Growing up is hard


Working with young people is a poignant reminder that growing up is hard. Our young people don’t get enough credit for what they’re going through. Adolescents is a journey of discovery. It’s the pain of coming to grips with reality. It’s a turbulent, confusing season of life. We don’t think much of it now because we’re out of it.

But can you remember what is was like growing up?

You and I were young not too long ago. We walked the halls of high school; we felt the sting of young love. Our fears, hopes, dreams, and longings were real. We, too, fought with parents and teachers. Music mattered. Our social lives trumped everything else. And broken hearts hurt like heck.

Can you remember what you were like at 16?

Often times, the world felt like it was crashing down upon us. Everything mattered and it mattered a lot. We cared about our friends, our dating relationships, and our future.

We did a lot of caring but also a bit of worrying. We wanted to make it. We didn’t want to fall by the wayside. When things didn’t work out, it was the end of the world. Growing up is like being caught between two worlds–where we’re at and where we want to be.

Perhaps we need to do a better job of telling our young people the truth about growing up. It’s hard. It hurts. Realtionships come and go. Some of our fears are legitimate; other’s are a ridicilous waste of time and sleep. Sometimes we forget how arduous those teenage years were and we lose compassion for the young people of today.

We expect so much of them without offering them the support they need to survive.

Recently I was talking with a student of mine and he was describing his relationship with his girlfriend. He was worried about them making it. He had real feelings for her and the thought of them breaking up was hard for him to handle. My heart went out to him because I know what that feels like. At the same time, however, his POV was limited; he was only seeing the immediacy of the moment and not the grand, beautiful life that is in front of him. Our young people need the power of perspective.

During the same week I spoke with a former student of mine. She caught me up to speed about her life and the deciisions she’s facing in the near future. The future scares her. Over and over again she told me what she didn’t want out of life–how she didnt want to repeat some of the mistakes of her parents. Her fear was real.

There’s a debate in youth ministry circles as to how much adult interaction youth need to grow into responsible, self-reliant adults. We can almost pinpoint the ones who’ve had ‘not enough’ or ‘way too much.’ Most experts agree that youth are highly capable, but also need lots of interaction with adults to mature. They need support. They need counsel.

Advice is a strange thing in youth ministry. What should I do? is probably the question I get asked most. This question reveals the heart of adolescents. Young people have real fears and worries. How do we guide them and help them grow up?

My role as a youth pastor is not to tell students what to do. For one thing, I’m not their parent. Secondly, I’m hindering their development if I always give them a script to follow. What I do instead, is encourage them and teach them. I don’t write the script for them, but help them see God’s script–His plan for our lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should always withhold advice. There are moments when I step in and lovingly say, “Don’t do that; that’s stupid.” Just like adults did for me when I was a teenager. Some decisions in life are between choosing what’s right and wrong; others, though, are simply decisions between two things that are right.

Young people need caring adults in their lives. Further, they need adults who know when to speak and when to listen. The key to growing up is realizing you’re not alone. I believe in the power and significance of youth ministry. I’m a product of it.

Growing up is hard, but it get’s a little easier when you’re surrounded by men and women who have been there. Youth workers, what you do is not in vain. Keep it up.

Love students.

Care for young people.

You’re making a difference.

Believe that and never forget it.




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