Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 4)

Giving troubled young people meaningful responsibility can turn the instantly into responsible citizens.

In chapter four of Teen 2.0, Epstein explores the various programs designed to help delinquent young people, such as Boys Town, Outward Bound, and military schools. Most of these began with the premise stated above--young people are capable of responsibility if given and expected of them, especially when placed in scenarios filled with difficult challenges. The challenges including running a society--like the George Junior Republics or Boys Town--or surviving for a month hiking in the wilderness--like Outward Bound.

Epstein makes an interesting point on the limitations of such programs, specifically Outward Bound:
Unfortunately, Outward Bound is only a halfway measure; it gives people real challenges and real responsibilities--but not in the real world. It necessarily runs into a problem psychologists call a "transfer of training": what people learn in one environment doesn't necessarily transfer to other environments, especially when those other environments place different demands on the learners. (pg 107)
While Epstein goes on to say that this doesn't harm his basic premise--that teens are fully capable of adult responsibility--it does sound an alarm for those in youth ministry. In college, one of my favorite classes was called "experiential learning." We were trained in ropes and challenge courses, led our own meaning-making labs with peers, and learned about the value of having experiences produce meaning and growth in our lives. While I love experiential learning, I also know that it takes incredible guidance to make connections between a ropes course and the real world.

When there is a drastic disconnect between our discipleship environments and the context teens actually live in daily, learning and maturing is hindered. This applies just as much to church worship gatherings, youth group, and mission trips as it does ropes courses. If what we talk about and experience in a 90 minute youth group is remarkably disconnected from cultural norms, we can't expect the instant change Epstein writes about. It takes a great deal of intentionality and time to make disciples; it also requires meeting them where they are at, incarnating ourselves into their world. Following Jesus cannot happen only on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights; His influence needs to permeate all of life, even life within a culture that communicates to teens that they are helpless or incompetent.

I think it's more of both/and than either/or: we need to have discipleship environments that are a radical contrast to the surrounding culture and connect with and disciple students within that culture. Your thoughts?

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