Dear coach, band director, scout leader, or any other activity planner in the lives of teenagers,
How's it going? You and me, we are brothers and sisters in the lives of teenagers, whether we admit it or not. We know what it's like to have an activity that we think is worthwhile, and a strong desire to see students succeed in becoming respectable young men and women in the community. We in the youth ministry business have a little different goal overall, but I think we are related enough that I am one of you, and you are one of me on a number of levels. So I write this as a fellow activity planner with a simple request:
We need to stop.
I was in a meeting with parents last night, trying to plan our confirmation class. As confirmation classes go, we require not a whole lot. 1 retreat, which we reduced to a single overnight rather than a whole weekend, and then 10 hour long classes held on Sunday after church. I know churches whose programs can extend for years. So I don't know that I'm asking a whole lot of my students in this particular area.
The look on parent's faces was telling, and troubling last night. I could sense that parents were caught in the tension between their desire for their students to have a meaningful faith and church experience, and the fear they had of what missing a game or a practice might do to a young person in terms of their sporting/music/whatever career. What I saw was not a group of parents having a hard time making a decision about priorities. What I saw was a group of parents who were totally and completely burned out trying to keep up with the demands of their kids extracurricular activities.
They're not alone. I've had several conversations in the last few weeks with our students, and they are struggling to find a way to manage their time to get their homework done. Believe me, I was a slacker of the highest degree when I was in high school. I could procrastinate like you wouldn't believe. This means I know when kids are complaining to look like they're trying rather than actually struggling. It's not that. I don't think these kids I've been talking to have an over-abundance of Xbox time on their hands. I think they're overworked.
I would love to compare. I wonder what the schedule for a 9th grade soccer player today looks like compared to a 9th grade soccer player when I was in 9th grade, back in the late 90s. I am guessing that the current model is significantly busier than my 90s counterpart. I am guessing there are more practices. I am guessing their are more games. I am guessing there are more meetings. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it.
My question would be what's the virtue of all of this "more?" If students are being asked to be at more games and practices and such, what are they getting out of it? How is it shaping them to be better people in the real world? You can talk about responsibility and commitment and all of that. But I can fire back that I can count on one hand the number of families who enjoy a meal together at least once a day. I can fire back that one of the areas that's suffering in all of this busy-ness is our student's education, which incidentally is the entire reason you exist as a coach at all. I can fire back that our students aren't given the opportunity to be teenagers and enjoy themselves. Obviously sports are fun, or they wouldn't do them. But what happened to just hanging out with their friends and finding creative ways to get into trouble? So someone please explain to me the virtue of extra and added busy-ness, because all I can see is hurting families, grades, and childhood experiences.
Here's the thing: it doesn't have to be like this. Our youth group this year actually made a conscious decision to reduce the number of meetings and activities we are holding. Sadly this is in part because we can't compete with you guys any more and are getting a little tired of trying. But mostly its because we want to make sure our students have time to be, well, teenagers. Do you know how much this decision to limit has hurt our ministry? None. None at all. You could make the same decision. You could become less busy. You could ask less of our students. And truthfully, I think you'd be better off for it. If you can't think of anywhere else to start, perhaps you could stop scheduling things on Sundays? Far be it for me to force my religious views on anyone, but how is it possible that the commandment we're having the hardest time following is the one that insists on a day off? Don't we like days off? Wouldn't you as a coach or a director like to spend a quiet afternoon with your family? Wouldn't you like to be able to attend your house of worship? There's an upside for everyone here!
I know we're fighting against the tide. I know this thing has been building on us for a while. But you and I, we can take small steps to slow this thing down. We can try our best to let our kids know the value of responsibility and commitment while at the same time giving them a chance to be kids. Take one step today to make it happen, and we'll see if we have a brighter tomorrow.