Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Life As A Teenager


I'm building, today, on an article from Lovell/Fairchild Communications by Monique Zondag dealing with the pressures that today's teenagers face in High School. While this is based on the American experience, having worked with teens I can safely say that the pressures are very similar.

Teen Expert Andy Braner on What’s Being Taught Outside the Classroom

“Parents have no clue what’s going on in the hallways of the high school,” said Andy Braner, founder and operator of KIVU, a Christian camp near Durango, Colo.; an international speaker talking to 80,000 teens each year; and author of the recently released An Expose on Teens, Sex and Dating: What’s Really Going on and How to Talk About It.

“The number one issue, without a doubt, is that kids are walking through high school, church and home, and they feel alone, as if no one cares about them. They feel worthless,” Braner said. “The veneer, how the loneliness shows itself, is in teen sexuality, a way to feel as if they do have attention, worth — and they’re bombarded with sex at every turn.”

Braner offers this list of 5 key issues confronting teens today whether from their peers, the media or society.

Sexuality — More and more teens are falling prey to an uneducated view of their own sexuality, Braner said. They are relentlessly pressured to fit in and often compromise their values to do so. Evidence? Check the language they're using online, Braner advised, it’s often more X-rated than parents know.

Teen Fact: Almost half of high school students have had sexual intercourse with almost 14 percent having four or more partners. (2009, Centers for Disease Control)

Pressure to Perform — Today’s teen is pushed to excel in everything from athletics to academics. Every kid has a gift, Braner said, and sometimes their particular gift doesn't line up with the way society asks them to perform, so they find themselves more and more exhausted trying to be someone they're not.

Teen Fact: Doctors warned of the downside of over-committed teens in 2008, cautioning about living with "pressure-filled intense preparation for a high-achieving adulthood," (“Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics,”)


Loneliness — This is the biggest issue kids face today, Braner said. They shape themselves to be someone everyone will find valuable, often compromising everything they know to be true to find friends. Drugs, alcohol and teen issues are a veneer covering the deep hurt teens are dealing with through rejection.

Teen Fact: Over a quarter of teens report underage drinking with more than 17 percent binge drinking. (2009, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

Hopelessness — Kids don’t have an optimistic view of the future, in part because they see the economy affecting their own families and wonder if there will be opportunity for them when they become adults.

Teen Fact: A quarter of high school students struggle with feelings of hopelessness. (2010, Centers for Disease Control)

Severe Narcissism — Many kids are succumbing to the idea they are the most important part of the universe. Everything exists to please them. From every direction — in the media, through technology, online — kids are being trained to think only about themselves.

Teen Fact: A study showed over 65 percent of teens scoring above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, double the percentage of 30 years ago. (Jean Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever, Free Press, 2006)

What should be parents’ reaction to this reality? Braner said the answer is helping teens develop a deeper understanding of reality. As an example, a distinctive of Camp KIVU, in addition to traditional camp activities such as hiking, backpacking and water sports, is an intentional effort to let teens ask the hard questions about life and faith and begin to develop a biblically based Christian worldview that can withstand the pressures of the hallway.

As for what parents can do, Braner advises that parents who want their kids to have a meaningful faith . . . need to have a meaningful faith. Teens effortlessly sniff out hypocrisy and will run the other way. Additionally, it’s not enough for parents to spend time with kids. They need to spend time effectively, connecting in areas that interest their kids and reinforcing the rules they lay down by having solid relationships behind the rules.

"My goal is to help parents and those working with teenagers walk students through the most confusing time of their lives,” Braner said. “With hormones blazing and sexuality being sold at every single turn, teens need a place where they can ask hard questions — and have some answers.”

In addition to his book, Braner writes a popular blog — Andy Braner Is Re-Imagining the Christian Worldview — where he explores a variety of topics.

Let's look at some of the keys to help teens navigate those difficult High School years.

1. Parental Involvement
Parents need to know and care about what's going on in the life of their teenager. Too many kids are desperate for the attention of their parents. If they don't get it in healthy ways they will get it in other ways. Invest time in your teenager. Set limits and enforce them. Be a parent first and a friend second.

2. Talk
One of the greatest challenges, I believe, is to get people (teenagers included) to think critically. Part of the reason that peer pressure holds such sway over a teenager is the limited perspective many of them have. I remember way back in High School thinking that the friends I had then would be my best friends for life. The reality is that there are very few that I ever saw again. If I had the power to look down the road a few years I would have made some different decisions.

Talk about the issues. Why do you believe what you believe? Learn to defend your worldview so that you can help them to think critically themselves.

3. Build Healthy Community
Everyone longs to belong. If your child doesn't have a healthy place where they can truly feel that they belong, they will gravitate to whoever will accept them. Love them unconditionally. Teach them early to discern and to reach up when choosing close friends. The power of association has a great deal of impact on us. If you want to see into the future, look at what your child is reading and watching, and who they are hanging around with, because that is likely what they will become. Encourage them to get involved with sports, clubs and youth groups that will bring out the best in them and teach them discipline and teamwork. Let them know that you believe in them and cheer them as they try.

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Seven Keys For A Better Life
Minding Our Manners
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