If you've ever traveled to another country, you may have noticed you don't see many moody teenagers. Why is this?
Young adults in the rest of the world aren't like they are in America. They're responsible, capable, mature. The reason we don't see more of this in our own country is both startling and convicting.
Cultures in the devleoping world make a clear delineation between childhood and adulthood. There are important rites of passage that mark this transition, often celebrated by a young person's family and tribe. Young people are intentionally exposed to hardship and pain, because it helps them grow.
Somehow, in all of our advancement and technology, we've lost this sacred art of initiation. In exchange for it, we have low expectations of what young people are capable of, and a lot of educational requirements before they're expected to contribute anything. And don't forget: we have more entertainment tools than ever. Doesn't quite seem worth the trade-off, does it?
We need to break this cycle of extended adolescence and help young people transition well into adulthood. Perhaps we need to grow up ourselves.
We don't give young people enough credit. If challenged, they will rise to the occasion. The world is full of remarkable young people like Zach Hunter, waiting for their chance to step up and do something.
While many of his peers are chasing girls and mastering Angry Birds, Zach has been fighting human trafficking. Since he was twelve, he has been raising money, writing books, and speaking to youth about ending modern-day slavery. Why is it that Zach is changing the world, while plenty of thirty-year-olds still haven't moved out of their mom's attic? The answer is adolescence.
Belonging to a ministry that works with young people, I see this phenomenon regularly: on mission trips with high schoolers, in the office with twenty-somethings, and even in myself.
I've seen people travel the world and return home unable to make a simple decision. I've seen middle schoolers ready to be empowered and eager to demonstrate their talents. I've seen kids defy the expectations of their parents, youth leaders, and even themselves.
The reason we don't see more of this is because we refuse to let young people fail.
This happened to me when I got my first "real" job at twenty-three. I had just finished a yearlong commitment with a traveling music ministry, but this was my first legitimate employment opportunity as a college grad. I was hired as a staff writer and quickly became the marketing director, a leader in the organization.
Since I was young and inexperienced, I sometimes ran into people who weren't sure how to treat me. As I worked alongside people who were twice my age-and we were peers-they would sometimes question my judgment or ability.
Quite frankly, I didn't blame them. But something subtle was sabotaging me here; it was the thought that I wasn't good enough, that I didn't have what it took to do the job, despite the fact that my boss clearly believed in me.
I've seen this self-doubt manifested in others, too. It's a common story: some young leader becomes empowered and doesn't know what to do with his newfound authority and suddenly rebels.
In an accusatory tone, he'll question the judgment of his superior, saying, "What do you mean you want me to do this? I'm not ready!" All the while, what he's really saying is this: I don't believe in myself, so why do you?
I know people think these things, because I thought them. When I was twenty-two, I was asked to lead a team of musicians around the country for a year. When the road manager asked me out to lunch and told me he wanted me to be a leader, I almost quit. I felt scared and unprepared. Why couldn't someone else do it? But there was no one else, and that much was clear.
I took the job, even though I didn't feel qualified. Although I failed and got frustrated many times, I survived, which was a miracle in itself. My team followed me even through tough times, and we came out the other end alive. In the process, I learned an important lesson: I could do things I didn't think I could do. As life went on, I realized this is a crucial tenet to living a full life: learning confidence in the face of insecurity and inadequacy.
If you're someone who's slow to empower the young people you're working with, it may be time to do just that. Yes, they'll fail; but they'll also learn. And you'll be giving them a tremendous opportunity to grow. They'll thank you-some day.
And if you feel like you've been given more than you can possibly handle, take heart. This is the point where you learn to grow into who you're meant to be. It's when you're in over your head that you start taking your work seriously, when you finally grow up and into your destiny.
No one's going to give you a map. You must make your own way.