The teenagers we deserve

When I arrived at the BBC this morning there were other, much cooler, vehicles parked outside. Once I’d negotiated the flightpath to the building, I was talking about teenagers, self-harm and confidence. You can listen again here at 1:22:10 or read the Thought below (and you can go and look at the Spitfires and Harriers at Pacific Quay until 2 September).

J.B.Priestley once said that ‘Like its politicians and its war, society has the teenagers it deserves.’ As someone who works with dramatic teenagers, this seems a rather dismissive comment. Not all teenagers are the same, and not all teenagers are a nuisance. Many are creative, caring and concerned about the environment, politics and injustice. Many of the teenagers I know hold beliefs that challenge my cynical middle-age opinions.

But, as is frequently revealed in surveys, lots of young people also struggle with emotional pain and mental illness. A report issued yesterday revealed that of 11000 children surveyed in the UK, 22% of girls and 9% of boys admit to self-harming. If Priestley is right, then what does this tell us about our society? How did we arrive at the place where, for a large number of young people, the only outlet for emotional pain is to inflict physical harm on their own bodies? And what do we need to change about society as proof that these are not acceptable statistics?

From an early age children are encouraged to be whoever they want to be. At the same time we criticise their risk-taking behaviour, we allow them wander alone into an online world of comparison, and we let them down by failing to provide the stability they crave. Teenagers aren’t actually any different from the rest of us. They need community, purpose and encouragement. They need to know that they are loved. 

Psalm 139 reminds us that God takes a high view of humanity. The writer states:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

How many of us, old or young, would be prepared to say confidently that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? I’m not naive enough to think that self-harm will be eradicated by hugging a hoodie, but I’m sure that instilling confidence and a sense of being valued in the next generation is an important part of giving them the best possible chance of proving that they are fearful and wonderful beings. 

Advertisements

On Randomness and Powerlessness

Charles_Williams_Author_Inklings_zps39eb22e1

This morning’s Thought for the Day drew inspiration from a quote I read at the weekend. It’s from a book entitled The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams, author and member of the Inklings literary circle, and is quoted in Eugene Petersen’s helpful commentary on Jeremiah, Run With The Horses. The full quote refers to the Church, but I felt there was a relevance to the broader culture in these times of uncertainty and fear.

You can listen again to the Thought here by scrolling to 01:23:06 or you can read the text below:

Charles Williams, literary contemporary of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, once wrote that:

“At the moment when it is remotely possible that a whole generation might have learned something both of theory and practice, the learners and their learning are removed by death…The whole labour of regenerating mankind has to begin again every thirty years or so.”

Thirty years is no time at all. It seems that, just as one generation gets to grips with the world, everything shifts, the wisdom we have accrued is lost and we need to begin all over again.

My generation grew up during the Cold War. The seeping fear of nuclear threat permeated our understanding of politics and the future, yet the threat of monolithic global conflict seemed both remote and impersonal. This week, as parliament debated the rights and wrongs of maintaining a nuclear deterrent, violence and conflict seem closer to home, more individually driven, more likely to erupt at the end of my street. The sense of powerlessness and uncertainty is as overwhelming as thirty years ago.

In Baton Rouge, Nice or Istanbul, we observe the apparent randomness of events, and the deep-seated anger that drives individuals to behave violently towards others. How can peace ever be won by human endeavour when anger lurks in all of us? Not the righteous anger that rails against injustice, but an anger rooted in the hatred of others, acting in rebellion against peace.

Out of powerlessness, I find myself responding in the words of the psalm that asks the question. “Why. Why, Lord, do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And the more I contemplate the random nature of violence in our times, the more drawn I am to the words that follow:

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.”

Perhaps we must learn again to look beyond ourselves to find the deep-rooted peace we are craving for the next generation, and for our own.