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Is Youth Truly Wasted On the Young?

July 17, 2016

Much like the eternal struggle between good and evil there is a similar battle ragging between the forces of “youth” vs. their mortal enemy “the old.” I don’t even know when this fight first began or who started it, but I know that it will take a level head to put an end to it. While I have full memory of being a member of the youth movement battling against all things that parents just didn’t understand or things that grown-ups couldn’t relate to, I had no clear memory of when I ceased being a young person and moved to the dark-side.

It was as if I blinked one day and the words my mother use to say to me began to make more sense and more sense. Then before I knew it I was 26 years old, married with a newborn baby and I no longer fitted in to my group. I was technically an adult, but I was too young and inexperienced to be considered an adult by my mother or people her age, but I was still young enough to consider myself a young person.

As I progressed and continued to mature within just a few more years I noticed that not only did my priorities change, but I began to see things a bit differently, add on a few more years and a couple of more kids and suddenly I was an outsider! I didn’t exactly get kicked out of the club, I just started doing things differently. I found myself taking naps when I got home from work and suddenly parking closer to the entrance at the supermarket became more of a priority to me!

In the midst of these newly discovered priorities I found myself at work one day sitting in a small group of coworkers listening to a co-worker tell a story about an encounter with an old man and when the person telling the story finished his tale I got an unexpected punchline of my own when I discovered that the “old guy” in the story was actually my age!

Apologies were issued and bruised feeling aside, I found myself pondering exactly when I became old. I went from believing that I was “the cool dad,” to some old guy being made fun of in a random story! I remember thinking I’m only 43, but if this was voiced around people in their 50’s or 60’s I was laughed at for considering myself old!

Exactly when does one first start considering themselves old? And when does it become cool to make fun of people whose only crime is having the good fortune of continuing to be alive? I know it seems like a natural course in life that generations appear to be at odds with one another, but it this truly necessary? Are the forces of youth doomed to rage against the eternal machine of growing older? As cliché or corny as it might sound I believe that these two warring factions have a lot in which they can teach each other and in the process both sides can learn and actually teach each other. It could happen.

One day when I was just living my life I happened upon a group of young people working at a summer program in my community all fresh out of high school and instantly I found myself putting up my “old person” radar detecting the typical trappings of youth, I knew they would be wild partying teens who had the attention span of a 6 year old in a lecture about contemporary literature. Yet, what I soon discovered was that the road to ending the war of age vs. youth would require some give and take among members on both sides.

I patiently ventured out to engage my enemy, fully not intending to sound like an obnoxious know-it-all who routinely beguiled them with unsolicited tales of what life was like when I was their age! I equally needed to relate to them as much as I needed them to understand I was actually on their side.

I met Paige, Trey, Monica, Taylor and Josh all just a few months older than my oldest and I saw an opportunity to learn not only about young people, but find out more about my own self in the process. These young people no doubt enjoyed having fun like any other typical person their age, but they were all working and showing a decent amount of maturity for young people of their age. Not only were they all continuing their education in college, but they were all working towards goals of earning degrees and considering career’s. In a world filled with adults and young people wandering aimlessly, each of these young people seemed to have a plan and a clue , and this intrigued me.

In working with this group of youth, I got to experience young people in a different light, I got to work with them on a peer level as co-workers and in doing so, saw them in a way that I had not thought possible. As a professional, I understand the need for patience, as a father of teenagers I understand that I sometimes lack the patience necessary to fully relate to this group.

In working with these young people I was secretly getting an insight into how to expect more out of my own son and work on our relationship dynamic. After all, these young people were the exact same age as my son, perhaps I could learn how to better relate to this generation through trying to relate to this generation.

First up was Josh, a young energetic young man with the playful spirit and energy of a 6 year old, but it was his aspiration of seeking work in the ministry as a missionary abroad that drew me to leaning more about him. Having accepted the call into the ministry at an early age myself I knew what it was like to live a lifestyle of studying the bible and of service, not to mention a desire to want to share the gospel with others.

When I was his age I was already teaching adult Sunday school as well as preaching in various churches around my city so It is safe to say that the more I got to know Josh I liked him a little more because having been a young man I felt the pull of other typical distractions and so when I come across young men who deliberately go against the usual temptations of youth I make it a point to be that voice of aide, of sound advice just like the people that God used to guide me when I was his age.

In fact both Josh and Trey got my attention as two young fellows that were not ashamed to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, nor their dedication to church service and I must say that this boldness resonated with me. I thought that whatever I can do as a fellow believer I’d do because it was rare to get young men to dedicate their time and effort.  Encountering not one, but two, young men with such promise caused me to feel compelled to be there whenever the situation warranted.

I once over-heard Trey explaining that he had to take off from work on one occasion, and it took me back to when at 21 years old and had to miss out on so many fun events because I had to preach or go to the nursing home or visit members who couldn’t travel. I was reminded that there are still young people that take their service in the church to heart.

My first impression of Monica was rather unique since I had already met her best friend Paige several months prior and I was informed that Monica, like Paige played sports. I describe the moment as unique because I met her on the basketball court and though she was dressed more like Pocahontas than a basketball player she hit several jumpers and instantly got my respect.

