I’ve been reading Chap Clark’s book Hurt recently and have been deeply disturbed to learn some of his research.
In his chapter, “Abandonment-the defining issue for contemporary adolescents” he quotes a study found in Patricia Hersch’s A Tribe Apart,
“In all societies since the beginning of time, adolescents have learned to become adults by observing, imitating and interacting with grown-ups around them,” write Mihaly Csikzenmihalyi and Reed Larson in Being Adolescent. “It is therefore startling how little time [modern] teenagers spend in the company of adults.” In their study Csikzentmihalyi and Larson found that adolescents spent only 4.8 percent of their time with their parents and only 2 percent with adults who where not their parents.
This really shocks me. My initial gut reaction was this information could not be true. They are around adults all day: teachers, parents, coaches, etc. But then I realized that this is mostly time of instruction or receiving tips on how to do a particular activity better. This is not beings-in-relationship. I then start think about the adolescents in the youth group that I serve. Many have school until 3pm and extra curricular school activities after such as sports, band, theater, etc. By the time they get home they have 3 hours worth of homework. They don’t have the time and parents don’t make the time.
Clark wrote a little earlier in the chapter that many parents take exception to this abandonment. Many would say that they have sacrificed everything for their children by taking them to and from school, practice, competitions, and concerts. He writes,
This statement is in of itself yet another subtle form of abandonment. We have evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and ever opportunity is selfless nurture. We are a culture that has forgotten how to be together. We have lost the ability to spend unstructured down time.
His findings definitely ring true. In reflecting on this book I find that I have to be conscious of this in my own parenting and also that youth ministry is really important. It shouldn’t be one more thing on an adolescents activity list like soccer or band practice. Youth groups should be a place where they are interacting with an adult(s) in a real and personal way. A place where they know that no matter what there is an adult who is willing to spend some time with them focusing on them and where they are at in life.
Chap Clark, Hurt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).