Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reflecting on Youth

Youth will very often live to our expectations.

I returned Saturday from a mission trip to Oklahoma. I shared the floor of a church with about 120 other people for a week as we served people in the Oklahoma City area. Teams went out each morning to build ramps, repair roofs, and touch people’s lives. Each team had two adults and six youth.

One team in particular was interesting to watch during the week, because one of that team’s adults was almost constantly whining about how his kids didn’t know how to do anything, and that they were lazy.

This was my tenth youth mission trip in the past 7 summers. I have been on several different work teams, and in other positions of leadership. I have never before encountered an entire team of ignorant and lazy youth.

For whatever reason, it took me the entire week to realize that in this case, the youth weren’t the problem. The adult was the problem. I suppose I wanted to give the man the benefit of the doubt. I should have given the students the same respect, or more.

Over my 20 years of working with youth, I have learned that, contrary to the attitudes and perspectives of the older generations, most youth want to succeed, do well, be a part of something larger than themselves, and serve others.

This man’s experience with six youth for a week of mission work was exactly what he had expected it to be. In his view young people would rather be playing video games, surfing the internet, or sleeping than anything else. Laying that level of expectation on his team, they lived according to it.

The last time I was on a similar team, The youth took the lead in building a deck with stairs, replacing a door and frame, fixing two windows and repainting the entire house. They didn’t take a step without seeking my approval, but they took the initiative and accomplished most of the work themselves. They lived up to the expectations I had of them.

Youth will very often live down to, or up to, our expectations of them.

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