When you're 3, you ask "why?" Why is the sky blue? Why do only mommies have babies? Why did God make that monkey's butt look like that?
Then you get your questions answered and you trust everything you were told. Adults know stuff kids don't and they don't need google, they have you... and you're super smart.
Then somewhere between 12 and 14... somebody flips a switch. (probably located somewhere on that monkey's butt) And virtually over night, you're not smart and they have questions again. Lots of questions. And if you once told them Noah was a cute story about animals who went two by two into a giant floating boat Noah made, then they want to know why you lied to them. Because they read their big people bible without the pictures and it said that God flooded the whole world and they have watched the news and seen floods and people drowning and the story's not cute anymore.
About this time, adults get sick of teens cynical questions, label them as rebellious misfits, and cast them aside, hoping they'll grow out of it soon. They don't trust our answers verbatim anymore and they have questions about questions and then adults get fed up with it and start throwing around the "because I said so" clause... which only makes them more cynical and well... the path keeps on keeping on until they hit 30 when they may or may not return to what they once believed when they were 5.
So... if you want to know what teens need to know... it's not an issue of "what?", it's an issue of "why?"... and if that answer to why results in "because xyz said so", don't be surprised when they chuck it in search of something that actually holds water. Don't teach students what to think, teach them how to think.
If you have a teen in your home or if you're in any kind of mentoring relationship with a teen, here's some thoughts about helping them answer the "why" question.
- Resist the temptation to answer hard questions with easy answers. "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is not simple or even solvable. Don't be trite or flippant. Pull back the ugly covers and wrestle in the real mud of life with them. It's time for the deep end of the pool where those who don't drown, must humbly learn to tread water. It's a myth that their are rocks to stand on down there. It's faith for everyone.
- Don't judge their questions. It doesn't matter how certain you are of the answer, if you don't help them honestly wrestle with their own uncertainty, you've just put a bandaid on an ulcer. It's not gonna do much beyond cover it up.
- Celebrate doubt. When a student starts doubting, they start thinking. I honestly want students to doubt. I want them to doubt what they hear on TV, what the media spews, what I say, even what the Bible teaches. I want them to wrestle with it to the core. It's a critical thinking skill. Until they do, they have nothing worth defending and no honest conviction to live by. Without it, they are naive and susceptible to any smooth talking charismatic sales pitch of fads or faith. I'm convinced that healthy adults see doubt in the life of a teen as tool God uses to shape faith.
- Spend less time telling students what to do or what God says they should do and more time asking them, "why do you do what you do?" In their teen years, it's way less important that they know what you think than it is that they are forced to figure out what they think and why they think it. If a student is dating someone, ask them "why are you two dating?" Don't ask in front of their date, but don't be surprised if you get a blank stare like you're crazy for asking such a question. But don't settle. Really... seriously, press them for what they see in this person, what they hope to get out of this relationship, and why they felt like they were ready to date. You may not agree with their answers, but your goal isn't to get them to stop dating or to take your position. Your goal is to help, even force them, to wrestle with the real issues of life.
- Redefine failure. Failure in the life of a teen is not avoided by constant success. Failure is not falling short, it's failing to learn from it... or worse yet, failing to be given a chance to fail in the first place. Failure is not a poor choice, it's the inability of adults and mentors to seize that opportunity as a chance to wrestle with they "why" question that is the true failure. Failure is part of life. Those who succeed learn to deal with failure, wrestle it to the ground, learn from it, and move forward wiser because of it. When adults only tell students what to do, we are doing so because we fear what will happen if they get it wrong. When adults help students decide "why" we do what we do, then we don't operate out of fear, but out of license. Failure becomes a teacher of why, not a mistake to punish. (SIDE NOTE THAT MIGHT HELP: I have this phrase I use when talking to parents about this, I tell them, "give your student enough rope to trip on, but not enough to hang themselves. Be wise. But be risky too.")