Hurting Kids: Systemic Abandonment
By Dr. Chap Clark / Fuller Seminary / Pasadena, California
I spend a good deal of time in the academic realm where scholars discuss the latest research. I also spend time with parents and other adults, who share with me their concerns and questions about kids. I have been privileged to see the world from the eyes of the kids themselves, and I want to help adults do a better job of caring for the kids in their lives.
This is wake-up call designed to challenge every adult to recognize and struggle with what our choices as adults have done to the children of our society. The major consequence of adult inattention has been a profound sense of abandonment among today’s teens. The only solution to this problem is for adults to roll up our sleeves and invest ourselves in the lives of the individual young people we know.
Abandoned and All Alone
All of us have felt abandoned at times. But as I learned during my journey into the world of today’s teens, abandonment is a normal and accepted part of their lives.
Abandonment is the fundamental cultural reality of kids today. This makes perfect sense to some readers, but others aren’t so sure. They see kids in large groups at school or at church events, and they say, “This doesn’t look like abandonment to me.”
But let’s look more closely at the lives of kids and see if signs of systemic abandonment become clearer. As we look more closely, may we be inspired by the words of my middle son, a high school junior, who gave me this warning when I started this journey: “I know you think you know a lot about kids, Dad, but you had better be ready for a shock. I don’t think you really get it! I don’t think any adult gets it!”
Better or Worse
Experts disagree about whether contemporary youth face brave new challenges that kids have never faced before or whether today’s kids are basically dealing with the same kinds of problems kids have always dealt with. This disagreement carries over into our discussion of abandonment.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Powers made his perspective clear with the title of his controversial 2002 article in Atlantic magazine, “The Apocalypse of Adolescence.” Powers also discussed the article on TV’s 60 Minutes. Powers argued that “the inconvenience of children, the downright menace of children—has become a dominant theme of life” for many adults. And his article explored a culture of disenfranchisement that is increasingly troubling many kids, resulting in violence and other ills.
On the other side of the debate is University of California, Santa Cruz, sociologist Mike Males, who says adolescents are in far better shape today than they have been in years. Today’s young “are doing better than ever,” he says in his 2002 Los Angeles Times article, “The New Demons: Ordinary Teens.” Males says our fears about troubled teens are misplaced and overstated, leading to a dangerous condition he calls “Ephebiphobia” or “extreme fear of youth,” an ailment that is propelled by a “full-blown media panic.”
The debate continues. And while some people may wonder how two smart people could come to such opposed opinions, I look for the ways in which their views connect and overlap with each other. After listening to the debate by these and other experts, here’s my conclusion: as adolescents attempt to…
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