The Real Problem With Todays Teenagers (And Why Most Parents Just Dont Get It!)
(Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, October 3, 1889)
Who was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain I might ask. No, not the one-time British Prime Minister. That was a different Chamberlain. J.L. Chamberlain was a general in the American Civil War, who fought for the North. Why mention him today? It will remain a secret at this stage.
My name is Dave. I generally function under the persona of 'Father Dave'. That's because I am a priest -an Anglican priest. Apart from being a priest I am also a boxer and all-round martial arts master. I am also a 'youth worker' of sorts.
In some places in the world I would be granted an enormous amount of respect because I am a priest. In this community, I find I receive more respect that I deserve on account of my reputation for hitting people. I personally believe that the only role in that list that really demands respect is the one of 'Youth Worker'
Working with young people is hard. I used to be a young person. I was a hard young person to work with. I was a difficult student at school. I went on to be an argumentative University student and then a troublesome seminary student. I've left behind me a whole string of academic institutions that have been somewhat glad to see the back of me.
Now I've been working with hard and difficult young people in Dulwich Hill for the last twelve years (which may be God's way of paying me back). Some of the young people I've worked with have really got their lives together and gone on to bigger and better things. Quite a number of them have died - mainly from overdoses but also from car accidents (often in stolen cars) and from suicide. Others I'm still working with. They're just not quite as young as they used to be.
People ask me all the time 'Dave, what do you think is the biggest problem facing young people today'. Most people think I am going to answer 'drugs'.
I do not consider drugs to be the biggest problem young people are facing today. That's not because I don't think drugs are a big problem. I've worked with a lot of drug-addicted young people over the years. I have been robbed and manipulated by them, and I have watched many of them. Even so, I do not consider drugs to be the biggest problem plaguing our young people.
Some people think 'violence' is the biggest problem facing young people, and I am conscious of the fact that for young guys (in particular) problems of violence can still be a major issue. Violence is not nearly so big a problem in my area as it was five years ago, but we still managed to finish up one of our most recent blue-light discos with an all-in brawl in the streets. Problems of violence are alive and well in Dulwich Hill. Even so, I do not consider violence to the biggest problem facing young people.
Some people think in terms of lack of employment opportunities as the major issue. Others would speak in terms of family breakdown or problems of prejudice - all real issues. Personally though, I believe that the biggest problem facing our young people today is something a little less tangible. Personally I think the biggest problem I see with our young people is that most of them don't feel themselves to be a part of anything that is bigger than themselves.
Most young people I meet have tragically small horizons, very little ambition, and hence live in very tiny worlds. When I ask teenagers about what they would really like to do with their lives if they could do anything at all, most others speak in terms of getting something, whether that something be a horse or a car or a girl or just 'a lot of money'.
No one I speak to says 'If I could do anything I wanted I'd find a cure for cancer' or 'I'd negotiate a peace deal in the Middle East'. And this reflects, I believe, the fact that most young people I know have very narrow horizons. Indeed, most young persons I know seem to live in worlds that are not much bigger than themselves.
Go back a couple of generations and most European Australians were ready to lay down their lives for King and country. You wouldn't find many young people today willing to sacrifice themselves for Queen and country. You won't find many young people who have any real sense of loyalty to the Queen or to the country. Indeed, if you ask most young people what it means to be Australian, you won't generally get a reply that contains any ideals.
There are positives as well as negatives in this equation of course. Strong patriotism often goes hand in hand with strong prejudice against people of other nationalities. And our Australian cynicism towards our governing bodies at least means that we're not easily fooled by political propaganda. Even so, the downside of our 'loss of national identity' means that we've been thrust back upon ourselves and upon our peers to find some sense of personal identity.
Now if you're following me here at all you may well be thinking 'Yeah, Dave thinks that because he's working with a group of no good loser drug addicts. Hell, I don't know what happened to him since he left Fort Street, but that guy has been on a one-way downwardly mobile trip. Over here we've really got it all together.' Yeah? I don't know.
One of the most depressing groups of young people I've encountered in the past few years has been at my oldest daughter's school. She attends a different government run selective high school. I won't say which one. NOT THIS ONE! When she fist started school there they asked her whole class 'what did they want to be when they finished school?', and almost every other person there, apart from her, said 'a lawyer'.
Now people, maybe I've been prejudiced over the years by the enormous amount of time I've spent in juvenile courts and in the prison system, but it seems to me that if we're really on about building a better Australia, the last thing we need is more lawyers!
Now I know I shouldn't be black and white about this, but my daughter went around and asked her peers 'why do you want to be a lawyer?' Some of them answered 'because my dad is a lawyer' or something like that, but MOST of them said that it was because being a lawyer was a 'good job', by which they mean what ?.? A job that can help a lot of people? NO! When people say a 'good job' they mean a job that makes a lot of money.
There was a time when we used to speak of the 'idealism of youth'. What's happened to that? When did youthful idealism get replaced by this 'I want to make a lot of money' mentality? Why do people who should know better want to make a 'lot of money'? Is it because you think you need a lot of money in order to survive? You don't! Is it because you think 'if I have a lot of money I will be really important and people will look up to me?' GET A LIFE!
