Youth Leaders: helping teens Unlearn elitism

Practice must be valued as much as the championship run

Practice must be valued as much as the championship run

Sometimes unlearning is as important to us as learning. Like the athlete who must become as comfortable with practice as he or she is with the game.

Along the way, we gather information about life. And much of that information becomes part of our thinking and behavior. The gathered information may be personal experiences, truths and untruths, peer thought, education, or media influences about everything in life. All of this data shapes how we think about politics, athletics, entertainment, theology, and even ourselves. And we form our opinions and attitudes of what is right or wrong with all of this information. Think about that. Where are you getting your information from? What is shaping your thought? All of that information is shaping your life.

Now, apply that to the teenage years. How can we as Youth Leaders shape the thinking of this generation? I realize that we only get 90 minutes or 2 hours weekly with our teenagers. And the school gets about 7 hours daily with them. And then, depending on the source, their social media use runs about 4-7 hours daily. And with the loss of the family structure in our society, we are in danger of losing the fight for the education of our children. We must help teens to understand the value of pain. To value the practice as much as the championship game.

But, that kind of mentality change isn't easy. 


For instance, let’s say you live in America. And for this, you feel entitled or special. We have a certain way that we think in the Western world. And if we live in America, never does hardship seem right or even welcomed in our life. We act like it shouldn’t touch us. It shouldn’t be us, not in the U.S. and not in my Palace. And because of this, we can become entitled to freedoms and blessings or rights that we think we deserve. However, a thorough look at culture will prove that the presence of hardship is necessary, if not useful.

Many teenagers think that they are immune to difficulty because they are young or because they are American. But, we are going to have to understand that hardship is not a bad thing. That suffering and loss can be a teacher. That hardship and discipline can yield maturity and growth. That injustice in many cases is really created by a bad set of expectations, or, behaviors. We need to unlearn the negative reputation of hardship that has been promoted to this younger teenage generation. And help them to see the value of pain.

Teenagers could learn from the following examples in our society of the positive effects of hardship, suffering, and loss:

SOLDIERS - Maybe the most respected of all occupations in America. The reverence for our serviceman and women is unparalleled in our country. And there is nothing soft, elite, or spoiled about the soldier. Just the opposite is true. Sometimes a battle brings loss and sometimes a battle brings gain. But, from Basic Training to field infantry there is an inherent hardship that forges the character and the skillset of a soldier.

ATHLETES - The term 'no pain-no gain' is associated with the athlete. Without practice there is no championship. Athletes spend more time in preparation and anonymity in practice. It may look like game-day in front of the crowd. Lights, cameras, crowds, concessions, and cheerleaders do not bring wins. The athlete creates wins in the pain of practice and the sweat of the weight room.

FARMERS - One of the foundations of our society is farming. The elementary principle of farming is death. Let me explain. It takes the death of a seed being buried in the ground for it to yield a harvest. When the farmer plants the spring seed, he hopes and trusts that the process of death will yield the fall harvest. It is the loss of the seed hidden into the ground that brings the joy of farming.

Many authors and researchers, including Kinnaman, Lyons, Barna, Burns, LiveScience, and Howe and Strauss, to name a few, have written about the traits or characteristics of this generation. Most of the traits are negative and tend toward an elitism or specialness that has crippled the younger generation to accepting the value of hardship or difficulty. They just don’t have time or thought for crisis or suffering. And because of feeling this way as Americans or Christians, we can become entitled to freedoms and blessings or rights we think we deserve.

I remember talking to some teens in Ohio this past Summer. They were talking about hardship and how unfair it is. And then I told them that people are actually calling them the 'Snowflake' generation. Before I could explain what that meant, one of the teens said, 'That's cool.' And then I explained to them that it wasn't a compliment. That it actually meant they were soft and fleeting and fragile.

As Youth Leaders we must help this generation unlearn the elitism and specialness teenagers are prone to live with. To unlearn the 'Snowflake' label they have been tagged with. You will see that Christianity in many ways promotes the productive role of hardship in soldiers, athletes, and farmers (2 Timothy 2.4–6). And we are probably okay with that. As long as it is not personal.

Jeff Grenell