Working with teenagers can be... Let's just say it can be interesting. They can be very creative, often in ways that will get them in trouble. Often in ways they know will get them in trouble because they're coming up with creative ways to do things they know they're not supposed to do. Fortunately, it's only very rarely that they come up with some brand new way to get into trouble. Usually, they're just re-inventing the wheel and doing the kinds of things we did when we were kids. Like telling your parents that you're sleeping over at someone else's house while that person tells his parents that he's sleeping over at your house.
Not that I ever did that. Or anything, really. Because I was the "good kid" who never got in trouble. But I had friends who did things and, mostly, what they wanted from me was to cover for them, because, hey, if I said it, it must be true. "Good kid," remember? My parents never had to bother with giving me a curfew, because I never stayed out late.
As I have mentioned before, I spent more than a few years working as a youth pastor. I learned very early on to be completely explicit with expectations and consequences. If you're not completely explicit, teenagers will try to get creative on you. Or, you know, tell you that you never said whatever it was you were trying to imply. When dealing with teens, never imply. Actually, when dealing with people, never imply. In general, leaving things to implication will never lead anywhere positive.
The first church I was youth pastor at after I moved out to CA didn't have its own building. The church rented space in a school auditorium for Sunday services. When I got there, that's all they had, Sunday services, and nothing specifically set up for the teenagers. As such, the youth group was very small. Less than a dozen kids and a significant portion of those were kids of the other staff. One of the first things I did was set up a midweek youth service that we had in the church offices, which were quite small. And, so, it didn't take us long to outgrow the space (we grew to over 30 kids within the first year I was there), which is when I had to start getting creative.
We moved to a house with a large living room that could fit everyone. The explicit rule was that once you got there, you stayed, a rule made after one of the girls turned 17, got a car for her birthday, and started using youth group as her excuse to go cruise. She'd show up for long enough to say she was there then cut and run. But it was still a house and had a more casual feel to it. People did things like ring the doorbell when they arrived, which was disruptive when they got there late.
So, one night, one particular girl -- she was 15 or 16 -- was sitting on the couch by the window, and she kept looking outside. A car pulled up and, before the person got all the way to the door, she jumped up to get it. As it turned out, it was her boyfriend and, instead of coming in, she went out, and they left. On Sunday after, I let her know that she couldn't back on Wednesday night, the explicit consequence, until I had had a meeting with her father about her behavior. My view was this: If you were going to leave in the middle, then you didn't want to be there. If you didn't want to be there, you didn't need to be there.
Let's just say there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.
During the meeting with her father (for which the pastor was also there, because this was a buddy of his), he said something along the lines of "Well, you can't expect better behavior than that. She's just a teenager." Basically, my daughter shouldn't suffer any consequences, because you can't expect her to act better than she is. I was blown away. I had never heard a parent say anything like that before.
After I finished staring, I said, "Actually, I most certainly can expect better behavior than that. In fact, I do expect better behavior than that, and the other 35 kids haven't had a problem living up to that expectation. You'll never get better behavior if you don't expect it." I believe that.
It was with some distress that I saw someone post on facebook last week that the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, basically, deserved what they got because they provoked terrorists and you can't expect terrorists to do more than kill you when you provoke them. Now, while it's true that teenagers will misbehave and, yes, terrorists will kill people, that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't expect better behavior.
After all, terrorists, just like teenagers, are people, and we should be able to expect better of people.
I mean, it hasn't really been that long since we had a significant issue with racial terrorism in the United States and, while that's not 100% solved, it's a lot better than it was. It's better because we, as a nation, expected better behavior. In fact, we demanded it. We had clear expectations and clear consequences. Maybe it's time that we, as a world people, did the same. Terrorism, whether it's racially motivated or politically motivated or religiously motivated or whatever, is unacceptable behavior. We expect better.