This weekend I helped out a bit with a LifeTeen retreat sponsored by Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, CO. The title of the retreat was "The Seuss is Loose," and the presentations offered by various members of the core team were reflections based on a few beloved Dr. Seuss stories, and focused on the need for perseverance in the faith in the face of opposition, growth in virtue, overcoming peer pressure, and the unique love that God has for each person.
I had the privilege of listening to some of the kids share about what's going on in their life, and I was blown away. Their adolescence is so different from my own. The pressures they encounter at school, the difficulties they face when they go home, sometimes, are incredible. I don't know how well I would handle them at age 47, much less age 17! In some cases, the children's parents are divorced, or working hard to maintain a standard of living and providing what their kids ask for. But of course, what the kids ask for and what they really need - parental time and individual attention - are two different things.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of parents in the lives of their children:
"The joyful love with which our parents welcomed us and accompanied our first steps in this world is like a sacramental sign and prolongation of the benevolent love of God from which we have come. The experience of being welcomed and loved by God and by our parents is always the firm foundation for authentic human growth and authentic development, helping us to mature on the way towards truth and love, and to move beyond ourselves in order to enter into communion with others and with God."
Pope Benedict XVI. Sermon at the Fifth World Meeting of Families, Valencia 2006
George Barna, in a reflection on the Virginia Tech shooting linked in here, cites a number of chilling facts about parenting and the state of parenthood today, including:
-By the time an American child is 23 years old, as was the killer in Virginia, he will have seen countless murders among the more than 30,000 acts of violence to which he is exposed through television, movies and video games.
-By the age of 23, the average American will have viewed thousands of hours of pornographic images, which diminish the dignity and value of human life.
-After nearly a quarter century on earth, the typical American will have listened to hundreds of hours of music that fosters anger, hatred, disrespect for authority, selfishness, and radical independence.
-The typical worldview of a person in their early twenties promotes self-centeredness, the right to happiness and fulfillment, the importance of personal expression in all forms, the necessity of tolerating aberrant or immoral points of views, allows for disrespect of other people and use of profanity, and advances forms of generic spirituality that dismiss the validity of the Judeo-Christian faith. Largely propelled by postmodern thought, the typical worldview of young people does not facilitate respect for life, acceptance of the rule of law, or the necessity of hard work, personal sacrifice, paying the dues or contributing to the common good.
-The average adolescent spends more than 40 hours each week digesting media, and the typical teenager in America absorbs almost 60 hours of media content each week. For better or worse, the messages received from the media represent a series of unfiltered, unchaperoned worldview lessons.
-It appears that as many as one out of every five young people is or has been under the influence of mood-altering medications, some of whose long-term side effects are not fully understood by the medical community. Drugging children has become one of the ways in which we have coped with other issues.
-Stress levels have been steadily rising among young children over the past couple of decades. A variety of factors have contributed to such stress, including parental acrimony and divorce, household financial troubles, media-fed expectations regarding materialism, overscheduling of children, bullying, physical abuse within the home, and excessive peer pressure.
-One-third of the nation’s teenagers report having been in a physical fight at least once in the last year. Nearly one out of every five 9th through 12th grade students has carried a gun, knife or club in the past month.
-Education, both in the home and outside of it, provides diminishing emphasis upon the development of character, and increasing emphasis upon meeting academic performance standards, especially through standardized testing.
-Growing numbers of children seek to make their way through an increasingly complex life without the traditional safety net comprised of a loving and supportive family, a stable circle of supportive peers, teachers who know and help nurture the child, and a community of faith that assists in giving meaning to life and a sense of belonging.
-Most young people admit that they feel as if they do not receive sufficient attention from their parents; do not have enough good friends whom they can count on; are unsettled about their own future; have personal spiritual perspectives but not much of a sense of spiritual community; lack role models; and do not feel that they have intrinsic value."
The stress parents face is also outlined in the article.
In spite of this, the retreat demonstrated that adolescents can and do respond positively to positive role models, can support one another, are willing - even craving - a relationship with Jesus (witnessed by their attentiveness to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). They can sing songs of praise with great enthusiasm, are able to be achingly honest in the sacrament of reconciliation, and will even forego an extra hour of sleep to attend a non-required early-morning Mass.
My hat's off to all those who work with our youth, and to parents who are struggling to remain in a healthy, positive, Christ-centered relationship with their children!
How can we support each other in this vital task?