This has typically been the time of year that my blogging substantially decreases as my homework load substantially increases. I rarely have the opportunity to connect what I’m learning to what I am experiencing in blog format. That’s why I’m really excited about this particular post.
We have been studying a concept of adolescent development called ‘deidentification’. Basically, this is when an adolescent disassociates their value or self worth with something because they consider it an unimportant indicator of success. What’s interesting, however, is that the importance they place on an indicator is mostly based on the importance the culture around them puts on it.
Deidentification is a protective measure adolescents take so their self-esteem is not harmed. This may sound like a good thing because of the words used ‘protect self-esteem’ but much like drugs mask the real life issues a person may be facing, deidentification does not allow students to actively change their situation, it just lets them ignore it. Think of it this way, a student performs poorly in math class but because of the expectations of the adult community around the adolescent that this would happen or is normal and without a higher standard set to attain, the youth also accepts the situation not as something he/she needs to personally resolve but as ‘just the way it is’
Nothing worthwhile has ever come out of a ‘just the way it is’ mentality. New inventions, discoveries and accomplishment where born out of the lives of people who knew there had to be something more and a better way to do things. But having such a deep sense of motivation to do these things isn’t natural. Sin typically causes us to be apathetic toward betterment of self and pursuing an intimate relationship with God.
So how does deidentification play out in the lives of Christian teenagers living in an American culture where a strong personal daily relationship with Jesus is not what is valued?
Their self esteem is not dependent upon their walk with Christ. This is dangerous. When the surrounding culture tells them that ‘everyone is too busy to read the Bible everyday’ or ‘nobody tithes a full 10%’ then adolescents don’t feel convicted be any different. They believe they are attaining the social norm around them when they read and tithe every other week and are even going above and beyond when they do these things everyday.
Instead of being encouraged to have an identity based on who they are in Christ and to strengthen that relationship, they are told to achieve in other areas. Our cultural values are reflected in the amount of debt we find ourselves in which reflects the notion that identity and value is based on what you have no matter the cost yet there is a deidentification with being debt free because ‘everyone goes into debt’ aka ‘it is the way it is’.
What can youth leaders do to intervene?
Studies suggest four steps that I would like to expand upon.
1. Preparation-“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15
This word spoken by Jesus allows youth workers to warn students of a world that will love them on one condition; you accept that it is the way it is and you don’t mess with that rhythm. If you do, the world will hate you. But the best part about Jesus’ words is that they remind students who they belong to and that its this relationship with Christ that they should base their self-esteem and worth on.
2. The truth-Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3
From the very beginning, deception has been the way of the world. Youth leaders need to let students know that the lack of effort they put into their relationship with Christ is actually sinful. Busyness, lack of resources, circumstances, these are acceptable excuses to the world but not to God. Jesus’ standard was ”be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) It’s here when the excuses start to get in the way. Culture tells our students ‘well nobody is perfect’ and while it is true that we are sinners in need of a savior, too often this phrase turns into a justification not to be deliberate. There is no justification if we take God’s word seriously because He doesn’t just challenge us He also provides “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
3. Success Experiences- Going against our sinful nature involves practice. We are all familiar with James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Trials offer opportunities to say yes to God’s will and no to sin. In youth programs this might look like mission trips we’re the trials of complaining about the heat or other selfish complaints are overcome and instead “what is helpful for building up others according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29) is spoken.
4. Mentoring- Finally, students will need strong support throughout this process. Often times I find the ‘unexplainable’, ‘outrageous’ behaviors of youth are easily explained when you examine the skill-set they have to handle the problem at hand. What’s outrageous is when we don’t teach & develop new skills within youth to be competent in all the ecosystems they find themselves in yet at the same time expect them to change.