Over the years, as I have attended and led Youth Group meetings, I have watched teenagers walk into a room and gravitate toward people they already know. If we allowed it teenagers would divide into their little groups and not have much to do with anyone except those they go to school with or feel a kinship with. Occasionally even the nicest of young people will be rather mean to someone who’s not in their little group, perhaps someone who goes to a different school or behaves in a little different way. But usually they just kind of ignore the others. That is, if they are allowed to.
A universal rule in Youth Group activities is that all belong. The group, we teach them in a variety of ways, is one group and there are no outsiders. When we see a little clique develop, our job is to weave the whole group back together. All the activities, from opening ice-breakers and games to programs and discussions and worship, are designed to dissolve barriers and create cohesiveness. That’s one of our expectations, one which we have to restate on a regular basis. The default behavior of an adolescent is to get in a group that is comfortable for them. We give them repeated opportunities to become comfortable with people they don’t go to school with or haven’t been friends with before. No one gets left out. Everyone is an equal member of the group. Youth Group is intended to be a safe place for all who come.
Each year there are leaders in the Youth Group which emerge and do remarkable work of welcoming those who seem to be on the outside. Those leaders are the ones who have gotten the message that in this setting everyone matters and they become sensitive to those who don’t really feel part of things. Every year, as we share the expectation that the group will be one group rather than several cliques, certain members really get the message and become the ones who reach out to those who seem to feel left out.
As you might expect, those leaders who emerge in Youth Group grow up to be the most admirable adults. They are more secure with themselves, more open to people who are different, more accepting of things in general, and more hopeful about life. They are less self-centered and become leaders in various ways. Because they’ve learned to wrestle with that demon of fitting in, they can more easily become who they truly are.
Parents, it may or may not surprise you, aren’t always helpful in this endeavor. Unwittingly many parents encourage the default cliquish behavior of their children. Adolescents need a little push to get out of their cliques and parents are reluctant to give that little push. Instead of establishing the expectation that their children will faithfully participate in Youth Group which will teach them so many good things, parents often take the path of least resistance and acquiesce to the their children’s reservations. The same parents who work so hard to make sure their children attend a particular school or play a certain sport or participate in some extra-curricular activity that may take hours and hours, suddenly become totally incapable of getting a teenage to make Youth Group a priority.
Parents work so hard to get their children into certain groups which we believe will make them feel better about themselves, more confident and affirmed. Maybe we do that because we think it will make us look better but usually we do it more out of genuine concern for our children’s well-being. We want them to be accepted.
There’s not a lot of short-term payoff for the parent who insists on the priority of participation in our Youth Group. No one’s going to stop you at the grocery store and say, “Wow, I hear your son is generous and kind to the other kids at Youth Group.” But the long-term payoff is tremendous. Ironically much of our effort to make sure our kids fit into the right groups leads to pretty negative behavior and a fearful approach to those who are different. They become people who believe their value is only commensurate with the groups they belong to. They never develop a positive sense of self-worth. They anxiously approach everything wanting to be like somebody else.
The world seems divided more and more into little tribes, groups where people who look and talk like each other develop paranoid and hateful outlooks toward other groups. Take a look at what you’re teaching your children by word and example. Rather than trying to get them to fit in, encourage them to accept themselves and others for who they are. The best way to do that is to engage the gospel of Christ on a daily basis yourself, a gospel which affirms God’s love for all creation.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Special Events Around the Corner
Honduras Medical Mission Trip – July 22-29
Blessing of Backpacks – August 13
EYC Parents’ Meeting – August 20 at noon
Family Promise Speaker – August 27 at 9:15 am
Fall Kickoff Sunday – September 10
Organ Recital by Joel Gregory – September 14 at 7:00 pm
Family Promise – Homeless Family Ministry – September 17-24
Blessing of the Animals – October 1 at 5:00 pm
Evensong – October 15 at 4:00 pm
Halloween Carnival – October 25 at 6:00 pm
Bazaar – November 15
Ordination to the Priesthood for Jamie Osborne – November 18 at 11:00 am
Handel’s Messiah – December 8 at 7:00 pm