A few Sundays ago, I had a similar conversation with two different people about their ability to do hard things. After working with students for over 20 years and being a parent for almost 18, I've discovered that having high expectations and pushing young people outside their comfort zone can produce amazingness. I believe that given ample opportunity and encouragement, young people have phenomenal capacity for greatness.
Sunday mornings I have the pleasure of sitting in worship with my favorite 4 year old. I brought a puzzle for us to work on as that can be a quiet activity. The 50 piece Disney Princess puzzle was aged 4+, so I knew it may be a stretch for her to complete thus I knew we'd collaborate. After a few minutes, she says "Uncle Liz (I know, just go with it because she won't say it forever and it's precious while she does) this is hard for me." I said that I knew it was hard, but that I believed she could do hard things. She agreed that she could and we continued progress. We had some stops and starts and a brief interlude of a seek & find book, but we finished! The excitement of "We did it!" was awesome. I reminded her that she was unsure at the beginning, but that if she put her mind to it she could do things she thought may be too hard and that there are lots of people in her life who want to help her along the way.
Later the same afternoon, we were cleaning up from dinner and our prayer stations after student ministry. Three teenagers were wiping counters & helping put away clean dishes. As they put the roasting pan into the cabinet, the shelf tipped. One of the 4 pins that hold the shelf up was missing. The teenagers all backed away. One junior high student asked "Should I call someone to fix it?". While I appreciate the student not wanting to leave the tipped shelf and walk away, I also knew it wasn't that big of a job. I told her that no we did not need to call anyone, but that they needed to fix the shelf. There was a mild look of panic. Then I said that I believed they could do hard things. In my mind, this wasn't really a hard thing yet in theirs it seemed to be. One student knew that they needed some sort of pin to put in the hole to hold the shelf. That student went looking for something to use. I told the other two students to look around for the missing shelf pin. Guess what?! It was laying on the bottom of the cabinet. I pointed it out and said to put it in. There was another mild look of panic. I reminded them that they were intelligent young people capable of figuring this situation out. And they did. I told them I was proud of them for figuring it out (with some assistance) and that I knew they could do many hard things. The look of mild panic was replaced with satisfaction.
I read a blog recently about a mother who had an epiphany while watching a kids cooking show. The reality show had young people 8-12 years old competing for a prize. The mother watched the children measuring, chopping, sautéing, baking, etc and realized that her own children had none of those skills. She'd deemed cooking/baking as too hard and too dangerous for her children. She came to the conclusion that she was stifling their growth as a person and they were missing some life skills. My own mother warned me that she'd placed steak knives on the 'kids table' on Christmas Eve. I reminded her my youngest owned no less than a dozen knives, a hatchet, and several types of saws. He also uses power tools at school and at home. We shouldn't be worried about the safety of a teenager with a steak knife. We should be more worried about a teenager who doesn't know how to use one to cut their own meat!
I frequently tell people that I am raising adults, not raising children. I need for my little people to be productive members of our family and of society. That means they need life skills. Using a steak knife, filling out paperwork at the doctor's office, addressing an envelope(you'd be surprised how many young adults do not know how to do this), and so much more. Can we all agree to let young people try things? It's messy. They mess up. They make a mess. They need some guidance and laser specific direction at times, but it's part of the learning process. My brother-in-law coaches elite level soccer players. He says that he doesn't yell on the sidelines of games--which if you know the Simmonds family, you know they are passionate about their soccer. He believes that he has prepared his team well through the week at practice and they need to execute in the game what they know. If they don't know it, there will be consequences and relearning during a future practice. He has to let them use the skills and knowledge of the game he's coached and see what happens. Life is like this. There's a lot we need to do to prepare young people for life. And we have to trust them enough to get out on the field and execute what they've learned. Knowing we're there for support and retraining if necessary. Let's believe in young people and their ability to do hard things. Let's let them make the mess in the kitchen and then teach them to clean it up too.
Grateful for the opportunity to walk alongside young teens in our student ministry. Thank you for trusting me!
Junior High Ministries Director