Friends, I do not think that there is any greater tragedy in this community than a highly trained intelligent young person who has all the gifts and abilities necessary to really make a difference in this society, but who has no idea where to direct those gifts and abilities. It's like having a powerful loaded weapon and not caring where it's aiming when it goes off.
This is the tragedy: that most of our young people, I fear, drug-addicted and not drug-addicted, well educated as well as less well educated, winners as well as losers, live a life wherein 'my life is basically about me'. That's a tragedy.
One of my good friends is a guy called Mordechai Vanunu, who is still in prison in Israel for telling the world about all the nuclear bombs that his country has stockpiled. Morde has been in prison there now for 17 years. The worst thing about his prison term though was that he spent the first 11 and a half years in solitary confinement, which is one of the most torturous forms of human punishment - living in a world inhabited by one!
I see a similar tragedy taking place in the lives of so many of our young people who really have no hopes, dreams or ambitions in this life that go beyond themselves. What a small life to live! It's like trying to beautify the wallpaper in your own solitary cell!
It's this loss of idealism that I see as the greatest scourge afflicting our young people today, and my response to this situation is to teach these young people to fight, which might not seem like the most obvious solution to the dilemma to everybody.
The relevance of fighting to an individual's value system might not be immediately obvious to everyone, but I do seriously believe that pugilism and idealism are intricately linked. The bottom line is that I know that it all works.
I know that I've had an almost 100% success rate when it comes to taking in guys who have serious drug problems or violence problems, that by the time I get them to the side of the ring for a serious fight, they are no longer having problems with drugs or violence or any of those things, but have actually developed a real sense of who they are and what they are on about.
I know it works. I'm not sure I fully understand why it works, but I would note that if you go back to Plato's Republic, to the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks, you'll find that Socrates assigned a very high place to the value of 'themos', which we translate as 'aggression' or'fighting spirit'.
According to Socrates, no individual and no society is complete without properly developed 'themos'. Individuals and societies need to know how to fight if they are going to know real harmony and real justice.
The other authority I would appeal to today is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain:
" The consciousness of belonging, vitally, to something beyond individuality ? greatens the heart to the limit of the soul's ideal, and builds out the supreme of character."
Chamberlain writes this out of his experience in the American Civil War - one of the most terrible wars in history.
Chamberlain was, ironically, a contemporary and a colleague of William Tecumseh Sherman who coined the phrase 'war is hell' and I don't think Chamberlain would have necessarily disagreed with Sherman. But Chamberlain also found that, for all its horror, war had one very positive side effect - it gave people a sense of belonging to something that was greater than themselves and so it could bring out the best in people.
Of course Chamberlain isn't the only person whose seen this. My old dears at the church used to say it all the time. "What these young people need is a good war" they used to say. Now they weren't stupid, and they knew as well as anyone else that the last thing we really need is a 'good war', but their point was that they felt young people needed some experience like they'd had in their youth, where they were forced to work together with a broad range of people across the community and to make sacrifices together as they committed themselves to a cause which was something far bigger than any of them as individuals.
Fighting has worked for me (and it's less costly all round than starting a war). Maybe it will work for you too. Find out! Come down and touch gloves with me. Do a few rounds. See how the experience affects you. (just don't all come at once)
Perhaps fighting is not your thing. That's OK. Find another way to get in touch with your ideals and values. Spend more time in church. Head up on a mountain by yourself for a couple of months and just think and pray about it. That works for some people. Just don't be content with a life that has no greater horizon than your own wealth and self-importance.
We live in an extraordinary society in an extraordinary period in human history. Think about it. At how many other points in history, and in how many other places in the world, have any group of people ever had the degree of choice about the future that we have today.
Think about it. The rest of your life lies before you and you can really choose to do with it just about anything you want to! Your options are really only limited by your imagination and your genetic potential. At how many times and places in human history has that been true?
If you were born a few generations back in a village you wouldn't have had these sorts of choices. Your dad was the village Smithy, so that's what you were going to be. If you were born on a farm you were probably going to stay on that farm until you died. If you were a teenage girl you probably already had a couple of kids by now and your path was fully set.
We're at the opposite end of the spectrum now. If you decide to spend the rest of your life entirely devoted to playing your guitar you can do it. You may become a great rock star, but even if you don't you won't starve. The government safety net will still support you in the end so that you can keep doing nothing but guitar playing if that's what you really want.
If you decide to devote the rest of your life to scientific research you can do that. If that's your vision and you're determined, nobody is going to stop you from giving your life to that.
If you want to devote your life to feeding the hungry and healing the sick you can do that, or if you just want to sit around on your bum all day too, you can do that too! The choice is yours.
But this is our dilemma. Never before in human history have we had such a wonderful variety of choices before us, and never before, I fear, have we had so little idea of what we should choose.