Though I already knew girls could be good at sports, I have a teenage daughter who is about to become one of the youngest black belts in her karate school and I thought that my daughter could learn from these young women who were able to be both good students and athlete’s. I enjoyed getting to know young women their age that seem be so focused on attaining the goals they set their minds to achieving. I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t mind if my own daughter could maintain that same type of focus when she got to be that age.

In working more directly with Monica I got to have more opportunity to share information and I was often reminded of talks I had with my niece and the wisdom I tried to impart to her. As a father, as a professional that genuinely desires to help others I hate the fact that people in these positions often either refuse to help or they misuse the opportunity in order to take advantage of these young people.

One of the pieces of advice that I shared with Monica was this; never settle in life for less than you deserve, and never let a man treat you in life like less than you are worth. Like I told my niece before her, and my own daughter, I impart to Monica, Paige and Taylor; beautiful and intelligent young women need to remember their worth and never settle in life for any man who refuses to truly value and respect that worth.

It is impossible to work around young people and not be reminded of your own youth and all the dreams you had of conquering the world. Perhaps the issue for some is that working around those hopes and aspirations reminds some of how they’ve managed to settle in life and stop dreaming? This is the exact point in which I believe that our two species can help one another.

No parent of sound mind actually wants their children to fail in life so the notion that any parent is somehow sabotaging their child’s life by giving advice is ludicrous. The fact is that some older adults have the very knowledge and experience that most young people need and when they share that experience it increases the listener’s chances on avoiding the same mistakes in life.

While some of life’s best learned lessons are learned through trial and error the issue of regret is perhaps best avoided when we heed the warnings of the people that God strategically places in our lives at different points in time. I’m grateful for all of the people God placed in my life as I was growing up and I wish I had been more aware at the time of who they were and why they were doing what they were doing.

Working with this group of young people I’m beginning to understand the big picture and that nothing is coincidence. I spoke to a young man one day trying to explain to him that he wasn’t crazy and that we’ve all had thoughts or feelings. The more we talked the more he realized that we had a lot in common and I was able to eventually help him. It’s only when we actually have discourse that we can begin to bridge the divide between those that are enlightened through having experienced life and those who are yet coming into the fullness of what life has to offer.

As an observer I must tell you that I am more accustomed to seeing young people engage in typical foolish behavior as if it’s some moronic birthright to act without consequence disregarding the results. I also observe adults who try to dress and behave as if they seek to relive the days of their youth all while not realizing the impressionable generation watching all the good, the bad and the ugly of what they do each day.

I am 44 years old and while I am not anyone’s “old man” I am confident that I don’t have to relive any “glory days” of my youth, nor do I have to face a “midlife” crisis in order to redefine myself or find my place in this world.

I have a beautiful wife that still encourages and challenges me to want more out of life. I have three beautiful kids that continue to give me a purpose in life. I have no need to relive my youth nor am I envious of the next generation who are currently getting their opportunity to grow, learn and make the same mistakes that I myself got to learn from making when I was their age.

Having the benefit of working with young people the same age of my own son teaches me that I can exercise the same patience with my own son that I afford the young people that I work with. Not every young person you meet is waiting to tell you to “mind your own business”, just like not every older adult is merely looking for an opportunity to wax philosophical about the “back in their day” experiences; some of us sincerely want to help young people and see them succeed.

While I know both sides will continue to work at fully trusting one another I am hopeful that we are seeing a glimpse of young people willing to meet us half way. As I’ve observed and researched the breakdowns between young adults and older adults I see that most of the problems are due to misconceptions and miscommunication.

As we strive to overcome the typical stumbling blocks that divide us such as “the older generation is out of touch” or “the younger generation is too self-absorbed or childish” the survival of our overall society is at stake so we must be able to overcome all obstacles.

I was listening to an inspirational song the other day called “Glory” from the soundtrack of the film Selma, and I was moved by a verse that surmised the point at the heart of my entire writing on this topic, it states – “no one can win this war individually, it takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy”, that is my point exactly.

I applaud Josh, Trey, Monica, Paige and Taylor for daring to dream, set goals and then striving to achieve them. Some people may feel that I am making a big deal out of nothing because these are just several young people in a bigger ocean of young people who are wasting away in an endless abyss of the typical trappings of sex, drugs and alcohol or the mediocrity of simply mocking time with no ambition.

I credit their parents and the people in their life that push and encourage them because in the midst of so many poor examples of who young people are and what they could be doing these young people are actually making an effort to make something happen in their life and I for one am willing to encourage them and see them succeed.

When they succeed, my daughter succeeds, my son succeeds, and in the process our society benefits and our future looks bright.

I often joke with the kids that we work with in our afterschool program whenever I beat them in a race that they just let an “old man” beat them and they should feel ashamed, “today’s youth is in poor shape” I often tell them jokingly, “our future is in jeopardy” I then tell them, but as long as we have young, growing adults like these young people I’ve come to know, I believe our future is in good hands.

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