Young people are desperately pursuing a sense of belonging, a sense of identity. Who am I? Where do I belong in this world? Who cares about me? We all modify our behaviors according to where we gain our sense of belonging. We modify our dress, our speech and our behavior in order to fit in. Sadly, with the busyness of life and the fears of stranger danger (not wanting to be viewed as a predator on young people), adults have withdrawn more and more from young people’s lives.
As children no longer feel their sense of connection with the adults in their lives, their community, their church, they seek that sense of belonging from elsewhere. They seek it from their peers, they say, Well I don’t fit in over here I have to fit in somewhere? What does it take for me to fit in here? Do I have to party? Do I have to give my body for sex? Do I have to experiment because I have to fit in somewhere and I’ll do whatever it takes to fit in here?
Today’s children are desperately pursuing artificial belongings because this need is not being fulfilled by families, schools and neighborhoods. Living with and loving other human beings who return that love is the most strengthening and salubrious emotional experience in the world. Sadly, too many young people grow up without this sense of belonging.
Every young person needs at least one adult who is irrationally committed to their well-being. Millions of children grow up virtually alone – disconnected from adults. No love. No supervision. No positive role models. Yet these people must still find their way – they still grow up to become adults. Children can endure the most miserable conditions – even thrive in the midst of then when – if they have at least one loving adult committed to their success.
The strongest predictor of resilience (of children who grow up in abusive situations and then go on to live productive lives) was an adult mentor outside the immediate family. A grandmother, a minister for example, a neighbor, someone who gave them a sense of being loved and being important.
The more layers of community that we surround a young person with, the better they do. Family is an important foundation for a sense of belonging, but there is also the need to have significant other adults in a young person’s life. They need to feel connected and accepted within their school environment. They need to have a faith community that surrounds them and supports them. The more layers of connection that a young person has, the better they do. All young people experiment to some degree, but if they are well connected with multiple layers of community then they experiment within a narrower framework and are more likely to return to the normal. However, as we strip away each level of connection then young people experiment over a wider framework and are less likely to return to the normal.
Are we willing to stand up and be those adults who believe in young people in our church, in our neighborhood, in the lives of the young people within the social circle of contact?
John 13:35 tells us that we will be known as disciples of Christ by the love that we show to each other. Do we show that love to the youth of our church and to the youth of our community?