"In contrast to the 3 hours per day they spend watching TV, teenagers spend an average of 5 minutes per day alone with their fathers, and 20 minutes with their mothers. A Carnegie Corporation study found that even the time teenagers spend with their families consists primarily of eating or watching television together." – From The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, William J. Bennett
What is it that is shaping and molding our children? A 1991 survey by Mellman and Lazarus revealed that only 2 percent of people believe television should have the greatest influence on young people's values, but 56 percent believe that it does have the greatest impact. That was more than parents, teachers and religious leaders combined!
If you add the influence of movies, radio and music to that 56 percent, you discover that media is what is shaping today's children. Is it any wonder that many of our society's children seem to be floating without connection or direction?
The solution? Obviously we have to do more to reconnect kids with caring adults who will invest their time.
As the director of a youth advocacy agency providing youth leader training, people sometimes ask me why I believe youth work is so important. Most say something like, "My youth group was led by untrained volunteers when I was a kid and we did just fine. Why should we need to train someone now?"
It's a good question. To answer it, perhaps we need only to answer another question – what has changed in the past 2-3 decades, or more, since we were in youth groups?
For statistical purposes, let's look at 1961-1991 using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Single-Parent Families (as a percentage of all families with children): 1961 – 9.1%, 1991 – 28.6%. (90% of single-parent homes are homes without a father.)
Births out of Wedlock: 1961 – 6%, 1991 – 29.5%.
Marriage and Divorce: In 1961 there were 74 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women and 9 divorces for every 1,000 married women. In 1991 there were 54 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women and 21 divorces per 1,000 married women. (Now more than 1 million children per year have parents who divorce.)
Violent Crime: Population increased approx. 41% from 1961-1991. Violent crime (murders, rapes, robberies, assaults) has increased more than 550%.
Teen Suicide (15-19): 1961 – 3.6 per 100,000, 1991 – 11.3 per 100,000. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents. The rate has more than tripled since 1961.
Education spending: has increased more than 200% since 1961 (enrollment was only 13% higher than in 1961). SAT scores have declined 73 points.
These statistics are all symptoms of the true problem. The majority of today's kids are not connected to adults. Left to their own devices to draw their own conclusions based on input gathered from media and peers, they stumble.
Today, most everyone works outside the home. Moms, dads, older siblings, relatives. If we think back to when we were in youth programs, most of us can point to volunteer youth leaders who did not work outside the home. In addition to our youth leaders, most of us can remember our own childhood homes having one parent spending the majority of time keeping the house together while the other parent went off to work each day. The majority of today's children do not live the way most of us lived.
Think of your organization's current volunteer youth leaders for a moment. How many of them work less than 40 hours per week outside the home? How many of them are naturally equipped to handle today's kids who are very different from you and I when we were kids? How many of them feel confident in what they are doing?
An older gentleman approached me after I had finished teaching a youth leader seminar recently. His comment, "kids are the same today as they were a hundred years ago," set me on my heels for a moment. Then I realized he was absolutely right. Today's kids are the same as kids a century ago in that they have the same need to be molded by caring adults who take the time to be involved in their everyday lives. It is our society that has changed. Our society no longer meets that need for many children.
"I agree," I said, setting him on his heels now, "When will our society realize that today's kids need us just as much as kids needed adults back then?"
Why is leader training of critical importance to today's youth program?
Because our children are caught in the mudslide of a societal decline. Parents, doing all they can to make ends meet, need help in holding onto their kids. Families facing divorce all around, need help in holding together. And kids, tossed about on the waves of one societal storm after another, need moorings that will give them a sense of security.
In an age where everything shifts under their feet, today's young people are ready and hungry for connections. They desperately long for solid examples after which to fashion their lives.
The youth organization that offers quality training opportunities and actively promotes these equipping times at every level is able to provide much more than baby-sitting, time-filling activites for kids.
Indeed, times have changed. Our goal as youth workers, however, has remained the same; to make a difference in the lives of young people. Can we not afford to invest time, effort and resources to increase our effectiveness in accomplishing that goal?
"The process of growing up
is to be valued for what we gain, not for what we lose." – C.S.