Troubled teens are becoming more dangerous. In the United States, young people with guns have caused death and mayhem. The gun lobby’s solution, (the National Rifle Association), is to arm the teachers. The photo above was taken in a firearms training session in an Ohio school where teachers are increasingly armed and schools already have armed guards. Teachers are being shown how to take-out (seriously maim or kill) active killers.
Recently, visiting my family in Melbourne, Australia, a hiccup with car hire, meant I rode the trains on a number of occasions. I was amazed to see Police Officers on every station. Officers in twos or threes, with guns on their hips and wearing bulletproof vests, met every train. Why? What is happening in my hometown?
On enquiry, I learnt that the Police Officers were a new division of Victoria Police, called Protective Services Officers (PSO). Violence, intimidation, drug dealing, drug use and vandalism on suburban trains have so increased in recent years that politicians deemed it necessary to introduce this new policing service. The PSOs are very expensive to maintain. Over and above their salaries, their uniforms, body-armour and guns are costly but these items are seen as an essential part of this service.
I stayed with my daughter Cathy and her family in the idyllic Dandenong Ranges. A few days before my visit, on a street near Cathy’s house, there had been nearly fatal teen-on-teen physical violence. Have Australia and the United States arrived at a new level of youth disorientation? Is armed police intervention now an acceptable way, perhaps the only way, to bring out-of-control young people to their senses?
I read that in New Zealand, the use of ‘P’ (methamphetamine) is now overtaking the use of cannabis. I see pictures of traditionally unarmed NZ police officers on Meth raids with guns on their hips. Parents whose young adults use ‘P” tell me they have lost their offspring to the devil. No amount of reasoning or pleading has any effect.
It is ironic that his is happening when parents are putting more money than ever before into their children, balanced diets, coaching in all kinds of sports and skills, teeth straightened, hair coloured, over-bites corrected, vision enhanced with glasses, or better still, contact lenses. In the affluent West to which New Zealand belongs, no amount of money is spared to enable our youth to look ‘good’ and to set them on the road to success.
Despite all this and maybe because of all this, I believe it is hard to be a teenager today. On three occasions I rode the Melbourne trains in the middle of the day. As it was school holidays, most of the passengers were teenagers. A giant shopping centre was on our line and this clearly attracted the female teens. With their eyes made up, their eyebrows shaped and their make-up perfect these girls (13 – 15 I guessed) sat in the carriage furtively glancing around to see if anyone noticed their beauty. The young males ignored them and concentrated on their devices. One pretty girl who was sitting by herself was constantly twitching and frequently turned to smile at everyone in the carriage. I wondered if she was high?
It is obvious that many of today’s teens long for fame or at least notoriety. Their ambition is to be like the celebrities, or better still to become celebrities. I am told that they wonder constantly how can I be noticed? What must I do to feel truly alive? Their search for the next adrenalin rush puts them on a slippery slope. The Victoria Police’s survey of teen troublemakers, states that many of them feel they don’t belong – they don’t fit in with anything or anybody.
And what do I know first-hand about all these things? Over the years I have known a few, not a lot, of young addicts. I have befriended them, listened to them, talked with them. What was the effect of all of this I am not sure? I know I brought stability into some lives for a period and then they moved on. Where they are now, I am not sure.
Today, what I am most aware of is teen/young adult depression. On most weeks I hear of someone else struggling with dark thoughts. Their danger is not from other young people, but from themselves. The temptation to self-harm and/or suicide lurks in the minds of many young adults. Police officers with guns can’t help them.
As for preaching to them in the traditional church way, I don’t think it works. Teens who do come to our church exit with the children so as to avoid the sermon. A year ago, I was scheduled to speak to one of our youth groups. The attendance for that evening was 20% of the normal. Young people are friendly with me but they are not about to listen to me or any authority figure, particularly a religious authority figure.
A core problem here is, “Who do we believe?”, or, “Who can we trust?” Our world is swamped with a tidal wave of information much of which conflicts. Recently every week brings some exposure of media bias, some proof that we are being manipulated. News sources which we used to rely on are labelled ‘fake’. “Who do we believe?” is not just a problem for teens.
Added to this, most of the teens/young adults that I know come from one parent homes. Divorce or separation is not the only reason for this. In some cases economics force one parent to live with the child while the other parent makes the money in another country. Whichever, this one-parent life can be a source of insecurity.
“Where is anyone I can rely on?” The enormous appeal of Ed Sheerin and Adel is that they look so normal, so approachable, so believable. The image of these superstars is not of someone on a high pedestal. The youth perceive them as standing beside them.
A boisterous young friend of mine wears a tee-shirt that reads ‘Actions speak louder than words’. I think this is what young people are saying to us – to me! My wife Pauline and I try to be always open and welcoming. Through hospitality, acceptance, respect and non-judgement we try to stand by the young people in our life. When we have the opportunity we talk to them about important things – never pushy, just as an offering. Sometimes they listen.
This philosophy of welcome and acceptance is what we try to promote in our Centre and Church. Occasionally someone challenges us, “Why don’t you preach the gospel to them?” Actually, I think we are doing just that.
Our Church theme-song is, “Love is the key to everything we do, Jesus is the source of it all”. Some people don’t get it. The youth around us probably don’t understand it – yet! It makes sense to Pauline and me and in a way it keeps us going.