“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.”
I often find consolation in the above quote, attributed to Peter the Hermit in AD 1274, along with a similar one attributed to Socrates. After all, if we’re honest, things haven’t really changed much in 750 years! Most of us parents weren’t saints as teenagers, much as we would like to whitewash our past from our teens. If I’m honest, I was certainly guilty of much of the above.
It can be tempting as parents and teachers to be despondent about our young people but, as a colleague pointed out to me recently, sometimes this is because we are too well aware of the pitfalls surrounding our children, having been through many of their dilemmas ourselves. “In our day” many young people were also disrespectful and they did drink excessively, smoke, and make poor choices in cars and with relationships.
The young people I teach, like those I’m attempting to grow at home, frequently demonstrate honesty, compassion and leadership. As our school’s Welfare teacher, I am often approached by students exhibiting leadership in different ways – they may be concerned for their friends’ welfare, they may be alerting me to boys smoking in the loos (not uncommon from both genders even in my parents’ era!), or simply making suggestions to improve certain outcomes for themselves and others.
Like us, our young people like to be heard and valued. They need to be sure that they have a role in our lives and have ownership over aspects of it. Spending time with our teens whenever we are able to, especially at their invitation, fosters our relationship and sends a strong positive message that we love them. Personally, shopping is my major bonding experience with my girls and various sport-related activities seem to be where I spend time with my boys. Sometimes this is commending a good mark in footy or commiserating a dropped catch. In regional areas, the extra time spent travelling to get anywhere is an excellent opportunity for a chat.
This is the case within our church, too. If we encourage young people to participate in ministries such as reading, music, children’s liturgy and communion distribution at Mass, we are ensuring that they recognise that the Church is also theirs. Many great Saints were very close to God in their teens – my namesake, St Catherine of Sienna ran off to become a hermit at the age of 14, for example – whilst others, such as St Augustine lived a life their parent/s despaired of until they suddenly changed to become inspirations to us all.
The key is that we can’t lose faith in our young people. You and I have turned out okay, despite some early hiccups! By keeping faith in and with them, they will have love modelled for them in such a way that they’ll understand the concept of the unconditional love that God has for all of us.