One final illustration from a Peace March: I trust that plenty of you guys made it to the recent Peace March, and good on you. Let me mention to you one placard that I heard about at a march. I didn't see it but was told about it. It said "nothing is worth dying for". I thought that this was very clever at first, but then it occurred to me if nothing is worth dying for, is anything worth living for?
Friends, I believe that there are things worth living and dying for. Find out what they are and live them! Live your life to the full. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. And the blessing of God Almighty - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen!
'Fighting' Father Dave Smith - Parish Priest, community worker, professional fighter, author, father of three.
Dave is the only Australian in Holy Orders to turn pro boxer to help fund his work. He is Parish Priest in Dulwich Hill, has a sixth-degree martial arts black belt, and has received numerous awards for his work with young people.
Puberty - Get Ready to Play the Puberty Game
Puberty can be a difficult time for children. Not quite kids anymore and not really adolescents they are caught in the middle in type of limbo.
How to Help Your Child be Successful in Kindergarten
Your child's first year of school should be a fun and exciting time. Children who are comfortable with and prepared for this first school experience are more likely to have rewarding and productive years, and therefore associate positive feelings with education.
Parenting Your Teenager: Of Course You Can Search Your Teens Room
Q. We recently caught our son smoking pot, and we wonder whether he's doing more stuff.
How To Use Positive Child Discipline
I am a single mother of a 17 year old boy. He has turned out so great.
There are times when my ideas of raising a child is different from the elderly and others. To begin with, my baby is not an easy one.
Joining a Gang: How to Help Kids Prevent it, How to Tell if Theyve Joined One, How to Help Them Out
While youth gangs are nothing new -- they've been traced back to the early 19th century -- the demographic of a youth gang is something that is constantly changing. Many people stereotype gang members as urban, inner city males from racial minorities, but in fact gangs are a problem in suburbs as well as cities, for all races and for girls as well as boys.
Cloning; is it for you?
What would it be like to have a clone? What would it be like to be a clone? If you end up cloning yourself you just might have the opportunity to find out what you might do in those shoes, but it takes about 16 years of times on the investment side until the new clone is viable enough and taught enough to perform up to your required ability to propel your goals.As a new founded and more powerful family you may decide you want many of these clones to help.
Building Teen Character: Part-Time Employment
The teenage years are a crucial time in a child's life. They are not children anymore, but they are also not adults.
When Time Out Dont Work
Joey steps away from his time out chair "I won't sit!" His mother is frustrated and throws her hands in the air..
From Childrens Stories to Study Skills: Help Your Children Succeed in School
IntroductionAs a parent who wants the best for your children, there are undoubtedly many things that you already do every day to help your children succeed in school. The purpose of this article is to provide some practical ideas for you to try.
Parenting Your Teenager: 8 Things You Need to Be Doing
Get into their world. The world that teens are growing up in is not the world in which we grew up.
Single Parenting: How The Challenge Of Single Parenting Affects Your Decision To Divorce
Single parenting has seemingly become an acceptable norm which is unfortunate. According to the US Census Bureau, there were over 20 million single parents in the United States in the year 2000.
Building Your Childs Self-Esteem
According to researchers, most children enter school with a good sense of self-esteem (at least as defined by psychologists) and yet leave high school with a poor sense of self-esteem. What happens in those years between starting school and finishing school? If we are to define self-esteem as "having feelings of worth or value," then people with adequate levels of self-esteem should display a sense of realistic confidence in their abilities and performance.
Marriage, Divorce, and Kids
Are men to blame for the divorce problem in this country?It's been said that one of the reasons for the high rate of divorce in this country is the manner in which men choose their wives. Specifically, they choose their wives in a fashion similar to how they choose their next car.
You Dont Need a Supernanny to Be an Active Parent
The hot new reality TV show "Nanny 911" has been joined by a similar nanny-to-the-rescue show called "Supernanny." These shows depict families in which the children are extremely out of control, rebellious, spoiled or otherwise quite a handful.
The B Word
Former students would probably attest to the fact that few things tried my patience as much as did the statement, "This is boring!" As I reflect back on my many years in the classroom, I can't help but feel a tad bit sorry for the first kid who made the mistake of uttering those words each year. (It was rare to hear the phrase a second time because most kids vividly recalled my "sermon," and they didn't want to risk a repeat performance.
Your Child's Self-Esteem is in The Cards
Research has shown that the present generation of children worldwide is demonstrating more social-emotional challenges (from low self-esteem to depression) than ever before. Families, schools, recreation programs etc.
Challenges for Our Children
Researchers have estimated that 25-35% of children in the United States have Learning Disabilities. At least 5% have Attention Deficit Disorders.
Let Your Children Name the New Baby
Choosing a baby name is an important job, so make your children feel important by letting them help you name the new baby. After all, you're not the only one who's having a baby - your whole family is ! Use the process of naming the baby as an opportunity to get your other children involved in and excited about their new brother or sister, and make the process fun.
Adolescence - Clues and Advice
Be sure to respect the intellectual changes that mark adolescence. Adolescent thinking can and should reflect: abstract notions, the relationships of things to each other and people to each other, multiple responses to the same condition or question and the idea of thinking itself.
|home | site map|