it Doesn't Work" and "Sexuality and Youth".  I appreciated the feedback.  It was good to know that someone reads this stuff.  I took some time to really weigh out what she told me.  She liked the point of the Colonizing post about being respect of differences people have and not forcing them into a mold that we want them to fit into.  The issue in the sexuality post was a reference I made that youth need strong mentoring.  Is mentoring a fancy word for colonizing.  That I would use my influence over someone to force them into following the things that I believe about the world and about God?  If thats not the case then what is mentoring?

I have been a youth worker for over 15 years and throughout that time I have talked with thousands of young people about a huge variety of topics.  Sometimes it is serious stuff, other times it is not.  However just because we talk about stuff does not give me the right to serve as a mentor.  Mentoring is something that happens when the conversation turns into a very pointed observation or response to and individual question.  I see mentoring as an opportunity to give someone that is close to me another option to consider.  This is not about forcing their beliefs or actions.  I am powerless to do that.  True mentoring works best when the friendship is not affected.  If I mentor someone on how to find a job and yet they choose not to take my advice that is their choice and I will not be hurt or offended by it.  That doesn't mean that I agree or approve of their choice, but I still consider the person close to me and would help them through other situations if the opportunity arose and it was appropriate.

I also want to present a point of view that may be foreign to them because it is likely that they may have never heard the stance I take in a particular situation.  I happen to think that there are some things that I have learned about life that can be helpful to others.  This may be about building resumes all the way to thoughts on God.  I hope that begins to heal the gap between these posts, but I would love to hear your take on what mentoring youth is all about.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The coloinzation of youth culture and why it doesn't work.

I spent this afternoon chatting with a friend of mine who happens to share my job title about the intricacies about pioneering effective youth work in a Canadian city.  We talked a lot about some of the old methods of taking "good ideas" and making  those the focus of the work.  The ideas are fun and entertaining, but do little to actually challenge the inner core of youth and make a lasting impact on them.

That ideal worked in a society that had shared values and everyone had the same idea of what it was that we were suppose to do to be "good people".  However today we live in a post-christian society and everyone does as they see fit.  The church that used to be the center of the community is now sitting empty on the fringes.  It takes a new vision to reach out to the different societies represented within the same country, city and neighrborhood.  And it takes more than just a good idea to make significant life long changes within the youth culture.  We need to truly understand our focus and be able to clearly identify why we are doing any of our events or day-to-day activities.

When I got home I had open on my computer screen an editorial comment from the Baltimore Sun sitting open on my screen that read, "You can't apply middle class values to troubled youth". However sometimes we can try to change the behavior of the youth to better represent something that we are comfortable with.  However external changes do little to impact the community nor the individual.  What we need is to move beyond values and get into the core what shapes those values.  The behaviors change naturally, even if the outside appearance never does.  Ok so the idea isn't my own.  Josh McDowell wrote a book called, "Beyond Belief to Conviction."  He says in the book that just because we believe in something doesn't make it true.  So in that case do we even want youth to have middle class values.  Middle class are generally people that try to appear that everything is ok, but on the inside everything is falling apart.  Troubled youth generally have no false illusions.  They know that they are messed up.  Which do you think is more healthy?

We may believe that our way of life is better, but that doesn't make it true.  So lets drop the good ideas and look at what these kids actually need.  Lets stop trying to fix them, and start living along side them.  We may find that when we drop the labels of classes that we have more common values than we thought. 

Also on a side, not all values that we share are good - true - or right.  When we stop trying to colonize people to look and act like us we may actually be able to impact them.  (or more often, they may impact us.  As fellow humans not the occupying majority. We are called to serve others not change others.  I'd love your feedback on this hastily written blog post.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sexuality and Youth

One of my new favorites online is a site called Psych Central.  It delves into many of the youth related issues that my team and I face everyday.  Yesterday I was reading an article discussion entitled, "Are More Girls Really Lesbian or Bisexual?" Being a youth worker sexuality is a topic that enters the discussion almost every day. 

I know for myself having grown up in a small farming town the topic of homosexuality wasn't something that was discussed on a regular basis so there were times when I was quite overwhelmed by the fact that young people were openly identifying themselves as homosexual. As the years have gone by this has really ceased to be surprising or shocking to me as it is so common. 

In our western culture sexuality holds a place of a mysterious desire. If sex were just a physical act then it would not be something that would be used to in marketing and humor to name a few.  In a sense sexuality is considered taboo and in others it is considered normal.  However it is my understanding that what people are craving in sexuality is a sense of something defining.  Something that makes sense of a senseless life.  However when young people start to enter into their sexuality they find it to be overwhelming and confusing.  I have talks every week with youth that are struggling with their sexual identity.  It seems they cannot separate caring for their friends from sexual desire.  When they get into intense emotional situations with their friends they feel as though the only way that can truly be expressed is via a sexual encounter with the other person. A girl may have gone through a terrible abusive situation and when she finds another girl that shares a similar background she bonds to the hope that someone understands her she feels something deeper than a normal friendship and so she thinks that she may in fact be a lesbian or bisexual.  Instead of being a helpful comrade she now thinks that she may need to completely redefine her self identity to cater to an alternate sexual behavior.

Other situations include guys that have trouble fitting in with the crowds and are interested in things outside what other guys consider normal.  They feel outcast and really are able to emphasize and befriend girls better than guys.  Maybe they are told they are gay or maybe they just feel alone and want to be able to feel like they belong somewhere and so they start to experiment feel changing their sexuality identity to fit in with other guys that dont fit in.

It is confusing for people that are well into adulthood let alone the kids as young as 11 who have shared such stories with me.  In telling our kids to just trust their feelings is not to help them become who they were meant to be it is to leave them at the mercy of the source of feelings - the pressures from media, friends, the culture, the teasing, the bullying, the self hatred, etc.  What they need is strong mentoring to help them discern feeling from fact.  Sometimes there are some genuine things they need to wrestle with, but other times they just need someone to affirm who they are so they dont have to go through the process of reinventing themselves.