Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teen 2.0 (Chapter 9)

How tough are teens?

I can remember seeing 18-year-old Kerri Strug's gold medal-winning gymnastic vault way back in 1996. She did a perfect combination with a broken ankle, winning the gold for the US. But are teens this resilient, or is Strug an exception? Are young people able to endure difficulty as well as adults? Epstein argues in Teen 2.0 that teens are often tougher and more resilient than adults.

The most striking and controversial example Epstein uses is the Lost Boys of Sudan. Young boys, many elementary-aged, trekked thousands of miles on foot in the midst of civil war in Sudan. I was listening to the audiobook of Dave Eggers' What Is the What while driving to the San Diego YMCP last week. These boys' experience is weighty to comprehend; I found myself moved to tears more than once. (The documentary God Grew Tired of Us is a phenomenal film about the Lost Boys, one that I'd highly recommend.)

When I recently had the opportunity to be part of a conversation with Epstein, I brought up the Lost Boys example, wondering aloud that this wasn't exactly a positive example for young people. We shouldn't wish these kinds of situations on young people, let alone anyone. Dr. Epstein was quick to agree, pointing out that while the circumstances were atrocious, it nonetheless revealed the potential of young people to endure difficulty. It wasn't a question of whether the situation was positive or not; this was about competency.

The more I've reflected upon the teens I've known--and my own adolescent experience--I have to agree with Epstein's conclusions: teens are incredibly resilient, perhaps even more so than adults in many cases. I think of the countless teens enduring the deep emotional pain of their parents' divorce. I think of the increased pressure to achieve in athletics; some of the junior high guys I minister with are put through boot camp-like conditions with their freshman-level football team. I think of the film Precious, the titular character being the victim of rape and abuse, yet enduring and rising above the chaos of her circumstances to become educated and take care of her children. I think of the teens I've shepherded over the years, their tears and sorrow.

And while I agree that teens are tough, are capable of enduring tragedy and pain, I still find myself wishing that they could be spared from their suffering, that someone would bear the pain with them.

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